The Obsessive Overuse of Garlic in Modern Day American Cooking?

garlic heads

When I was a little girl, my mother noticed I was getting rashes on my arm and behind my knee. She took me to my pediatrician who recommended I go to an allergist. I went, and the results of the allergy testing were pretty sad for me. He said “No peanuts, no chocolate, and no oranges or orange juice.”  So every Easter, I’d get the white-colored bunny rabbit and various jelly beans in my basket. Yuck! My siblings had the delicious-looking chocolate ones, plus Reese’s peanut butter eggs, and other chocolate goodies. Imagine the envious look on my little face?

I wasn’t the only one in my family that seemed to have an allergy. It was discovered early on that when we ate something containing garlic, my brother became nauseous and red in the face, and would even throw up. We rarely ate garlic in my home, because my mom mostly cooked early American Anglo-Irish type foods. However, as years passed, it seemed like both my brother and I outgrew our allergies. That was most welcome! The opposite was the case for my husband. He won’t even assay to test it out again, not even after many years.

My husband is a Czech. They do use garlic in some of their cooking, but not as often as modern-day Americans do. He remembered as a kid eating garlic soup, and loving it. However, as he grew older, eating garlic seasoned dishes started to make him sick and red-faced, just like my brother. To this day, he still gets very sick if he inadvertently eats it, especially fresh garlic.

My husband told me about his garlic allergy early on in our dating. I was like “That’s no problem! I rarely cook with garlic, anyway.” Over the years, I’ve also been successful at modifying recipes that do, because I do enjoy eating foods from outside my cooking heritage. You do have to be a little creative sometimes, though, but I’ve managed successfully. Luckily my husband can eat onions, chives, leeks, scallions, and shallots. If he didn’t eat those, I will say my challenges would be far greater. In most cases, recipes that call for garlic can easily be modified using these alternatives, either alone or in conjunction with various herbs (like oregano, marjoram, chives, or others), spices (like fennel seed or caraway seeds), or by slightly modifying the recipe to include other unique flavors (from wine, to capers, artichoke hearts, etc.)  It sure is good that I like to cook, or hubby would be up the creek eating very limited things!

restaurantGoing to restaurants in the US or buying pre-made foods (frozen or fresh) in the grocery store is very problematic. At restaurants, you always have to ask them to check if there is garlic in the dish. Even dishes you’d never imagine would have it in a million years. Believe me; some chefs in the US use it in almost everything, save maybe desserts. Often they’ll say the chef will make it without or that it doesn’t have it, only to see the dish put in front of my husband with obvious slices of the fresh stuff staring at him. And hubby sometimes doesn’t even notice. It’s usually me that says “Stop! You can’t eat that! They didn’t listen!”  Other times when I don’t notice and he eats something with garlic (like the occasional hamburger), he suffers. Yes, some places, usually pubs, even season hamburger meat with garlic! Many times the staff/chef already know that everything on the menu has garlic, so they just say so. If they do try to make the dish without a garlic-containing sauce, for example, the dish is so boring and bland it’s not worth the money. They certainly don’t try as hard as I do to make the dish nice. Or sometimes the dishes are prepared ahead of time for just reheating. Once a diner waitress said “Sorry, but we’ll give you a corn on the cob for free.” Another time at a restaurant, my husband just ate carrot cake for dinner.

ingredientFrozen or prepared “to go” foods from the grocery store are laden with garlic; again, things you’d assume wouldn’t have it. We have to look at the ingredient lists on every product very carefully. Such foods are usually pretty low quality, as it is. Garlic is often added simply because it’s a cheaper flavoring than adding more expensive ingredients, like herbs and spices. Sometimes pre-roasted chickens have garlic on them deliberately, because it’s a known fact that garlic can mask the flavor of not so fresh meats and other foods.

The fact is that many people, and even chefs/cooks, nowadays are perhaps a bit obsessed with garlic. When garlic is included in almost every non-dessert dish, doesn’t it go a bit too far sometimes? American Italian restaurants are notorious for including garlic (sometimes large amounts) in almost everything. I say “American Italian”, because my husband and I have traveled to Italy (mostly the north to central parts) many times and he had no trouble finding several dishes on each menu that he could eat. Ones without any garlic to begin with. It’s the same in other countries in Europe.

I found an interesting article at www.theglobeandmail.com/life/food-and-wine/food-trends/the-pungent-debate-of-using-garlic-in-cooking/article21538724/ that describes how an actual Italian chef came to Canada and initially forbid the use of garlic by his cooks. His reasoning was based on Italian cookbook author Marcella Hazan’s book Essentials of Classical Italian Cooking, published in 1992. Hazan wrote, “There are some Italians who shun garlic, and many dishes at home and in restaurants are prepared without it…The unbalanced use of garlic, is the single greatest cause of failure in would-be Italian cooking.” I, personally, find that the very freshest ingredients and flavorings help dishes shine. One must be careful not to overwhelm these flavors with stronger ones, like garlic, simply as a matter of habit.

It should be known, though, that most of the Italian immigrants that came to the US in the past were mostly from southern Italy, where garlic is more often used. Also, another theory holds that “… Italian immigrants to North America were so poor that garlic was all they had to scent their meagre bowls of polenta or cover over the poor flavour of low-quality meat.” Again, perhaps the frequent use became a habit, even after financial conditions improved.

I forget exactly when it was…perhaps 20-30 years ago…when garlic began being advertised as a super health-promoting god of ingredients. It was said that it’s full of vitamins and minerals, helps combat various illnesses (like the common cold), can reduce blood pressure, cholesterol levels, contains antioxidants that can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, increase athletic performance, detoxify heavy metals in the body, improve bone health, and generally help you live longer (facts from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-proven-health-benefits-of-garlic#section9). Wow! Maybe now I really do know why some people want to add it to almost everything! I even know they sell garlic in pill form. Whether all of these claims are really true, I don’t know, but I’m sure this has also contributed to its extreme use in the US. Hubby, however, will have to take his chances without it. Me, too, for the most part.

Do you like garlic? How frequently do you use garlic in your cooking, and why?

26 thoughts on “The Obsessive Overuse of Garlic in Modern Day American Cooking?

  1. mylibraryandothermischief February 22, 2018 / 7:53 pm

    One compromise that I sometimes do when making a tomato sauce for pasta is to peel and cook with a small clove/ section of garlic (not cut or crushed) while the sauce is simmering and then removing the clove before serving. It stays whole and flavours in a light but lovely way. Might be an option?

    Liked by 2 people

    • updownflight February 22, 2018 / 8:01 pm

      Thanks for sharing that mylibraryandothermischief! I couldn’t do that with my cooking because it would still probably make my husband sick, but I think that’s a brilliant way of giving a nice tomato sauce a mild garlic flavor without the garlic overwhelming the flavor of nice tomatoes, herbs, and other aromatics.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. erik sax February 22, 2018 / 7:57 pm

    Most recipe books go through a committee run by vampires, and they must be convinced to include a modicum of garlic. Usually, this means at least doubling or tripling the amount of garlic in any recipe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight February 22, 2018 / 8:02 pm

      I see, but I’d think the vampires wouldn’t like it. I’d think it would be the vampire haters doing that.

      Like

  3. Karin, theaustriandish February 22, 2018 / 8:12 pm

    As you probably know from my recipes, I use garlic if necessary. But I do something an Italian friend advised me to do: She said I should remove the small “root” (I don’t know the exact name, even not in German) in the middle of the clove. That makes the taste much milder and garlic easier to digest.

    Liked by 2 people

    • updownflight February 22, 2018 / 8:17 pm

      Thanks for sharing that, Karin! I think I do know what you are referring to as the “root”. Hubby would be very unhappy for me to even try that, but I think this is a great suggestion for others to try. One other person commented with a different idea for reducing the pungency of this aromatic.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Karin, theaustriandish February 22, 2018 / 8:19 pm

        Indeed I meant that for others, or if you prepare something for guest – unfortunately that measure does not help when you have an allergy 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • updownflight February 22, 2018 / 8:22 pm

        I’m glad you shared that tip for others. Though I rarely cook for others with garlic, I do enjoy it myself on occasion when I’m at a restaurant. I will say that not long ago, I wanted to make a seafood marinara or Bouillabaisse for my dad for a weekday lunch visit. I love both of these dishes. Unfortunately, my dad hasn’t visited me in a long while.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. bexoxo February 22, 2018 / 8:13 pm

    Since I’ve started exploring different recipes, I’ve noticed the heavy use of garlic as well. I’d say in any given week, I use garlic once or twice while cooking, but in moderation; I hate an over-powering taste of garlic.

    Liked by 2 people

    • updownflight February 22, 2018 / 8:19 pm

      I think I would probably be cooking with garlic like you said, if my husband wasn’t allergic to it. Though I have always enjoyed the occasional treat of garlic bread, which is seriously garlicy, I also prefer it to add but not overwhelm in most cases.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. NaPropasti February 22, 2018 / 10:14 pm

    Have you ever looked at the ingredient list on a jar of pasta sauce made in Italy? Much shorter than on the average American one, and sans the mandatory garlic or the words no one can pronounce. Oh, the ubiquitous nonsense hype such as All Natural and Smart, No antibiotics, Farm to table, Family recipe, etc., is usually also absent.

    Liked by 2 people

    • updownflight February 22, 2018 / 10:28 pm

      OMG! Yes! That’s so funny you mentioned that. They are among the only jarred sauces I can buy. Actually, we’ve even found frozen pizzas imported from Italy with no garlic. They are both delicious, too. Good luck finding these items made in the US without garlic! We’ve stood in the pasta sauce sections for up to 15 mins to no avail at times. The only US pasta sauces that MIGHT not have garlic are the Tomato Basil variety. But that’s it. I love to cook, but even I occasionally want something quick to make.

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  6. Nel February 22, 2018 / 11:49 pm

    I don’t know if there’s an obsessive use of garlic but maybe that’s just me.most Americans don’t season enough in my opinion. Just salt, pepper and paprika which is so annoying. I personally like hints of garlic especially in anything that has tomato sauce or like garlic bread. As for buying jarred sauces, that’s easily bypassed by just buying a jar of crushed tomatoes. If anything you’ll have a basil leaf or two but when it’s plain you can jazz it up however you like. That’s what I always do anyway even though there are plentiful jarred sauces that don’t have garlic in them where I live and they’re organic which is a bonus!

    Liked by 2 people

    • updownflight February 23, 2018 / 2:12 am

      Maybe there’s a regional aspect to this issue. Thanks for sharing that, Nel.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Alanna February 23, 2018 / 3:51 am

    I LOVE garlic and grow it- big flavorful bulbs and use it liberally in my cooking. But I feel your pain….I cannot have SUGAR. Sugar, in some form, is in darn near every prepared food in this country, soups, sauces, seasonings, you name it. It sure makes it difficult to eat food prepared outside of the home!

    Liked by 2 people

    • updownflight February 23, 2018 / 1:54 pm

      Oh Alana, that does sound like a major challenge. Does that even include the natural sugars in fruit and such?

      Like

      • Alanna February 23, 2018 / 4:12 pm

        I can have fruit…but not toooo much at one time. That would be a real insult not to have any!

        Liked by 2 people

      • updownflight February 23, 2018 / 4:41 pm

        I’m glad you can at least have a little. All the best!

        Like

  8. skyecruz February 25, 2018 / 3:25 am

    Thanks for the information, I never thought about how much garlic is used in our cooking before but now I realize how ridiculous it really is! I’m not much of a cook, my husband does all of the cooking but he usually likes to use a bunch of different spices when he does.

    Liked by 2 people

    • updownflight February 25, 2018 / 3:50 am

      Thanks for reading! That’s nice your husband enjoys cooking.

      Like

  9. Suzanne February 26, 2018 / 2:32 am

    Can’t eat more than a very small amount of the garlic/onion family. Not only is eating out challenging, but I have to alter almost every savory recipe. I didn’t know tge recipes from some areas of Italy aren’t garlic-laden!

    Liked by 2 people

    • updownflight February 26, 2018 / 3:35 am

      Sorry you have to struggle with this, too. Definitely not being able to eat much onion must make it extremely tough.

      Really, in the northern areas of Italy down to Rome my husband had lots of wonderful original restaurant options without garlic. I’m not sure if it would be as easy if he couldn’t eat onions, leeks, shallots, and the like.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. vividual April 30, 2018 / 12:50 am

    Very interesting post! I don’t suffer from a garlic allergy but I just don’t like eating it. I don’t mind when I go out but try to avoid it as much as I can. At home I don’t use garlic at all. I think you can make every meal taste delicious even without garlic. I hate the smell of it on my hands or in my mouth. Just makes me feel so uncomfortable. Especially when you wash your hands several times and you can still smell it when you’re laying in bed.

    When I look for things at the supermarket I sometimes try to find dips without garlic. It’s almost impossible. I’d just like to have something with some carrots in the morning that doesn’t make me smell like I just had a döner kebab. Hope this will change in the future.

    Liked by 2 people

    • updownflight April 30, 2018 / 6:11 am

      I hope it changes, too. Maybe it will eventually be like a long fad. That’s funny what you wrote about smelling like a doner kebab in the morning 😁

      It’s amazing how passionate some people are about garlic.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Anna Drake May 27, 2018 / 1:11 pm

    It’s interesting that you can find garlic free imported pasta sauce. I always thought it was the popularity of Mediterranean dishes that popularized the use of garlic. I grew up in a Midwestern household during the 50. I’m reasonably sure Mom had never even seen a garlic clove in her life. Now, had we lived near New Orleans things would have been different, I’m sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight May 27, 2018 / 2:39 pm

      It is surprising, but true.

      Neither my mother nor any of my ancestors ever used garlic until it became a “thing”. My family were pretty much Americans of Anglo Irish background. I guess it is because of that that I don’t mind eliminating it from my cooking because of my husband’s allergy. I do, however, cook many dishes that most people add garlic to without it. My cooking tastes pretty good to us. The use of herbs and onions, and other ingredients, create lovely flavors. Sometimes flavors often overwhelmed by too much garlic. I know some people that even double or triple garlic amounts in recipes.

      Like

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