Too Much Garam Masala

A scary thing happened the other day. Liza, my daughter, had a bad reaction to something at an Indian restaurant in Curry Hill in New York City. I found the food we were eating to be much too spicy, but when I looked up to see the fear on Liza’s face, I knew something was terribly wrong. “I feel funny. My heart is pounding. I can’t breathe,” she said. The rapid heartbeat, chest discomfort, breathing difficulty, burning, and tingles all came in waves. Liza was having an allergic reaction. Within an hour, the discomfort and the daze were completely gone, but I blamed the episode on that over-the-top spicy garam masala.

A typical Indian garam masala spice blend recipe has black and white peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, black and white cumin seeds, and cardamom pods. This particular blend was full of chili and other spices too. As it turns out, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg are medicinal herbs that can cause an allergic reaction. Clove oil and other aromatic spices contain eugenol, which has caused anaphylactic shock. Reputable sources like the Physicians’ Desktop Reference and the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine confirm it.

Liza recovered completely, but a lesson was learned: herbs and spices are more than scent and flavor; they are pharmaceutical substances with therapeutic properties. Paracelsus, the Renaissance physician, said it best: “The dose makes the poison.”

You thoughts: Have you had an allergic reaction to food? Do tell….

5 thoughts on “Too Much Garam Masala

  1. There is no limit to the number of things a person can be allergic to, there are people who can develop allergy to even water!

    However as far as Indian spices are concerned, as an Indian, i can confirm what Carol said in the comment before mine. Added carefully (or frugally, as she says), a little garam masala goes a long way ! 🙂 This is true for all Indian spice mixtures.

    I am sorry to read about how your daughter felt. Scary! I find that many western restaurants overdo the spice component of Indian dishes by a LONG SHOT. The challenge for an Indian cook is to BLEND the spices right, not ratchet up the quantity of each. The best spices are those that are bought whole and then roasted and ground on the spot, but that can take effort. Since spice mixtures lose strenght with time, people end up adding more than the suggested dose. What they do not understand is that it cab be risky, so please do not hesitate to complain if you find it too much while eating out. In India for example, the often ask you if you like your spices ‘high, medium or low’, and i always find sensible people saying ‘low’ or medium.


  2. I have the same reaction to some Indian foods as well. It took a while but I reduced it to probably the garam masala. There are likely others that could benefit from knowing this could be the cause of their abnormal heart beat and shortness of breath. Thanks for posting this. It helped me figure out the problem I have been experiencing.

  3. Most people will have some problem with allergies or allergic reactions at some point in their lives. Allergic reactions can range from mild and annoying to sudden and life-threatening. Most allergic reactions are mild, and home treatment can relieve many of the symptoms. An allergic reaction is more serious when severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) occurs, when allergies cause other problems (such as nosebleeds, ear problems, wheezing, or coughing), or when home treatment doesn’t help.

    • What home treatments do you use for mild allergic symptoms? (Apart from removing the allergen!)

  4. Wow that’s a scary thing. They must of had a bucket load in the food. I like Indian food, and even make it at my house, and have the spice in my cupboard. However, I am frugal with the spice, only add a 1/2 tsp at a time. Yes spices are medicinal, I’ve studied nutrient dense foods, spices and herbs for 10 years when I decided enough was enough eating crappy American fast food, and processed food. So I’ve “gone around the world” making wonderful dishes from different countries.

Comments are closed.