5 Best Onion Substitutes

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

Finding onion substitutes is essential when cooking for people with allergies, sensitivities, or just a basic dislike for this pungent vegetable. One of the most common vegetables around the world, the onion is a member of the Allium family, which also includes garlic, leeks, and shallots. The three most common varieties are yellow, red and sweet onions, all of which consist of a crispy, layered bulb beneath a dried skin. The strong flavor of onions comes from sulfur compounds that are naturally occurring in the plant. Onions are frequently used in soups and stews, as well as stir-frys, and add flavor to many vegetable and meat dishes.

Top Onion Substitutes

Some people seek out onion substitutes because the pungent flavors of the vegetable can sometimes be off-putting to people when added to dishes. The sulfur in onions is also a potential digestive irritant and allergen. Additionally, onions can be difficult to prepare because of the irritating compounds that are released when chopping or cooking them, which can cause eyes to burn and water. However, it is easy to replace onions with other Allium family members, or even different vegetables altogether.

Whole and halved fresh onions on a wooden table

Onions contain antioxidants and compounds that fight inflammation. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Dried Onion

Also known as dehydrated onion, and commonly available in the spice section of grocery stores, dried onion is a good substitute for fresh when trying to avoid the discomfort of preparing onions. Add this to your recipe to taste, as their flavor can be more potent than fresh onions.

Shallots

These are very closely related to onions, but with a smaller bulb. Shallots can be more expensive and harder to find than onions but have a much milder flavor, so more may be required to make an impact in your recipe.

Scallions

Scallions are the best onion substitute for fresh use. Sometimes referred to as green onions, these Alliums have less sulfur than regular onions and are therefore not nearly as pungent.

Three bunches of scallions on a table

You can chop the scallions into fine pieces and sprinkle them on your salads. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Leeks

Another member of the Allium family, leeks have a thick white stalk and flat green leaves. Use the white parts in place of onion in soups and stews for a mild and sweet taste.

Fennel

Fennel is a good substitute for onion when allergies are an issue. It has a sweet, subtle anise flavor, but the texture is very similar to onions when cooked. Use sparingly, however, as the flavor of this herb can be quite penetrating in a dish.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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