All Garlic Oil is Not Created Equal
In our extended communication with Monash University during the development of our own recipe for Low FODMAP Garlic-Infused Oil, we learned how they begin to make decisions about what garlic oils are considered appropriate for the low FODMAP diet and which are not. We have used that information to inform this article as well as the information in our sister article, FODMAP Everyday’s Recommendations for Commercial Garlic-Infused Oils. Ultimately, if a product is not certified, we invite you to use the knowledge presented here to make your own best decision as an informed consumer.
For a great majority of people new to low FODMAP the most devastating news that they hear from their RDN is that garlic is not allowed during the Elimination Phase of the diet, and depending on their tolerance to fructans (the FODMAP in garlic) that it might have to be banished from their diet.
I was that person, too. Food without garlic? What about my favorite Mexican food? What about my weekly roast chicken? What about my Mom’s marinara sauce – heck, what about jarred tomato sauce when I’m in a pinch? It was a dizzying and depressing thought.
Then as Kate Scarlata RDN and I began to work on our book, she pointed out that the offending fructans in garlic are water-soluble but not oil soluble. This means that you can consume Garlic-Infused Oil. But what is garlic-infused oil and is all oil labeled as “garlic-infused” okay for us to consume? (After reading this article you should read our Recommendations for Commercial Garlic Infused Oils).
What Does “Garlic-Infused” Mean?
The confusion is with the word “infused”. In the English language we might say something is “infused” with a particular flavor to denote that the flavor is present in that food. But how the flavor got there could be through any manner of ways. For instance, you could chop up garlic and put it in a recipe, like a pot roast, and say that the dish was “infused with garlic flavor” and from a grammatical standpoint, you would be right – yet this would be high FODMAP because the garlic solids remain present! We have to get technical, specific and scientific.
- The Merriam-Webster medical definition of “infusion” relates to something, often a solid, steeped in liquid (often water) without boiling so as to extract the soluble constituents or principles.
- In cooking, there is a preparation technique called “infusion” where a flavoring agent soaks in a liquid for a period of time and then the solid is removed.
You can see how the two definitions are similar, and both, if referencing garlic as the solid and oil as the liquid, with the solids removed, would result in a low FODMAP “garlic-infused” oil. However, as stated before, in the English language, we use the terms “infused” and “infusion” in much broader terms and unfortunately, this could be misleading if we are just reading labels to detect FODMAPs.
To complicate matters further, some commercial labels of oil products state “garlic-infused” when the actual manufacturing process is not a true garlic infusion technique and the resulting product is not (or potentially not) low FODMAP. And other brands that do use a true infusion process do not label their product as such and might just say “garlic oil”.
And possibly the most frustrating thing we learned during our investigation is that many of the products that we initially researched online do not provide any ingredient information whatsoever! So if you did not have the bottle in hand to read or took the time to call the manufacturer, there is no way to assess FODMAP content! And even if you call, many times the oil is made by another company and the person on the phone is seriously lacking in information. Confusing? Very.
So We Became Garlic Oil Detectives!
So, how do you know if you cannot discern from the front of the label or the ingredient list on the back which oil is safe? That’s what this article is about.
Let’s define what we are looking for and what we are looking to steer clear of.
Garlic-Infused Oils Defined
Low FODMAP Garlic-Infused Oils: What We Want
These oils, whether they are made with some sort of vegetable oil, olive oil or a blend are made by letting the raw garlic cloves marinate for a period of time in the oil. It is important that no other food ingredient is present. Once the garlic has lent its flavor to the oil (and brands do vary in strength), all the garlic solids must be removed. Commercially prepared products could sometimes include a preservative, such as citric acid and that would be okay.
There are also some low FODMAP oils made with roasted garlic and in some cases the preparation technique is okay for us, too – but not always. You can read more about this in individual entries below.
High FODMAP Garlic Oils: What We Don’t Want
Any oil that is flavored with garlic through the use of “garlic oil”, “garlic essential oil”, “garlic essence”, “garlic flavoring”, “natural roasted garlic flavor”, natural flavor” or anything similar just won’t do.
What is Natural Flavor?
According to the FDA “natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional,” which means that we cannot support it as low FODMAP.
Why? Because you could have a garlic oil product that contains a “natural flavor” and we wouldn’t actually know what the original foodstuff was that gave us the “garlic flavor”. Believe it or not, it doesn’t necessarily mean it was garlic and it could very well be a high FODMAP food. And even if you call the manufacturer, they do not usually know either. You would have to know what company they get their flavoring from and most companies do not want to divulge such information.
No, Seriously, What Is It?
In fact, 100% of the companies that I spoke to who use a flavoring had no idea what was actually in the flavoring or how it was produced. They just know they want a garlic flavor, they find a company who offers such a product and that’s that. Many of them were suspicious of my inquiries, thinking I was a competitor trying to figure out how make the product and stated flatly that they would not give me all the information I sought – even after I explained that it was a health issue. Others were just very confused and couldn’t understand why I needed this information.
And, by the way, while a “natural flavor” will have derived originally from a natural source, it is so highly processed that most dietitians will tell you that there is little difference from artificial flavors. This may or may not impact FODMAPs, but it is a fact to know.
And Then There Are Essential Oils
Essential oils are all the rage with aromatherapy fans and they sound pure and good. As always, perspective is everything. Oil from garlic, which might be called “garlic oil”, “essential garlic oil” or “garlic essential oil” is usually made through a steam distillation process, which would allow the leaching of fructans into the product. So garlic essential oil might be good for acne or ear infections (not that we are recommending this but these are uses you will find mentioned elsewhere) but we definitely do not recommend ingesting it while on a low FODMAP diet due to the possible and likely presence of fructans. Again, we understand that water and oil don’t mix and that in scientific theory, the water soluble fructans would not actually become part of the resulting oil based product – but without being a certified low FODMAP product, we take the conservtaive approach.
Be prudent. There are garlic-infused oils that we believe are safe for FODMAPers to use, based on the available information from current FODMAP research and the oil manufacturers themselves. Certainly oils that have been through a certification process are safe. (And we will update this article as more go through this process). Oils made in the true infusion manner, such as our homemade recipes, are safe and then there are also the commercial oils in our recommended grouping above that would most likely be okay for FODMAPers.
We recognize that you use oil in small to moderate quantities, but again, we are erring on the side of caution. Now, if you have a bottle of garlic oil that your digestive system has been happy with, then by all means, keep using it.
Go here for our list of Recommended Brands of Garlic Infused Oils. Now you can get your garlic fix!