Korea's First Food Fair Shows Off Black Garlic
Barbara Hansenblack garlic
What could be more delicious than chocolates infused with black garlic? If you don't agree, don't worry; you can't taste them here anyway. They're only available in South Korea.
And they're not as weird as they may sound. Black garlic is ordinary garlic that has been fermented and aged until you'd never recognize it. Inside the dried brown skin is a sweet, jammy, black substance devoid of all garlic stench. You can snack on it, use it in cooking, or even make your own garlic chocolates if you're desperate to taste them.
The chocolate maker is Duksan B&F Co., one of 29 Korean food producers that took part in L.A.'s first Korean Food Fair Oct. 22-23 at the Hyatt Regency downtown. The trade show wasn't open to the public, but you couldn't have tasted the chocolates anyway. They're too fragile to export. After a couple of weeks the garlic breaks down and spoils the chocolate.
But Duksan's product is a little different. The garlic is raised on Namhae island off the coast of southern Korea, where sea breezes make for beneficial growing conditions. The garlic is fumigated with mugwort, which improves the flavor while eliminating the strong smell. There's an ancient reason for combining the two. A Korean legend says that eating both transformed a bear into a beautiful woman (fear not, guys, this won't happen to you). The garlic ferments in cypress wood containers for 30 to 40 days. Then it's dried and sorted. Would you really want to do this at home?
Barbara HansenWoman serving Korean teas at the Korean food fair
If any one product stood out at the fair, it was dried seaweed snacks, which are Korea's leading food export. They come in all sorts of flavors, from "olive oiled," as one package said, to cheese, chiles, seafood, barbecue, gochujang (red pepper paste) and wasabi. Still another variety is studded with almonds.
Also on display were Korean mushrooms and pears, wild ginseng from the Chinji Farmers Association and microwavable packets of the stir-fried rice cake snack tteokbokki. There were teas made from hydrangea, mulberry and persimmon leaves, a fruit-flavored brown rice vinegar to use as a drink base, and Ee:FF, a sparkling rice wine that, according to the catalog, tastes "like horchata with alcohol."
Sponsored by Korea's Ministry of Agriculture and Korea Agro-Fisheries and Food Trade Corporation, the two-day fair was a marketing event for companies seeking distributors. Although the garlic chocolates are not likely to show up here, we just might get canned tuna in Korean barbecue sauce one of these days, or gochujang flavored with dried fish, bellflower root or shiitake mushrooms and packed in classy jars like marmalade rather than the utilitarian tubs that line shelves in Korean markets here.
Get the Squid Ink'd Newsletter
Sign up for our weekly food newsletter, which features top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips and a link to our print review.