The Best Substitutes For Onions

What Can You Substitute For Onions?

However, it may come as a surprise to know that some people avoid eating onions for all sorts of reasons.

Why would you want to substitute onions?

For some people, the problem is the smell, both on the hands and the breath.

To combat this, after chopping onions, you can try rinsing your hands with cold water, rubbing them with salt, rinsing again, and then washing with soap and warm water.

To remove the smell from your breath, try chomping down on a few sprigs of parsley or an apple, as these can help to neutralize the odor caused by onions. 

For other people, it is more of a matter of health rather than an inconvenience. Onions can trigger IBS in some people and cause painful stomachaches, so avoiding the layered veggie is the only way to bring them comfort.

Some people can also be allergic to onions and on the hunt for a reasonable substitute. People who suffer from Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) are advised to avoid garlic, as well as onion, at all costs.

If they were to eat onion, it could cause a whole host of issues and discomfort. Other people choose to boycott onions because of their pungency.

These people’s eyes are usually more sensitive to the chemicals that are present in onion, making their eyes itch, burn, and water as they cut the vegetable. 

This is the reason why different people choose to avoid eating onions for different reasons. Although it is difficult to recreate the versatility, ease, and flavor of an onion, you can certainly get pretty close.

Anything that is used as a substitute for onion will need to be somewhat pungent to have the same effect.  

The type of substitute you choose should depend on your dietary requirements and what recipes you plan on incorporating them into. 

Onion Flakes

This substitute is not suitable for those who are allergic to onion, as onion flakes are made using the real thing- so be careful.

However, if you don’t have an allergy, onion flakes are probably the most delicious substitute on this list.

Onion flakes work particularly well for those who hate the pain of chopping onions. The flakes are super affordable and usually come packaged in handy tubs.

Onion flakes are super crispy, making them perfect for sprinkling on top of pasta dishes or hotdogs. However, if it’s the flavor of onion that puts you off, you’ll need to consider another substitute.

Garlic

As strange as this one may sound, garlic can be used as a cheap and simple substitute for onion. To mimic the pungency of an onion dish, you’ll have to use a lot more garlic than you normally would.

If you like the taste of garlic, there’s really no downside to this substitute option. Garlic is really beneficial for your health and can improve your immune system.

Leeks

Leeks are almost onions, aren’t they? Well, they’re actually related.

Both leeks and onions are members of the Allium family. This is why they share a similar internal appearance, layered structure, and some taste. 

Leeks are great for creating that pungent tang that onions add to a dish. Of course, if you are allergic to the Allium genus, do not use leek as your substitute. You will still get unwell. 

Chives

You’ll often find chives sprinkled onto some sour cream or incorporated into more complex dishes.

Although they’re fairly mild in small quantities, if you use a lot of them you can achieve an almost garlic-like flavor.

Avoid cooking them to keep the onion flavor as alive as possible. Simply add some raw chopped chives on top of your meal or as a salad garnish. 

Scallions/Spring Onions

Providing that you or anyone you’re preparing food for doesn’t have an allergic reaction when they come into contact with the Allium genus, scallions can be a great substitute for onions.

These aren’t as strong as regular onions and their layers tend to be much thicker. Be sure not to throw any of it away too, you can cook and eat both the bulbs and stalks of spring onions.

Chopped Vegetables

If you’re making a large hearty meal such as a curry or a soup, removing onion from the recipe can thin out your dish.

In order to bulk it back up after eliminating onion, consider chopping up other vegetables into small chunks to take its place.

Some vegetables that are ideal for doing this include; tomatoes, carrots, swede, and sweet potato. 

Fennel

Another possible substitute for onion is fennel. However, it is very much an acquired taste. If you don’t usually like the taste of licorice or aniseed, it’s best to stay well away from fennel.

However, if this sounds like something that you can get on board with, it can add an intense flavor to your dish. Every part of the plant can be used, so don’t waste it!

Asafetida

If you’re familiar with Indian cuisine, you may have come across asafetida before. It is essentially a gum extracted from a ferula, an herb in the celery family.

It is usually available as a coarse yellow powder and smells like boiled eggs. Asafedita’s pungency and relation to celery make it perfect for replacing onions in many dishes. 

Himalayan Black Salt

Also commonly known as Kala Namak, Himalayan black salt is just as salty as regular table salt.

However, it stands out thanks to its pungent smell.

Some people compare the stench to that of a boiled egg. It is volcanic rock salt that is mixed with activated charcoal. This is what gives it its strong and earthy flavor.

Some people find black salt to be a great substitute for the flavor of onions. However, you won’t achieve the same bulk when using black salt. 

Bottle Gourd

This funky white vegetable is also often referred to as calabash. It has a texture that is similar to a melon, cucumber, and squash. To substitute onions for bottle gourd, we recommend opting to grate it.

Shredded bottle gourd is arguably much milder than using chopped onions, but the texture of the vegetable can make it work. It is often used in Indian Cuisine and used in curries and koftas. 

Ginger

If you are able to chow down on garlic without any issues or dietary restrictions, we recommend substituting onion for some ginger, thyme, and garlic.

One of the easiest ways to do this is by mixing garlic paste with ginger paste in a small bowl.

Add some fresh thyme on top and voila- you now have a flavorful paste to add to any dish you like, without some of the problems that can come along with onions. 

Peppers

Much like tomatoes and carrots, peppers can do a great job at thickening and bulking up a whole host of dishes.

Making a salad? Consider chopping up some fresh bell peppers and adding those for a splash of color and crunch without using onion.

Alternatively, if you’re making a curry or a chili and you’re a fan of spicy food, consider chopping up some hot peppers and adding them to your dish to substitute for onions. 

Cabbage

Shredded cabbage is a cost-effective, easy, and tasty alternative to using onions in a dish.

It has a much milder flavor than onions, so it is perfect for those that avoid onions because of their pungency.

They’re great for adding bulk to hearty dishes or even just generously grated on top of a summer salad. 

Melon Seeds With Coconut Paste

If you’re trying to thicken a curry, consider using either finely ground melon seeds or ground cashews and add them to some plain yogurt.

It does a great job at bulking out the dish as well as adding some creamy flavor and crunch.

This substitute for onions is probably the furthest away from the real thing in terms of taste, however. But if you’re not a huge fan of onions, this may be perfect for you. 

Skip it

Perhaps the best substitute for onions is leaving them out altogether. This may seem crazy to you if you love onions, but it isn’t as difficult as you think.

While onion-like substitutes such as spring onions and garlic really can replicate the flavor of onions in a dish, it is hard to compare to the real thing.

If you’re avoiding onions for health reasons, taste test your favorite dishes without adding onion first and see how you like it. If it’s a little bland, then refer to our list of handy substitutes. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you cook without onions?

Yes, you can cook a recipe without onions if you don’t have or you choose not to have them in there, although you will miss out on some of the complex flavorings that they bring to a dish.

Onions add both texture and flavor to a recipe and are often one of the most common base ingredients in saucy dishes like spaghetti bolognese.

When raw onions are put into a recipe or used to top, they can add a spicy flavor but when they’re cooked they soften and go sweet and can even caramelize to the point where they are undetectable by taste. 

What can I use instead of onion and garlic?

If you don’t like onion and garlic or you just don’t happen to have any then there are a handful of substitute ingredients you can use to achieve the same complex flavoring.

For a garlic replacement, you could try using garlic-infused oil or even garlic powder seasoning to add a little something to a recipe. Adding some fresh chopped chives to a recipe is a great replacement for garlic. They’re normally used to garnish dishes but can still be used in your cooking to add some more flavor. 

For onions, you could try using green onions or shallots as a substitute for your recipe, however, these will add a more pungent flavoring to your recipe so if you don’t like the taste of onion then you may not like these substitutes as they are more recognizable in a dish.

Chopped leek leaves also have the same flavoring as onions do and are a great substitute to put in your dishes, they’re also a lot bigger in size and will help thicken any saucy recipes.

If you don’t mind altering the flavoring of a recipe slightly, then you can use roasted red bell peppers with some herbs instead of onion to give a sweet flavoring to your cooked dish as well as mimicking the texture that cooked onions have in a recipe.

In general, as long as you have some substitute ingredients to bulk out a recipe and season it well then you won’t even notice that onion is missing. 

Can you replace onions with shallots?

Yes, you can replace onions with shallots in a recipe and they are in fact, one of the most similar substitutes as shallots are in the onion family.

Shallots are a lot sweeter than regular onions so if you’re looking for something more delicate to replace onion within a recipe then shallots would be a good option. 

You’ll need to use a higher ratio of shallots to what the recipe calls for onion as they are so small. So if your recipe requires 1 medium diced onion then you’ll need to use around 5 or 6 diced shallots. 

Cassie Marshall
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