Black garlic? Yes, indeed.

It is nothing more than garden-variety garlic fermented with heat for 30 days and packaged to sell for twice the price, but the taste is entirely different. You can eat it raw or cooked without experiencing heartburn or garlic breath.

And though black garlic is not entirely new, it is most likely new to you.

Imported from South Korea by the California-based company BlackGarlic.com in 2008, black garlic appeared in dishes at Bix in San Francisco and Le Bernardin in Manhattan. It showed up among the ingredients on the Food Network's "Top Chef" and "Iron Chef America" shows. And you might be inclined to try it at home in 2010.

Brian Han, who works in sales at BlackGarlic.com, says the company's initial intent was to market it as a "natural food medicine," which is the other hot trend in home foods for 2010.

"It is high in antioxidants," Han says, "but we found out that to get the benefit, you have to eat a whole lot of it."

Soon after, Han says, "Bix restaurant used it on a lamb chop and everybody heard about it and that's how we changed our marketing."

At Fork restaurant in Philadelphia, chef Terence Feury, who abhors trends, says he got samples of black garlic in the summer of 2008 and used it in a sauce with roasted corn for his soft-shell crabs. Loved it, he said, but when the soft-shell season ended, he somehow never went back to it.

"That's the way it is with some ingredients," Feury says. "Fennel pollen came and went."

But black garlic is nothing to ho-hum about, Feury says. "It packs a lot of flavor into a small package. I really liked it."

Just as kimchi is fermented cabbage, black garlic is garlic that has been fermented with heat.

When heated at a fairly high temperature for 30 days, the natural sugar in the garlic is drawn out and the result is a bulb with a tan exterior and peeled cloves that are black.

BlackGarlic.com sells black garlic online fresh in bulbs, peeled in jars, as purée in jars, and as a concentrated juice for use in salad dressings and in cooking soups and stews.

"I love black garlic," Philadelphia's Zahav chef Michael Solomonov declared in a recent interview. He describes the sweet but savory taste as between tamarinds and dates.

Steep it in warm water for three to four days, he says, then purée before adding it to a recipe. That way, the flavor is not as pungent and won't overwhelm the dish. .

I tried it at home several ways: spread on a cracker and topped with a bit of smoked salmon (great); sliced thin and baked into the crust of white pizza (very yummy) and mashed and cooked briefly with balsamic vinegar and white wine as a sauce for seared scallops (see recipe) .

My guests agreed that eating a sliver raw on a cracker is the best way to get to know the flavor of this ingredient before cooking with it.

Scallops with Black Garlic Sauce

16 extra-large scallops (about 1 1/2 lbs.), patted very dry

Coarse salt

Freshly ground black pepper

3 Tbsp. butter

3 cloves black garlic, thinly sliced

1/4 cup white wine

2 tsp. balsamic vinegar

2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped

Season the dry scallops with salt and pepper.

Heat 2 Tbsp. of the butter in a large frying pan over high heat. When the butter bubbles, gently lay the scallops in the pan, allowing enough room so that they do not touch.

Sear the scallops, cooking about 4 minutes, turning once. They should be golden brown on both sides. Transfer to a serving platter.

Add the remaining Tbsp. of butter to the hot pan, plus the garlic slices, and fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour the white wine and the balsamic vinegar into the pan and turn down the heat. Simmer for one minute, seasoning with more salt and pepper and the fresh parsley.

Pour the sauce over the scallops. Or serve on a bed of linguine, tossed with extra virgin olive oil and chopped fresh herbs.

Makes 4 servings.

— From www.blackgarlic.com