The umami business

Joe Thomas is known for his creative cuisine at Sconni’s. Now he’s started a business selling the trendy ingredient, black garlic. 


Joe Thomas created Black Umami Garlic out of Sconni’s kitchen, and it’s already in many central Wisconsin health food stores.

A handful of names come to mind when someone is challenged to think of creative chefs in the Wausau area. Joe Thomas is usually one of those, thanks to his work creating memorable dishes at Sconni’s.

Last summer Thomas partnered with Maggie Christians of Navieve Fromagerie and Katrina Becker of Cattail Organics farm to form TriLocal, Wausau’s answer to boxed, ready to assemble fresh meal boxes like HelloFresh (though TriLocal is more like a take-home cooking class than a full-convenience meal box).

Thomas’ latest food business, Black Umami Garlic, is a little different. The name perfectly describes the product: packages of garlic that has gone through an aging process, giving it a black color and deep rich flavor.

The idea came simply from looking at ways to preserve excess garlic at Sconni’s, Thomas says, but the more he learned about it, the more he liked it.

A trendy but ancient ingredient that Bon Appetit wrote up in 2016 as something “Chefs Are Going Crazy for,” black garlic has a unique, umami flavor. Umami’s savory quality is often considered the fifth basic taste, and describes the flavor of many Japanese ingredients such as miso or fermented soybeans. It specifically refers to foods with a high amount of glutamates that produces the flavor.

Though many are familiar with miso soup, for instance, many might not know about black garlic yet. “There’s a uniqueness about it,” Thomas says. He added fresh lake perch on Sconni’s menu recently and said the black garlic put just the right flavor touch on it. “Everyone said it was the best perch dish they’d ever had. The black garlic put the final note on it.”

Beyond that, black garlic has a number of health benefits, including boosting one’s immune system. Black garlic is also high in amino acids and has twice the anti-oxidants of regular garlic.

Those qualities made it a no-brainer for health and local food stores around central Wisconsin. Downtown Grocery, Red Clover Market and Navieve Fromagerie in Wausau are carrying it, as well as the Stevens Point Area Co-op, Family Natural Foods in Wisconsin Rapids and Golden Harvest in Rhinelander.

How do you use it? The same way you would regular garlic. Black garlic has a similar but deeper flavor profile than regular garlic but isn’t nearly as pungent. According to Bon Appetit, sprinkle it in powdered form on anything you want to give an earthiness or depth to.

Like most fermented foods, creating the black garlic isn’t necessarily difficult, but it does take time, Thomas says. With garlic sourced from Cattail Organics, creating the black garlic is a several-week process done in Sconni’s kitchen. The result is an ingredient that not only has a rich flavor but also a long shelf life—which is part of the reason people started aging and fermenting foods in the first place. Find Black Umami Garlic on Facebook.