Island Garlic: 島にんにく

にんにく Ninniku means garlic in Japanese; in Okinawan it is ヒル hiru. Some of my  neighbors grow lots of fresh island garlic for cheap, so I am particularly lucky. In Japan, Aomori (towards the north) is a large garlic-producing region, but the garlic is rather expensive. Many stores sell garlic imported from China for cheap. So when Okinawa garlic season is in full swing, I take advantage and buy a lot, because it is fresh, tasty, and cheap. It is not as dried out as other garlic, so it tends to have a fresher scent, and perhaps a bit sharper taste.

Recently, I have made some batches of ninniku-shuu にんにく酒~~ oishii! In Okinawan, it is known as hiru-zaki ヒルザキ, although some people may even refer to it as にんにく泡盛 ninniku awamori. I have heard some people drink this (?!!) as sort of a medicinal thing, but I cannot help but imagine that is simply too strong. It is also used as a condiment for cooking, and especially goes really good in stir-fry dishes. Basically the garlic soaks in the awamori (or other strong clear liquor of one’s choice) while the garlicky essence permeates the liquid… sort of like making an extract I guess. Anyhow, it is actually really good, and with all this local garlic, it is a good way to capture the flavor when fresh garlic becomes scarce in the later months.

On the mainland, I think most people use something referred to as “white liquor” ホワイトリカー or shochu 焼酎 to make ninniku-shu. In Okinawa, of course the local favorite would be awamori. So… awamori it is for me, as well.

Black Garlic: 黒にんにく

黒 kuro mean “black” and にんにく ninniku means “garlic.”

In Okinawa, it is possible to find black garlic. It is island garlic, raw, aged under heat and humidity for a period of time (no additives), turning the garlic softer and sweeter. It retains a fragrant garlic aroma, but does actually does not cause the strong garlic breath after eating. It is a really nice (and supposedly healthy) flavor to add to recipes.