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Jan 9, 2014 01:43 PM

Substitute for onions

My mom's digestion has changed over time and now onions tend to upset her digestion.
We do a lot of savoury cooking (roasts, pastas, chili, meat pies, etc) and nearly everything utilizes onions for their dynamic flavours, but we rarely can (we occasionally get to just use a hint, but mom usually still pays for it). And we can often use garlic to a degree, especially based on if we are working that day/the next or not.
Sometimes we can use leeks, as they are not as harsh but it doesn't seem to lend itself to every instance.

Any suggestions? Even if it is a different flavour? Basically I am looking for some general suggestions that will add flavour to a dish, instead of leaving things bland.
(And if you have some suggestions for a similar tast to the onion that would be great, because I'm running low on ideas.


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  1. I wonder if some dried minced onion would cause the same effect. Or onion powder?

    Otherwise, shallots are often used as a sub for onions.

    But check out this thread:


    One person tried an experiment on the first page:

    An experiment you may want to consider . The oil of the onion is very potent. When we used to have smoked salmon carved in the dining room ,it was served with choped egg, parsley and diced onion . We first diced the onion then dipped it in boiling water for 30 seconds shocked it and then squeezed all liquid out of it in cheescloth or clean muslin. It then did not smell as bad, stayed white and didn't discolor at room temp for hours and tasted milder. some time altering a product changes its affect on people. When you blanch the diced onion you destroy much of the sulfur and chemical contents.

    Perhaps blanching the diced onions would help?

    3 Replies
    1. re: LindaWhit

      I wonder if freezing does the same??

      1. re: monavano

        It's quite possible. I found this with additional Googling:


        All you need to do is give the sliced onions a good soak in a bowl of water before serving them. This one simple step tames the bite of the raw onions and mellows out their flavor. The sulfur compounds responsible for that harsh "biting" flavor and onion's powerful aftertaste dissipate into the water from the cut surfaces of the onion.

        So perhaps blanching in for 30 seconds in boiling water would do so even more than just a dip in the cool water pool or skating on the frozen pond. :-)

      2. re: LindaWhit

        I can't stomach onions well either due to digestive trouble. And most people with issues like IBS cannot do onion or garlic.

        Onion powder does not upset my stomach or cause reflux AT ALL. I find it to be a great substitution for onion called for in a recipe.

        Obviously if you are making an onion-heavy dish, it will effect the taste, texture, and volume of food.

        But it works great in things like rice dishes, seasoning blends, rubs for meat, etc. Just add in some onion powder during cooking.

        If I make chicken or vegetable soup, I still use onions in my mirepoix, just at a far lower ratio (will have maybe 1/4 as much onion as carrots and celery). I'll also chop them very very fine, then sauté them before adding stock. After simmering for an hour, they practically disintegrate and I find I can tolerate them in moderation.

      3. I'm guessing the entire allium family isn't tolerated?
        I'd start by leaning towards glutamates for flavor, if she's not sensitive to them.

        1. Hing, also called asafoetida, is a pungent-smelling Indian spice that imparts and onion/garlic profile to food, but is not an allium. Also, it is very beneficial to digestion. Blooming it in hot oil changes the aroma....don't inhale until that happens, lest your courage fail!


          2 Replies
          1. re: greygarious

            Although it's a little out of left field, I was going to suggest hing/asafoetida as well. In India, it's used as the exclusive "allium flavor" by certain groups that shun onions and garlic for religious reasons.

            I will warn the OP, though, that pungent only begins to describe the smell. I actually like it myself, but most people think it just plain stinks! Store it in a glass jar with a tight lid. :)

            1. re: MikeG

              I second that. It's pretty pungent - I quite like the smell, but that's not a common reaction. But when it's cooked, you get a smoother onion flavour.

          2. Try asafoetida. It has long been used by Jain chefs as a substitute for onions, which they avoid for religious reasons.

            4 Replies
            1. re: JungMann

              Supposedly, black garlic, which has undergone fermentation, imparts a caramelized allium flavor. Perhaps the process also improves digestibility. Trader Joe's now sells it.

              1. re: JungMann

                "Jain chefs as a substitute for onions, which they avoid for religious reason"

                wow, I knew Jains avoid a lot of things but never heard that one before.

                1. re: hill food

                  Buddhist vegetarian cuisine also avoids onion (along with hot chilis and garlic).

                  1. re: hill food

                    in the last year I learned the avoidance of root vegetables is because harvesting requires killing the entire plant. interesting stuff.

                2. Is onion powder out of the running? Onion juice? Scallions?

                  Leeks are a weak substitute.