What can I Use As a Substitute for Onions?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

There are a couple of different reasons why a substitute for onions may be desirable. Perhaps there are people in the household who are allergic to onions. Maybe there are simply no onions in the house and there is no time or desire to run out and purchase a bag of onions. In either situation, there are some quick and easy ways to use other ingredients instead of onions and still have a tasty dish.

Garlic can be substituted for an onion.
Garlic can be substituted for an onion.

If the need for an onion substitute arises due to the fact there are no onions in the house, there are several options open. First, there is the possibility of substituting with a clove or two of garlic. The taste will be very close and the texture of minced garlic is very similar to that of finely chopped onion.

Sometimes it is necessary to substitute an onion.
Sometimes it is necessary to substitute an onion.

When no garlic is available, look in the spice rack. There is a good chance that you will find onion powder or onion flakes among the spices. Both options are a great substitute for onions. As a bonus, there is no chopping or dicing involved. Many cooks use the dehydrated onion flakes in soups, stews, and in meatloaf because they add a taste of onion without the mess.

Leeks are a good substitute for onions, especially for people who cannot eat onions.
Leeks are a good substitute for onions, especially for people who cannot eat onions.

For situations where allergies need to be considered, there are a couple of options that may work. One common substitute for onions is a nice bunch of leeks. Leeks have a milder taste than onions and are far less acidic. Many people who cannot eat onions can consume leeks with no problem. You can use the green tops as well as the white bulbs for a little added color to the dish.

A need to substitute onions might exist when someone experiences a severe allergic reaction.
A need to substitute onions might exist when someone experiences a severe allergic reaction.

When leeks are still a problem, you may want to look into such options as fried cumin seeds and perhaps asafetida, better known as hing. Both will add flavor to many recipes and are very friendly to constitutions that cannot handle onions for some reason. Hot peppers may also serve as a viable substitute for onions as well. Mince the peppers so the taste will be evenly distributed throughout the prepared recipe.

Hot peppers may be used as a substitute for onions.
Hot peppers may be used as a substitute for onions.
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


My husband is allergic to onions, garlic, leeks and anything else related to the bulb family. He is also wheat and gluten intolerant, as well as lactose intolerant. He's severely allergic to seafood / shellfish. Gluten is found in most things as is onion in the form of onion powder which is used as a thickener and flavoring in most things -- and garlic too.

He cannot have oats or barley or any of that because it also contains gluten and gives him the same reaction. Needless to say, he cannot have anything pre-basted or pre-prepared, and dried spices are also a problem because of onion powder being used as a thickener, along with other preservatives that contain gluten.

We buy everything fresh and read all labels as if we were secret agents on a mission - which we are! We're on a mission to keep my husband healthy, happy and alive! Even desserts prove a tricky thing as most involve milk and flour (wheat and in turn gluten). He cannot have bread (obviously) so just a simple sandwich which we take for granted is out of the question. It's a hard life for him and he is often hungry, especially when we are out and there are just no places where he can eat at without risking getting ill.

We always carry activated charcoal capsules with us (as often ingredients are not disclosed and you can never be too safe) as well as Lactase. Since we've been married we've figured out what agrees with him and what doesn't and have narrowed our food choices to accommodate that. Luckily, we were never a family that ate canned or processed foods so eating "fresh" wasn't the problem - we just had to contend with the many allergies, some of which we only discovered as we went along!


Onion, garlic, leeks, chives,scallions and shallots all give me terrible gastric distress. I find that Indian Jain food recipes are great for people who can't tolerate these ingredients. Kasmiri pandit food recipes are great for people who are looking for meat, chicken and fish recipes without these ingredients. Buddhist monks in China also do not consume these ingredients and Chinese monastery food recipes are also very flavourful. These days the recipes are easy to obtain on the net.


I have a serious problem with onions leeks even chives but I have added intolerances: all of the cabbage family and any hot spices, plus wheat. As I am vegetarian, it is even more difficult to ever eat ready made foods or sauces, etc.

I do not have a problem with garlic in moderation, therefore I can use that. I also use sweet peppers, celery, fennel and most herbs. Horseradish is good to add flavor and mustard powder, for me wheat free.


Wow, awesome ideas guys! I have a genetic disorder that flares up severely when I eat onions (sounds very much like anon78571) and I'm so thankful for all your suggestions on onion substitutes! You better believe I'm going to test them all out. Thanks!


Believe it or not, I have been substituting granny smith apples for onions for several years now. The apple gives the recipe the volume that's missing when you omit the onion.


Cabbage is a really good substitute for onion, especially in baked dishes. It has the same crispiness, and a similar taste.


My husband is allergic to onions (which leeks count as), so I have been substituting other vegetables for a while now. I use sweet bell peppers and carrots finely chopped in many things, celery works in some things. I haven't tried it yet, but I was thinking for raw uses I would try jicama or kohlrabi. I am always interested in other ideas though.


I have a Sulphite allergy, so I cannot use onions because it is naturally in onions and if I eat onions I have breathing difficulties, sometimes leading to asthma. But the idea of using cumin is a good idea. I like using spices in food. Also I might try the leeks out to see if I can tolerate these.


I just found out my 5 year old is allergic to onion, garlic and cumin. Being that is the main ingredient in cuban cooking, I'm looking for another alternative without compromising flavor. Any suggestions?


The person for whom I was looking said she doesn't like "onions, garlic, or leeks." Guess I'm out of luck!


anon78571- It's not the methane that makes you cry - It's the sulfur mixing with your tears, producing minute amounts of sulfuric acid. Methane making you cry doesn't even kind of make sense.


My boss is severely allergic to onion in any form. She can't even use ketchup, and I need to bring some sides to her home for dinner and don't know what to do. She goes into anaphylactic shock if she even looks at an onion. I need help.


Would have been nice if you had made the very important note of how much onion powder is needed versus the amount of onion called for!


Trouble is, I have no garlic or leeks either. I've got a red pepper and a yellow pepper.

I was in a market and this nice Indian lady persuaded me to buy a pack of Rogan Josh Spicentice. I thought it was more or less complete but then I realized I needed many ingredients, most of which I don't have in my cupboard.


So good to read this and find somebody else can not eat onions, i have the same reaction, and what a pain trying to cook without them! every chef uses then with every meal. Food becomes very boring but thanks for the tips


Perhaps there may be people who are allergic to onions? Oh how I wish this were theoretical! I am severely allergic to them! The slightest grain of any onion product (that includes onion powder or onion salt) starts a painful reaction in my system--starting with inflammation of my digestive tract and going from there.

Severe diarrhea, vomiting, and pain that lasts for about 24 hours after the slightest exposure--which is very hard to avoid when you realize that onions are put in just about everything--and often unmarked!

No wonder I have a sweet tooth--desserts are the few safe dishes for me where I know there will be no onion products snuck in. It is a very painful allergy. I've met others with this allergy and they have similar problems.

One chef I've met theorizes it is the methane by-product produced by onions--always produced in some amount. Methane is what makes us cry when we cut them. Some people cannot tolerate methane internally. That would make sense.


I agree about leeks, they are much milder, and are a great substitute for the more stronger tasting onion.

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