When I first shared this recipe in my Wild Fermentation group on Facebook, I did it on kind of a lark, like “Hey, I’ve got honey and garlic in the kitchen. Let’s give this a try!” I never expected it to become probably the most popular recipe in the group to date. But, indeed, it has gone viral with different members posting pictures of theirs almost every week. I got the recipe from the cookbook Tsukemono: Japanese Pickling Recipes, by Ikuko Hisamatsu. The recipe is not very detailed and so it was a surprise to me to find that it does ferment. Honey, you see, consists of about 80% sugar and 20% moisture, and so is very shelf-stable; indeed it will never go bad and even has antiseptic properties. However, when you increase the moisture, even if by a very small amount, the wild yeasts present in the honey will initiate fermentation. In this recipe the juice from the garlic dilutes the honey just enough to start fermentation, but not enough to produce a significant amount of alcohol. What you get instead is a transformation of both the garlic and the honey: the garlic deepens in color and mellows in flavor; the honey turns runny and dark, and is infused throughout with garlicky goodness. For this recipe you need to use raw honey and the best quality garlic that is not dried out or sprouting.
You can make as little or as much of this as you want, but keep in mind that peeling a lot of garlic can be a challenge. I found that it took about 5 small bulbs of garlic for a 1 pint jar. Hardneck varieties are easier to peel, so seek these out if you can. One method for peeling large quantities of garlic involves shaking them in stainless steel bowls. I haven’t tried this method myself as I don’t have the right size bowls, but others have told me it works quite well. For this batch I put all the separated cloves in a jar, screwed the lid on, and shook and shook it. This worked pretty well to loosen the skins, but still required some peeling as you can see in the photo below.
Place all the peeled cloves in a jar that is not much bigger than the total quantity you want to make. For this batch I used a half-liter Fido jar. Pour enough honey over the garlic to submerge it completely. Leave about two inches headspace at the top of the jar.
Place the garlic in a cool, dark place to ferment. (A pantry works nicely.) In a few days you’ll notice some bubbling in the jar – this is perfectly normal and a good indicator of healthy fermentation. (If you didn’t leave enough room the honey may bubble over, making a sticky mess.) The garlic will also float to the top, but this isn’t a concern as it’s well-coated in honey.
Leave the Honeyed Garlic to ferment for about a month. At this point fermentation should be done, and you’ll notice that the garlic and honey have turned darker. There will also be a cloudy layer at the bottom. When you open the jar, you’ll find that the honey has become quite runny and can be stirred back together easily.
You may begin consuming your garlic at any point, but it keeps getting better with age. Store it in a cool place – in the winter mine stays in the garage, and in the summer I move it into the fridge. You can use this medicinally to treat cold symptoms: mince a clove of garlic and swallow it with a spoonful of honey, or dissolve the garlicky honey in hot water for a throat-soothing tea. It’s also excellent in all savory cooking that requires a little bit of sweetness: try using it in dressings, sauces, and marinades, and it’s a natural choice for many kinds of Asian cooking. I love to chop up a bit of the garlic and mix it with the honey and some raw apple cider vinegar and drizzle that over Swedish Cured Pork Loin. YUM!
Worried about Botulism?
Honey and garlic both have a reputation for harboring botulinum spores, and I’ve fielded a lot of questions about the safety of this ferment. Clostridium botulinum is a very hardy little pathogen, but it’s finicky about what kind of conditions it can reproduce in. In order to sporulate and produce the botulinum toxin it needs: a neutral ph, moist environment, and no oxygen. Food preservatives also inhibits it, and salt and sugar are our oldest preservatives. At high enough concentrations of either botulinum spores cannot reproduce. Honey, being about 80% sugar and 20% water, qualifies as a high-sugar, low-moisture food. Additionally, honey is an acidic food, having an average ph of 3.9. Now, in this recipe the honey is being diluted a bit, and I can’t give you the final numbers for the sugar and water content. I can only tell you that I and many others have been eating this for a long time with no problem. Of course, it should not be fed to infants or anyone with a severely compromised immune system.