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 has been the case for my husband, who developed a garlic allergy in his 20s and still has it in his 60s.

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, so he doesn’t have a full alliums allergy. 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, caraway or celery 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. Many certainly don’t try as hard as I do to make the dish nice, with only occasional exceptions (usually high-end restaurants). 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 or high-quality 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 think they believe that most Americans now even expect it. 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 certain other countries in Europe.

I found an interesting article, The Pungent Debate of Using Garlic In Cooking, that describes how an actual Italian chef came to Canada and initially forbade 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.” In the article Italy’s Great Garlic Divide, chef Daniele Uditi, chef at Los Angeles pizza mecca Pizzana, says that only now are some chefs just beginning to realize [despite the craze] that garlic can be “either your greatest aid or your worst enemy.”

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. Though my husband must not eat garlic, I certainly occasionally enjoy it where it is truly meant to be. I still see garlic ending up in more and more places that I can’t imagine it belongs. Products that used to be my favorite (that didn’t have garlic), suddenly have it added.

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. It is also known that the quality of produce and meats in grocery stores deteriorated over time. Fewer people grow their own or obtain it locally.

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 11 Proven Health Benefits Of Garlic.) 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, or overblown hype, 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?

37 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.


  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

    • David Miller March 13, 2021 / 1:20 pm

      Theres no need for garlic it doesn’t bring out flavour it masks it.I hate garlic cant buy ready meals even frozen fish plus cheese and onion crisps why

      Liked by 1 person

      • updownflight March 13, 2021 / 4:17 pm

        It is indeed mighty frustrating! I hear ya, David!


  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.


  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?


      • 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!


  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.


  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 without it that most people add garlic to. 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.


  12. Fuzzyfred January 15, 2019 / 9:02 am

    My mother had a separate garlic garden when I was growing up. I used to pull up and munch a garlic clove when I was going fishing in a particularly mosquito infested place.(they don’t seem to like the smell) Anyway, about 15 years ago, I had experienced an unusually busy day. I was called in to work early and didn’t have time for breakfast. Because of a major machine break down none of us got lunch and we worked two hours past the end of shift. I called my wife and had her meet me at a new Asian restaurant(my third favorite style of food) we had wanted to visit. I ate a very garlic laden dish at the restaurant. The dish also had sesame, teriyaki, mushrooms and a mixture of meats. Before the night was over I had come down with very violent food poisoning. I ended up having to go to the hospital for an IV, I had gotten so dehydrated. I stayed away from Asian food for a long time after so the full reaction my body had didn’t show up. I did however love the ridiculously garlicked American version of Italian food. The first time I ate at my favorite Italian restaurant, about 45 minutes to an hour after I ate I thought I had food poisoning again. The reaction was almost identical. Throwing up, ‘violent’ bathroom visits. But about two hours after it started (I didn’t know it at the time, but long enough to get the garlic out of my system, yes it was that violent and fast) and it went away. It took visiting two more restaurants and taking a garlic oil supplement to realize it was my beloved garlic I was reacting to. Not being much for burgers, and avoiding Asian food it took a while to figure out the extent of my body’s new aversions. I was at a friend’s house and ate a vegetarian ‘burger’. It was a large grilled mushroom with tomato and veggie slices on a sesame seed bun. My friends knew my problem with garlic and proudly told me they had complete control over all the ingredients and the ‘burger’ was in their words,”Vampire safe”. I enjoyed the sandwich and strangely had a sneezing fit after finishing it. An hour later I had the food poisoning symptoms again. Well, in the years since I have found out that if I eat anything that contains: garlic, mushrooms, sesame oil or seeds and teriyaki or soy sauce, and to a lesser degree soy containing products, my body reacts as if I have food poisoning until through whatever means it manages to remove those things from itself. I can relate to your husband’s dilemma. When you have to rule out garlic from your food, it cuts your choices down unbelievably. And I swear I have ran into idiots that sneak garlic into dishes for some sadistic reason after you tell them you have a problem with it. I’ve gotten to the point I just tell them I’m allergic and I’ve even had people tell me, “You can’t be allergic to garlic.” When you add in teriyaki and soy products, mushrooms and sesame, it makes it almost impossible. I’m just thankful I don’t react to the meats that were in the dish. I’ve heard their is a disease carried by a tick that can make you allergic to red meat. Thanks for the article and the links.

    Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight January 15, 2019 / 12:10 pm

      Thanks for sharing your story, Fuzzyfred! I’m sorry to learn that you become so ill from garlic and the other foods you mentioned. Can you eat other alliums, like onions, scallions, or shallots? Luckily my husband can. That makes it easy for us to live without garlic for home cooked meals. It is sad how restaurant staff (and even some friends) can be so unconcerned about such allergies. One must be vigilant.


      • Fuzzyfred January 15, 2019 / 5:58 pm

        For the most part, I can eat the other alliums. Occasionally, very strong sharp onions will react. Leeks don’t cause the violent reaction, but it does seem my body tries to get rid of them more quickly.
        I have found, that in addition to making more savory sauces at home using the “more expensive” Italian spices, for me at least, a mixture of onion powder and celery powder (or flakes when I can’t find the celery powder) will mostly satisfy my American palate. And my American idea of what spaghetti sauce should taste like. One thing that amazes me, is how supposedly educated people will argue with me and other people who either have true anaphylactic allergies to things or sensitivities like myself. They seem to take on a persona of a parent trying to get a kid to try the “yucky” vegetables.
        I have a friend who has severe diverticulitis. The last time he ate something with tomato seeds in it, he ended up in the hospital with an incision from his sternum to his groin and a cross incision from one side of his stomach to the other. His intestines were on a small table next to the operating table while they flushed out his abdominal cavity where his intestines had ruptured with the infection. Because of his weird metabolism/drug resistance, he regained consciousness while all this was happening. Several years later, when the food he ordered from a restaurant had tomatoes on it even though he had told them he was allergic to it. As he puts it, its generally a lot easier than explaining diverticulitis. Because of the danger he told them to remake the dish. When they brought his “remade” dish back to the table. It still had the salt and pepper he had put on the dish the first time. Someone in the back had just picked the tomatoes out. If he had been anaphylactic allergic to tomatoes he could have just died before he left the restaurant. With the diverticulitis it could take a few days. When he complained, the manager told him it was all in his head. Well, I suppose waking up partially disassembled would leave something “in his head”.

        Liked by 1 person

      • updownflight January 15, 2019 / 7:30 pm

        I’m glad you can eat some of the alliums, at least a bit. Not being able to eat any would make eating super difficult.

        I’m sorry your friend became so sick to warrant hospitalizations. I would definitely never eat out in such a case, unless I knew the chef personally. When my husband and I go out I emphasize his garlic allergy many many times. Luckily he’s only gotten sick after those efforts a few times. I have, however, ended up eating his meals more than a couple times. He’s had a couple a couple times when he’d go to dig in and I yelled for him to stop because I saw his meal full of garlic slices. That’s when you see them. Many are not visible.

        I’ll have to try the celery powder you mentioned. Usually I use a good amount of oregano.


  13. Dr. G.F. Proclisiac April 12, 2022 / 1:39 am

    Garlic is a horrid spice that ruins the taste of everything it is added to! Oh that we could go back to the old garlic free days!!!


    • updownflight April 12, 2022 / 6:50 am

      I do think people would greatly benefit from exploring other flavors more. Thanks for visiting my blog!


      • TaShawnna Butler March 13, 2023 / 10:18 am

        I absolutely love garlic and am guilty of using it in every single thing that I cook except desserts. The same with Lemon Pepper. If I don’t have those two, it’s not complete for me. Luckily I just cook for myself.


  14. Mary H September 18, 2022 / 11:32 pm

    I really don’t understand why garlic is in EVERYTHING! Every time I buy anything, I need to look at the ingredient list. If something does not include garlic I feel really lucky! It’s in my bottled Ranch dressing, on my sliced deli turkey, even in my ‘plain’ crackers! If I accidentally buy something containing garlic, I can tell at the first bite! It’s usually that I just don’t like it. Then I check the ingredients. Sure enough, it’s garlic! I can’t buy any prepared foods, because it is always lurking there sometimes disguised as “spices”.

    I wish the food industry would get hip to this, and start making “garlic free” prepared food. I would be so happy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight September 19, 2022 / 9:10 am

      Hi Mary. Thanks for the comment! Your word “lurking” hits the nail on the head. The whole “spices” ingredient should also be eliminated to increase detail.

      I do not have the garlic allergy, my husband does. However, I jokingly say I have “garlic radar” because I can taste it even in dishes where garlic is NOT supposed to be the star ingredient. The extreme garlic flavor is that dominating. Also, too often it is even lousy quality garlic flavor. I don’t hate garlic, but I do dislike bad quality and when it need not be there, or should not be so noticed.


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