Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Black Garlic Oven Post

Today, I harvested my last batch of black garlic and, having pre-harvested one head and having taken four for the sauce base, processed the last seven heads, cutting half up to dry for making black garlic powder. The remaining half will be used at-will for recipes, etc., with some going to a buddy of mine. I've also started a new batch for next month, which I'll cover later in this post. First, I'd like to explain how I made my light bulb powered black garlic oven, using the Huskee Tough Guy EPS (expanded polystyrene) cooler, as somewhat pictured below.

Expanded polystyrene is recommended for applications below 160 degrees Fahrenheit, with this one coming in about 10 degrees below that mark. I started by covering the walls with aluminum foil, reflective side inward-facing, securing it with normal Elmer's Glue-All. I then drilled a 1/2" hole in the bottom center of the container, through which to pass the wires for the light bulb. The tiles were positioned in a diamond shape in the bottom, as depicted here:

The tiles have small felt feet on them in the form of a flattened "X", with top and bottom one inch in from the edge of the tiles. This keeps them from scratching the aluminum foil, while providing a solid base upon which to place ball jars, with enclosed garlic. While I have used ball jar canning lids in the past, I have decided to switch to aluminum foil as the exclusive lid, as it doesn't need to be a perfect seal and I'm concerned about the BPA content of the canning lids. I have placed the reflective side up, as below:

Note the stone filled jars from the last post. They provide IR absorption and thermal mass for the system. As a strongly IR absorbing material, stone also emits IR, bolstered and buffered by the high specific heat of the water. In my other experiences with fermentation, I have understood that light exposure can be detrimental to the fermentation process. Googling "Light effect on fermentation" seems to provide a number of articles, blog entries, &c. that suggest that both visible light and UV radiation can have a negative effect on fermentation. I genuinely don't know if they apply at 140°F-150°F--a perceived consensus indicates this range for black garlic (per this instructable and this make article)--but this mitigates the issue, while the dry heat resists mold and non-beneficial bacterial growth.

Each head is placed in an individual 8 oz. ball mason jar. Some of those that I have are normal and some are quilted, but I don't think it really matters which one is used, save the utility of having the measurements on the side of the normal ball jar. I leave the heads sealed in the jars for 30 days, at which time I remove the lids and let the garlic dry. This results in cloves that are dark, textures and have shrunk away from the skins of the garlic. Some in the last batch were drier than others, with some reducing to a powder when pinched between the fingers, while others were leathery and pliable. The harder examples were cut up and reserved for additional drying, for making black garlic powder.

To measure temperature, I punched a hole in the side of the cooler using a small meat thermometer, calibrated in boiling water (e.g. This Taylor product) around the middle of the height of the jars. Using this to monitor temperature, I used a number of different light bulb wattages.

 I found that I had to use 40W bulbs during higher Central Texas summer garage temperatures, and a 30W bulb during lower temperatures. The incandescent bulb needed will vary by ambient temperature, but I would wager that 40W is a reasonable base starting point for most room temperatures. I conducted primary research with a nominal quantity of water in the system (and no garlic) monitored by a webcam. I will provide the records from this experimentation in an update to this post.

For reference, I used a ceramic light socket I got from a cheap lamp I bought from Lowe's hardware store. There is one very near my home, and I found that they have ad hoc porcelain light sockets for between $3 and $4. I used a cord from another, broken appliance, and soldered some fork/U-shaped terminal connectors to the end of its wires. I bought the cooler at Academy, and I can't easily find the price, though I believe it was no higher than $30. Altogether, I remember calculating (some time ago) that the apparatus, plus electricity, with initial cost of garlic was less than the cost of twelve heads of black garlic online. For the record, this is an excellent use of incandescent light bulbs, as they put off far more heat and IR radiation than light. In the month it takes to do this, the oven costs on the order of $5-$8 per batch, including electricity and garlic, but not including the cost of manufacture.


  1. Why not use a higher wattage bulb and simple wire in a temperature controller? The STC-1000 can be had on ebay for <$20. The controller could be used to turn the bulb on and off to maintain whatever specific temperature you desire.

  2. I'll agree that having a temperature controller could be beneficial, and I think the system's designed where adding one wouldn't be too difficult. That said, a $20 temperature controller would still nearly double the price of the oven, and I haven't had any trouble keeping the unit at temperature.

  3. Any perfect type of garlic preferences?

    Great design...great idea in fact.

  4. Deborah, my options have been pretty limited with regard to type, though I'd note that the garlic I bought from the bulk bin at the local grocery store was significantly better after fermentation than the garlic I bought from Sam's. As I understand it, hard-neck garlic is preferred for making black garlic, though I'm not sure what the reasons are for that. That said, thanks for the nice comment.