The over-use of garlic in the kitchen

Garlic, an uncommon allergen.

I haven’t written about this topic, but as some of you may know my husband, Gary, suffers from a serious allergy to garlic. The onset of his allergy happened virtually overnight, about 3 years ago. Until that time both he and I were enthusiastic consumers of garlic, and I added it into almost every savory dish I made. If my recipe had onions in it, it also contained garlic. That’s just the way things were in my kitchen. I freely used garlic without any thought whatsoever. And why not?  Garlic is a health food, for crissakes, it’s got antioxidents to fight all those pesky free-radicals! Garlic is good for you, you CAN’T be allergic to garlic.

What are his symptoms?

Well, yes you can, and while uncommon, it is not an unknown allergy. And it’s not unheard of to develop a food allergy seemingly overnight. The body can, for reasons I don’t fully understood, suddenly react to a food as an enemy invader, and send histamines to fight the invasive food stuff. This internal fight can cause symptoms ranging from difficulty swallowing or breathing, to stomach upset, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, to life threatening symptoms like anaphylaxis. Gary’s symptoms are usually gastrointestinal in nature–bloating, severe pain, and diarrhea. Recently he’s developed also numbness in his lips and mouth when accidentally exposed to garlic.

The allergy seems to be getting worse as time goes on. When he first learned of his garlic allergy he, obviously, avoided fresh and cooked garlic, roasted garlic, and garlic juice. But, he thought he could tolerate small doses of dehydrated garlic or garlic powder. Not so anymore. Not only does he have to avoid all dehydrated garlic and garlic powder in his food, but also any possibility of cross contamination, such as the residue of garlic juice on knives or cutting boards. Makes dining out very difficult.

So what does all this mean?

As I mentioned previously, going out to a restaurant, something Gary and I did frequently and enthusiastically, is now fraught with difficulty. He simply can’t waltz into the local burger or pizza joint and chow down without the expectation of being poisoned by garlic. Most of the products in these casual eateries are outsourced. Salad dressings, sauces, and condiments are made off-site, and the restaurant cooks cannot, for the most part, vouch for the safety of these types of foods. Also, in my experience, the servers in these places don’t know or care about allergens in their products. Ethnic cuisines are problematic–Italian food is pretty much off the table, as is Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Korean, French, and any other cuisine that commonly relies on garlic. In general, the only places that might be considered safe are the higher-end steak houses and gourmet restaurants, and only then after careful vetting, advance calls to the chefs, and then tableside Q&A with the servers and chef. It’s exhausting, and embarrassing. It’s often easier to just stay at home.

Garlic hides at home, too.

But home is not always safe either. It’s eye-opening how many foods contain garlic, foods that, in my opinion, don’t require garlic. I recently took an inventory of the contents of my pantry, and I was shocked. I assumed my kitchen was garlic-free but then I found garlic lurking in my generic store-bought chili powder, as well as in several other spice mixes. Also in French’s Yellow Mustard. Ditto Miracle Whip. Stewed tomatoes with Italian spices? Yep, garlic. BBQ sauce? Guilty. Progresso Roasted Chicken Noodle Soup? Yes, it contains garlic. Most bottled salad dressings contain garlic. So do the ‘homemade’ dressing mixes like Hidden Valley Ranch, Uncle Dan’s and Good Seasons.

WTF, people? Why does it have to be that way? Why is garlic in nearly every prepared sauce? Why do most savory recipes have to have garlic in them? I consider the inclusion of garlic in everything to be, simply, lazy. There are other better ways to develop flavor than to just add garlic. What do I do? I spend an inordinate amount of time researching and preparing garlic-free dressings, sauces, and main dishes. That’s OK with me, as I have the time, the inclination, and the skill to do this. But I am writing this blog to raise awareness for the benefit of other garlic-challenged folks who don’t have the resources and knowledge that I have.

OK, that’s my rant. I should look on the bright side and be grateful that Gary is not, as yet, allergic to the other foods in the allium family, like onions, shallots, green onions, and chives. God knows, that might be next!

Before closing I wanted to make sure to give a shout out to 3 outstanding restaurants that do a wonderful job of taking extra care of Gary’s food issues:

Rogo’s–Magnolia neighborhood, Seattle, WA. A small and beautiful restaurant, with inventive food and excellent staff. The Chef, Michael Rogozinski, is a true hands-on chef, and seems more than happy to come out to the dining room to meet and greet his guests. New World Cuisine, or as their website says, ‘comfort food with a worldly influence.’

Palisades–Elliott Bay Marina, Seattle, WA. A gorgeous and large restaurant, boasting some of the most expansive views of Puget Sound and the city in the city. It is THE place to celebrate. The food is Asian-inspired gourmet, specializing in seafood. This was the first restaurant that my husband and I visited that really took his food allergy seriously.

The Granary–Spring Creek Ranch, Jackson, WY. I saved the best until last. This extraordinary restaurant makes it their mission to pay attention to their guests and their needs. The cuisine is Western gourmet–think elk tenderloin with a luscious berry sauce. Each dish I tried was noteworthy. Every person there, from the GM on down to the newest cocktail server, strives for excellence in food, drink, and service. I can’t recommend The Granary highly enough.

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