Binurong Bawang (Fermented Garlic)

If you love garlic, then fermented garlic is one ferment you can try to make regularly. The fermentation mellows out the strong pungency of raw garlic so that it is easier to take as a natural supplement and add into savory dishes. 

Also called ahos in the Visayas (from the Spanish ‘ajo’) the humble ubiquitous bawang is found in every Filipino kitchen. It is an important pillar of Philippine cuisine–as a go-to flavor base in simple gisa (sauté) or one of the Pinoy holy trinity along with onion and tomatoes, and as the necessary ingredient in our beloved sinangag (fried rice), adobo, or seasoned vinegars from the different regions such as pinakurat, sinamak, watwat, and others.       

Humble, miraculous

As we all know, garlic is also recognized and well-documented for its numerous health-promoting benefits, which is why it’s considered a miracle food. Eighty-three human intervention trials showed garlic’s ability “to modulate the multiple biomarkers of different diseases,” including cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, bone and skin diseases, metabolic disorders, among others. 

Therefore far be it from us to discourage the regular moderate consumption of garlic, unless one is allergic to it. Improving garlic consumption can include taking it in its fermented form.  

Two ways to ferment garlic

There are two ways to ferment garlic. The more popular one involves being fermented for a period of time, usually at least a month, in a controlled environment to maintain high temperature (>57℃) and high humidity (80% to 90%). The resulting fermented garlic is sweet, chewy, jelly-like in texture, and dark colored, hence the name black garlic. This type of fermentation increases the number of functional compounds of garlic such as SAC, which contributes to the health benefits that garlic is known for.

Another, and far easier way, of making fermented garlic is through lactic fermentation using the simple brine method. Garlic is rich in sugars that its natural lactic acid bacteria can feed on. The fermentation process also creates hydrogen peroxide that crowds out the harmful microorganisms. Compared to fresh garlic, lacto-fermented garlic has more nutrients, enhanced bioactivity and bioavailability, and higher antioxidant activities. 

Should I worry about botulism?

Botulism, an illness caused by the common bacteria Clostridium botulinum that attacks the nervous system and which can be fatal. Symptoms include blurred vision, weakened facial muscles, drooling, difficulty swallowing, nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps (and one should seek immediate medical attention when these symptoms appear.) Botulism happens with improperly preserved or canned food, where the spore of the toxic bacteria is allowed to thrive in an anaerobic, low-acid environment without competition from other microorganisms. 

While lacto-fermentation requires oxygen-free environments, which is why we ensure our ingredients are submerged in brine, botulism is not a risk due to the growth of lactic acid bacteria. We are creating an acidic and salty environment that is inhospitable to the Clostridium botulinum and therefore it cannot create toxins. Scientists call this “competitive exclusion.” Nonetheless it is still important to follow good practices to ensure a safe and successful home fermentation.

Some notes

It’s still cool in the early mornings here in the Philippines, but the temperature and humidity during the day have started to increase. The fermented garlic started becoming bubbly around day 4. The brine started to become cloudy on day 8. That is normal. 

It is important to release the pressure of the ferment and burp it daily. Best to do this outdoors or in a well-ventilated area because of the strong garlic smell.

If the garlic turns blue or green, do not panic. It is simply an enzymatic reaction as compounds in the garlic interact with the acidic environment. It can also be that the garlic used is still immature or of the red-skin variety. Either way it is no cause for concern.

The longer you ferment the garlic, the mellower it becomes. Feel free to refrigerate the jar after one month, where you can let it ferment longer and more slowly. For some two months is optimal. Feel free to double or triple the recipe so you have a large harvest after patiently waiting. 


2 heads of garlic

1 cup of filtered water

1 level Tbsp of non-iodized sea salt


1. Peel and wash all the garlic cloves. Let them air dry. 

2. Make your brine by dissolving the salt into the water completely.

3. Transfer the garlic cloves into the jar.

4. Add as much brine as you can to cover the garlic without filling up the jar. Have at least an inch of headroom. 

5. Add a clean weight such as a small jam jar to submerge the garlic cloves. Screw the lid on and let it burp daily. Ferment for at least a month.

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