In case you’re not familiar, black garlic is “regular white garlic that has been allowed to age under strict temperature and humidity controls,” says Gina Keatley, a CDN practicing in New York City. After the garlic has been aged for several weeks, it “turns black and sticky” due to something called a Maillard reaction, which is a chemical reaction between the garlic’s amino acids and naturally-present sugars, says Keri Gans, MS, RDN, author of The Small Change Diet.
Black garlic also diverges from raw, fresh garlic when it comes to look and feel. “The texture is very different from regular garlic,” says Jessica Cording, MS, RD, dietitian and author of The Little Book of Game-Changers. “You can spread it really evenly.”
But black garlic isn’t just a cool-looking food to add to your culinary toolkit—it’s good for you, too, and may even give raw, fresh garlic a run for its list of benefits. Here’s a breakdown of some especially notable black garlic benefits, plus how to incorporate the ingredient into your diet.
6 black garlic benefits
While black garlic is a form of regular garlic, the two aren’t exactly the same. “Both regular garlic and black garlic are excellent for you and should be part of a healthy diet,” Keatley says. “But the aging process [of the garlic] changes the composition of nutrients a bit.” That can also affect the benefits you stand to glean from black garlic. Below, find six of the strongest black garlic benefits to keep in mind.
1. It’s rich in antioxidants
Keatley says the “most notable” difference between black garlic and regular garlic is that the black garlic contains more phenols, aka antioxidants. “The increase is almost three-fold,” she says. Research has found that black garlic reaches its peak antioxidant content after 21 days of fermentation. Antioxidants help protect your cells against free radicals, which can lead to serious health conditions like heart disease and cancer, Cording says.
2. It could boost heart health
One animal study published in the journal Nutrition Research found that rats that were fed black garlic had fewer indicators of heart disease, including lowered levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol in their blood, than those who weren’t given black garlic. Another study on rats found that black garlic (and raw garlic) helped improve circulation and protect against heart damage. Of course, this research is limited and not conducted on humans, so more is needed.
Also notable to point out regarding black garlic benefits and heart health is that black garlic, in particular, has been shown to help reduce the concentration of blood urea nitrogen (BUN), says Keatley. When BUN is high, it signals to your body to produce the hormone vasopressin, which can increase your blood pressure and cause an electrolyte imbalance. “This can be very dangerous to individuals that have a weak heart and can cause heart failure,” Keatley says.
3. It may help with insulin resistance
Insulin resistance refers to when the cells in your muscles, fat, and liver don’t respond well to insulin, a hormone made by your pancreas that helps glucose (i.e. sugar) in your blood enter your cells, where it’s used for energy, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). When you have insulin resistance, which is a factor in prediabetes and diabetes, your cells can’t easily take glucose from your blood.
Though several animal studies suggest that black garlic can help with insulin resistance, people with diabetes should never ditch their prescribed treatments in favor of black garlic, Gans says. “Black garlic may be a complementary therapy but should not replace…recommendations from one’s doctor,” she says.
4. It may have cancer-preventing properties
There are many different factors that go into the development and prevention of different types of cancer, and diet is just one element. That said, some research suggests that black garlic has some anti-cancer properties that could be a small part of a holistic healthy lifestyle.
One extremely limited study of 21 people analyzed the impact of black garlic extract on lung, breast, stomach, and liver cancer cells, and found that the solution was toxic to those cancer cells within days. Black garlic also outperformed a regular garlic extract solution in that study. A larger, systemic review of 25 studies also found that black garlic to have beneficial effects against cancer in humans, animals, and lab studies across a series of research.
That said, “decreasing your risk for cancer involves many other things besides eating garlic, such as reducing stress, sleeping well, regularly exercising, and including plenty of fruits and vegetables in your diet on a daily basis,” Gans says.
5. It could improve brain health
A rat study published in the journal Drug and Chemical Toxicology suggests that black garlic can reduce oxidative stress in the brain. Oxidative stress, in case you’re not familiar with it, “will lead to cell damage,” Cording explains.
“One of the main things we hear about with oxidative stress is aging, and it plays a role in so many areas of the body, including brain health,” Cording says. Basically, the less oxidative stress you have in your brain, the better your brain cells will function, she says. Again, black garlic alone will not overturn oxidative stress and improve brain health, especially considering the findings are limited to rat brains, not human brains. For this reason more research is needed and other lifestyle factors will play into the notion of improved brain health.
6. It may help liver function
Research on animals suggests that black garlic may help protect the liver, and even prevent it from injury. But, more robust analysis on humans is needed. That said, it’s still worth noting that “the liver is part of our body’s built-in detoxification system—it works to filter things, and is a really important organ involved with countless body processes,” Cording says. “When your liver health is compromised, that impacts everything else.”
Overall, experts stress that the research on black garlic is ongoing. If you want to try it out, go for it. But Cording says it shouldn’t be substituted for any medical advice or treatment that your doctor gives you.
How to use black garlic
You can buy black garlic at many grocery stores, and Cording says it has plenty of uses:
- Spread it evenly over a crostini or vegetables
- Blend it into sauces and marinades
- Rub it on chicken or fish before you cook them
- Add it to dressings
“Overall, it has a much smoother, softer texture than raw garlic,” Cording says. “It also has a nice tangy flavor that makes it delicious.”
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