Onions are a versatile ingredient used in various cuisines worldwide. They have a distinct flavor profile ranging from sweet to pungent, depending on the variety and how you cook them. If you need to substitute onions in a recipe, you can use scallions, chives, Chinese onions, leeks, and other alternatives.
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What flavor can onion add to the dish?
Onions add a variety of flavors to a dish depending on how they are prepared and used in the recipe.
When onions are sautéed or caramelized, they become sweeter and develop a rich, savory flavor that can add depth to dishes such as soups, stews, and sauces. They can also add a subtle sweetness to dishes like roasted meats or vegetables.
Raw onions, on the other hand, have an intense, sharp flavor that can add a fresh, crisp taste to salads, sandwiches, and tacos. They can also add a tangy flavor to dishes like ceviche or salsa.
The flavor also depends on the type of onion, but here are the most popular ones:
- Red onions have a slightly sweet and mild flavor with a slightly bitter aftertaste.
- White onions have a sharper, more intense flavor than red onions, with a slightly sweet undertone.
- Yellow onions have a stronger, more assertive flavor than red or white onions.
What is the best substitute for an onion?
Shallots are the best substitute for onions as they have a similar flavor and texture. They’re also in the onion family.
Shallots can add a slightly sweeter, more delicate flavor to your favorite recipe. They can also add a more complex flavor profile similar to an onion due to sulfurous compounds and fructooligosaccharides, contributing to a slightly savory and umami-rich taste.
Essentially, shallots are small onions that have a somewhat milder flavor. However, the final taste of the dish will also depend on other ingredients and seasonings used in the recipe.
Since shallots are smaller, the ideal substitution rate is as follows: you can use 2 large shallots, 4 medium shallots, or 6 small shallots instead of one medium onion.
9 more onion alternatives
- Onion powder
- Onion flakes
- Onion salt
- Chinese onion
|Onion powder||Made from dried, ground onions and has a concentrated, intense flavor profile that is slightly sweet and earthy, common in soups, stews, marinades, and dry rubs|
|Onion flakes||Have a milder flavor profile than onion powder, with a slightly sweet, savory taste and crispy texture, perfect to put on top of hot dogs or pasta dishes|
|Onion salt||Combines onion powder and salt, making it a convenient seasoning for flavoring many dishes|
|Scallions||Have a mild, slightly sweet flavor profile with a hint of spice, commonly used in Asian cuisine but also work well in salads, soups, and stir-fries|
|Chives||Have a mild, onion-like flavor profile with a hint of garlic, ideal garnish, but you can also put them in soups, dips, and salads|
|Chinese onion||Have a slightly sweeter flavor profile compared to regular onions, an ideal substitutes for onions in stir-fries, soups, salads, and omelets|
|Leeks||Have a mild onion flavor profile with a hint of sweetness and a crunchy texture when raw, often used in French cuisine and are a popular ingredient in soups, stews, and quiches|
|Fennel||Has a distinct anise flavor profile with a slightly sweet, licorice taste, a versatile ingredient in various recipes, from salads to roasted vegetables and meat dishes|
|Celery||Has a mild, slightly sweet, and somewhat bitter flavor, a great substitute for onions in soups, stews, salads, and sauces|
1. Onion powder
Onion powder is made from dried, ground onions and has a concentrated, intense flavor profile that is slightly sweet and earthy. It is common in soups, stews, marinades, and dry rubs.
Onion powder substitutes fresh onions in many recipes and is especially useful in dishes where a smooth texture is desired, such as sauces or dressings.
The ideal ratio for substitution is one tablespoon of onion powder for every medium onion.
2. Onion flakes
Dried onion flakes come from dehydrated onion slices that have been dried and crushed. They have a milder flavor profile than onion powder, with a slightly sweet, savory taste and crispy texture. They are perfect to put on top of hot dogs or pasta dishes.
The ideal ratio for substitution is 3 tablespoons of onion flakes for every medium onion.
3. Onion salt
Onion salt combines onion powder and salt, making it a convenient seasoning for flavoring many dishes. It has a robust and savory flavor profile with a slightly sweet and salty taste.
Onion salt is a good substitute for onions in many recipes, especially dips, dressings, and marinades. But it can also be a substitute for salt in some dishes that require both flavors.
The ideal ratio for substitution is 2 tablespoons of onion salt for a medium onion – with the mention that you’d need to reduce the salt content as well.
4. Scallions/Spring onions
Scallions, also known as green onions, have a mild, slightly sweet flavor profile with a hint of spice. They are commonly used in Asian cuisine but also work well in salads, soups, and stir-fries.
Thanks to their oniony flavor profile, scallions can be a good substitute for onions in recipes such as in omelets or savory pancakes.
The ideal ratio for substitution is 3 tablespoons of chopped scallions for every medium onion.
Chives have a mild, onion-like flavor profile with a hint of garlic. They are ideal garnish, but you can also put them in soups, dips, and salads. Chives can be a good substitute for onions in recipes that call for a mild onion flavor, such as in mashed potatoes or scrambled eggs.
The ideal ratio for substitution is 3 tablespoons of chopped chives for one tablespoon of chopped onion.
6. Chinese onion
Chinese onions have a slightly sweeter flavor profile compared to regular onions. They are a crunchy type of onion typically used in Asian dishes.
Some recipes where Chinese onions can be ideal substitutes for onions in stir-fries, soups, salads, and omelets. You can also use Chinese onion as a garnish for dishes such as ramen and pho.
Since Chinese onions are milder in flavor, you may need to use slightly more to achieve the desired taste. The ideal substitution ratio is 3 tablespoons of chopped Chinese onion for 1 tablespoon of chopped regular onion.
Leeks have a mild onion flavor profile with a hint of sweetness. They have a crunchy texture when raw and become tender when cooked. They are often used in French cuisine and are a popular ingredient in soups, stews, and quiches.
Some recipes where leeks can substitute for onions include potato leek soup, quiches, frittatas, and risottos. The ideal ratio for substitution is 1:1.
Fennel is a big white bulb with green stalks often used in Italian and Mediterranean cuisine and has a distinct anise flavor profile with a slightly sweet, licorice taste. Fennel is a versatile ingredient in various recipes, from salads to roasted vegetables and meat dishes. Still, it has a less intense onion flavor than other substitute options.
Some recipes where fennel can be used as a substitute for onions include pasta sauce, roasted vegetable dishes, braised meats, and salads.
To substitute onions with fennel, use a 1:1 ratio. That means you’d have to use 1 cup of chopped fennel bulb for every cup of minced onion.
Celery has a mild, slightly sweet, and somewhat bitter flavor. When cooked, the bitterness diminishes, and the sweetness becomes more pronounced. The taste of celery is not similar to onions, but it can add a subtle earthy, herbaceous, and fresh note to dishes (and some bonus crunchiness).
It’s a great substitute for onions in soups, stews, salads, and sauces.
As a rule of thumb, you can use a 1:1 ratio for most recipes. For example, if the recipe calls for 1 cup of diced onions, you can use 1 cup of chopped celery instead.
What’s the best alternative for people with onion allergy?
Most people with an onion allergy are allergic to alliums, and this family includes chives, garlic, and leeks. Removing onions from the diet may be the only option for people with this allergy.
However, there is an Indian condiment that could be the alternative — asafoetida powder. It can be used as a substitute for both onions and garlic (and also works well as a chaat masala substitute).
You can find this condiment online or in South Asian grocery stores.
Other spices you can consider if you’re allergic to onion:
|Ginger||Can add an aromatic spicy flavor to dishes and be used as a substitute for onions in some recipes, such as stir-fries and curries|
|Veggies||Vegetables like bell peppers, carrots, celery, and mushrooms can also add flavor to dishes and are a great substitute in stews, soups, and slow-cooked dishes|
|Herbs||You can add flavor to your food using fresh or dried herbs like parsley, cilantro, basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, or sage|
Can you cook without onions?
You can cook without onions. While they are commonly used in many dishes because of their flavor and aroma, you can use several alternatives.
Still, cooking without onions may affect the dish’s flavor as onions add a distinctly sweet, savory, and slightly spicy taste. Without onions, the food may taste somewhat different or lack some depth and complexity of flavor.