An essential food product in our house is garlic, we use it in almost every dish we make and one of our favourite garlic products is fermented black garlic, especially the little jars of sweet, intense delights from Karamaya Black Garlic.
Black garlic isn’t the only product Karen Pickford and Ralph Butcher make, there is also a fermented Black Sunchoke paste and this is even mixed with organic raspberries to make a wonderful mousse.
As you would expect there is a story behind these perfect garlic and sunchoke (also known as Jerusalem artichoke) products and it starts with Ralph and his expertise in organic horticulture.
Any decent home gardener will understand the importance of nutrient-rich soil and Ralph says that to grow top quality nutrient dense food you need to have good soil, and he has the expertise to ensure the soils they grow their garlic and sunchoke in is fit for purpose.
I have spent many hours learning about organic and biodynamic horticulture in relation to wine production so I have a reasonable understanding of the need to have healthy soil to make foods that are packed natural flavours, but Ralph and Karen have grown produce organically then turned it into wonderful products to show just how good food can be when you work with nature to enhance the growing environment.
Ralph was one of the first commercial organic composters in New Zealand with his Nutrimix Organic Products business. Many people remember him from his 20 years selling his organic compost at the Nelson Market but he also sold it in bulk for horticulture use in orchards, tobacco gardens, market gardens and to an organic grape grower.
Karen told me that during Ralph’s time running Nutrimix his philosophy was that any plant at any stage of its growth, from inception to maturity, could be totally sustained nutritionally from natural materials and waste nutrients.
The couple plant their garlic and sunchoke crops in a soil that Ralph developed using knowledge gained in his composting business. This soil is created using natural nutrient rich material like seaweed, by-products and other natural materials gathered through the seasons, but rather than being spread as a finished compost to be mixed in the soil, he layers the composted soil on straw in the paddocks on top of the existing grass.
At Karamaya, which means ‘transformation’, ‘rebirth’ and ‘ancient’ they use the ‘law of return’ to produce their products. This means understanding nature’s recycling system, enhancing the soil and life underneath so not tilling the land is important to their production.
As well as creating a nutrient rich soil structure the sunchokes they grow are natural pre-biotics and when fermented are pro-biotic, “using the damaged and waste sunchokes in our compost mix boosts soil activity remarkably, what’s good for us is good for the soil” according to Ralph and I must say it’s hard to disagree.
As well as creating a soil environment that is nutrient rich, they also spray a compost tea on their crops about every two weeks. A compost tea is created from their compost and other natural nutrients in water which includes sea water.
“Elaine Ingham, from the US is a top level soil micro-biologists with immense knowledge of enhancing the life in a compost and getting the maximum nutrition out of the soil, basically her theory includes using a liquid compost tea that she aerates for 24 hours, we bubble air through the tea to increase the micro-biological organisms in the tea by many thousands of times before we feed our crops with it as a soil enhancer” says Ralph.
As I said earlier we love black garlic, and no, it isn’t a variety of garlic that is black, Ralph says “it’s ordinary garlic that is turned into black garlic by heating it at a medium temperature for two months so the enzymes within the garlic transform it to create a stable, cured or aged product that no longer has the highly astringent, sharp taste or other issues of fresh garlic.
“As well as changing the colour, taste and texture of the fresh produce, the process also adds to the nutritional value just like other fermenting processes.”
Black garlic is an old Korean product with well-researched beneficial health properties, was introduced into the US in 2008 and is now gaining in popularity in New Zealand so, while its heritage is very old it is a relative newcomer to New Zealand.
Karen told me they think the way they are producing black garlic is unique, “by retaining the volatile essential oils the whole cloves retain more goodness, Ralph has developed a system that ensures the nutritional richness from the volatile oils is retained”, and yes it is a secret!
Check out their website for some great recipe ideas (www.karamayablackgarlic.com) but I can highly recommend using it on a cheese board with blue cheese or in scrambled eggs.
When it comes to the sunchokes they grow “we make a black sunchoke product and use it as a base for a raspberry mousse and raspberry chocolate spread using organic raspberries that retain colour and flavour when they are processed.
I asked Ralph what’s next for Karamaya Black Garlic? “We are playing with lacto-fermenting chili using seawater in the fermentation and mixing it with black garlic to make a sweet chili sauce without sugar so you may see that at some time in the future.”
They are also passionate about improving their crops genetically through non manipulative techniques and processes, “we select our seed stock for desirable genetic traits, splitting 50% for seed and 50% for black product processing.”
This is a small Nelson business enhancing the growing environment and I think the results of their hard work and expertise show in the wonderful finished products, find them at the Saturday Market and sample the delights this couple make, I’m sure that just like me you will end up taking some home with you.