Garlic or Onion Allergy

If you are allergic to foods like milk and wheat, just a look at the label can tell you if that allergen is inside certain foods. However, if you have an allergy or intolerance to plants such as garlic or onions, it can more difficult to stay away from. This is because these plants are often found in their powdered, diced, or oil form in many processed products like prepackaged foods, marinades, and sauces. Because of this, the minute amount of flavoring added may not be easy to find on ingredient lists or labels. Learning more about garlic or onion allergies can help you to stay safer during meal and snack time if you have such an allergy or intolerance.

Garlic and onion allergy or intolerance

Garlic is an edible bulb in the lily family also known as Allium sativum. It has been used for many years as a dietary supplement.  Research shows that a certain type of alliin lyase is the major IgE binding protein in individuals allergic to garlic. Anaphylaxis, hives, itching, sneezing, nausea and vomiting, and dermatitis are some symptoms of an allergic reaction to garlic.

Others may be intolerant to garlic and sensitive to the fructo-oligosaccharides in garlic, which are a type of fructan. Fructans are an indigestible carbohydrate that cannot be broken down through digestion in humans. Some people experience symptoms such as abdominal cramping, gas, or bloating after consuming garlic. However, since fructans are water-soluble, those who are sensitive to fructans can still consume garlic infused oils safely.

If someone has a garlic allergy or intolerance, then they may also be allergic or intolerant to similar plants like leeks, shallots, chives, and onions too. This is because these vegetables contain similar proteins and compounds that you may be sensitive too. When someone is allergic to vegetables with similar proteins, this is called cross reactivity.

Onion, or Allium cepa L., is also in the Liliaceae family and is a versatile vegetable that has been consumed widely for its flavor and potential health benefits.  Some of these perceived health benefits are thought to originate from the antioxidant compounds quercetin and anthocyanins found in onions. Like garlic, symptoms of an onion allergy may include symptoms such as itching or hives, and an intolerance usually involves digestive symptoms.

Foods that may contain garlic or onion

Besides their raw and cooked form, garlic and onion can be found in many food products.  Dried garlic and onion powders are commonly found in food products such as:

  • Prepackaged frozen meals
  • Canned or boxed soups
  • Salad dressings, sauces, and salsas
  • Processed meat products like deli meats, sausages, or pre-seasoned meats

It is important to read the ingredient label carefully for garlic or onion ingredients since there will not be an allergen warning on food labels for such ingredients. Therefore, it is safest to just prepare soups and season meats at home if you have a garlic or onion allergy or intolerance. There are however some garlic and onion free flavoring substitutes such as:

Other ways to season foods without garlic and onion include herbs and spices like basil, oregano, cumin, sage, or spices as simple as salt and pepper. 

Take home message

A garlic and/or onion allergy or intolerance can be difficult to manage since these ingredients are found in many food products. However, if you are cautious and read ingredient labels and/or prepare food at home with alternative herbs and spices, then you can stay safe and still enjoy flavorful food.

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