Louise Viljoen, founder of Ouma Swesie’s Pantry, based in Darling, Western Cape since 2014, has a passion for food rooted in childhood memories. The idea of pickled garlic products came during a weekend with her daughter, who’s also involved in the food industry. After conducting market research, they decided to enter the market.
“The idea of pickled garlic products came during a weekend with my daughter, who’s also involved in the food industry. After conducting market research, we decided to enter the market.”
Many people are put off by the strong smell and taste of garlic. “It was my mission to eliminate the harshness and odor of raw garlic (which tastes more like pickled onions) with our pickled garlic, making it more user-friendly.”
Louise no longer personally grows her own garlic. “In the past, we sent the garlic we planted to the vegetable market for years. Due to the drought a few years ago and other aspects of farming that require a lot of water and only boreholes providing water, we had to explore other options for making the product work. The peeling process is incredibly labor-intensive, even though we used industrial ‘garlic peelers’ we imported. So, we had to decide what would be more cost-effective. Currently, the garlic is selected and purchased from different farmers and sent to us.”
“A few years ago, I came across black garlic abroad and was absolutely intrigued by it. I also saw a world map showing how much raw garlic is consumed and grown globally. It was interesting that South Africans consume very little garlic. I couldn’t even see our country on the map. This motivated me to continue with my products and raise awareness so that more people would use and enjoy garlic.”
Black Garlic is white garlic that’s fermented under specific humidity and temperature conditions for a period. During the process, the garlic turns black and retains its natural sugar levels, with no preservatives or additives. A study shows that black garlic is rich in amino acids and provides twice the antioxidants of white garlic. Black garlic has a balsamic, molasses-like taste and a chewy “licorice” texture. The process also eliminates its strong odor.
“It’s incredible how it catches people’s attention. Whenever I attend a festival or exhibition, people inquire about it. Many aren’t aware that such a wonderful product is on the market, especially not in South Africa. I believe many purchase it out of curiosity, but also because it tastes amazing and is versatile. It also leaves no lingering smell when you eat it. Although many chefs are familiar with the product, it’s mostly ordinary consumers who buy or order it.”
CAN OTHER ONION FAMILY PRODUCTS BE FERMENTED TOO?
Many vegetables are pickled in brine. Louise isn’t sure if onion-family products can be fermented in the same way as black garlic. (See the Maillard reaction) “It would be a trial-and-error test for them to find the best way.”
Louise’s products showcase how garlic can be diversified into specialty types. “Our pickled garlic is hand-picked, preserved, and hand-packed. It contains no preservatives and is suitable for deli spreads. What sets us apart from competitors is our unique variety of pickled garlic products with interesting combinations of ingredients and flavors that meld into unique products. It must also be convenient for consumers to use.
Louise’s desire is to create delicious products that even the harshest critic falls in love with. “I want to infuse life into food with our garlic infusion range that can be used in all recipes. And if it’s a treat, to give customers the best with every bite or even share these wonderful products with other food and garlic enthusiasts, just like me!”
GROWING MARKET FOR LOCALLY GROWN GARLIC AND MEDICINAL PRODUCTS
Production costs are high as it’s labor-intensive and requires fertilization, irrigation, and pest control. But garlic is adaptable and resistant to pests. In South Africa, much of our garlic is imported because not enough is produced locally. Imported garlic is irradiated to eliminate pathogens and this can hinder health benefits. During Covid19, there was a high demand for garlic and ginger. Medicinal products containing garlic show significant growth. The South African Garlic Growers Association also educates customers about health benefits to boost sales. According to the Department of Agriculture, the market for medicinal garlic products could see a massive increase in demand. A golden opportunity for local farmers with the right plan.”