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….