A good bowl of ramen has a few components that perfectly synthesize to create flavors we all know and love: rich broth, soft but chewy noodles, tender meat, and perhaps an egg or a few strips of nori. All of these components are great on their own, and even better when together, but they’re best highlighted when black garlic oil gets thrown in the mix. Don’t worry—it isn’t a new herb you’ve entirely missed—black garlic oil is a product of regular garlic. It is an underrated and unknown, yet transformational addition to any bowl of ramen. Here’s the low-down on the fragrant and delicious oil you’re going to want in every bowl of ramen from now on.

What is black garlic oil?

Nicole Chen

Black garlic oil, or mayu in Japanese, originated from East Asian cooking and can be found in many Japanese and Korean kitchens. Making it entails a long and arduous process which is done one of two ways.

You can leave a head of garlic in a rice cooker for several weeks where the constant heat and humidity will blacken it and bring out flavors not found in its raw state. If you're short on time, you can opt for the quicker but more labor-intensive alternative of cooking garlic on low heat on a stovetop for several hours.

Regardless of which method you opt for, the head must be compressed to extract the oil after it has been blackened, but after that, you’re ready to add it to your ramen.

What does black garlic oil taste like?

Nicole Chen

A little black garlic oil goes a long way—just a dash will completely transform the flavor of the broth, adding smoky, floral undertones and bringing out rich flavors that you didn’t know existed. The process of blackening a head of garlic allows an undercutting of the typical sharpness of the cloves, and the existing but typically less prominent sweet flavors to shine, as well as adding a subtle, smoky accent that ties these complex flavors together.

How should I eat black garlic oil?

Nicole Chen

The prospect of adding a sweet flavor profile to ramen may seem strange, but there’s no cause for concern. Black garlic oil serves to enrich the classic flavors in ramen, and while it is noticeable, it will never overpower the savory characteristics of the dish. Think of it like adding a bit of hot sauce to a dish—certainly influential, but small doses will only enhance the existing flavors.

If you’re looking for an excellent place to get your black garlic oil fix in Berkeley, look no further than Ippudo Ramen on Shattuck Avenue—its Akamaru modern ramen comes with it, but for a small fee you can order more on the side as an addition to any other option on the menu. When ordered on its own, it is brought in a small dish, so you can control how much you put in your ramen. My recommendation? All of it!

Nicole Chen

Black garlic oil is the ramen topping you never knew you needed—subtly sweet and smoky, enriching the broth and adding a new dimension of flavor. It's perfect for bringing a bowl of ramen up to the next level. Don’t knock it until you try it—be bold!

#SpoonTip: Next time you go out for ramen, be sure to ask for black garlic oil mixed into the broth or in a dish on the side.