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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.

            3 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).

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

                Leeks are a weak substitute.

                1. Is it an issue with FODMAPS. I am recently discovering about them and have found scallions/chives to be much more tolerable than onions. But as you said, these are milder in flavor.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: paw1717

                    From what I am learning about FODMAPs and IBS, people with problems with onions can avoid them by sautéing them in oil, and then discarding the onion and using the oil. Apparently, what causes the problems for people who need to be on a FODMAPs diet is water soluble but not oil soluble. So you can get the onion flavor without the problems by sautéing. What I am reading says you can keep the oil for a while -- a few weeks or a month. I don't know if that's true. But I have to explore this so I bought a bunch of onions and am going to make some very concentrated onion oil that we can use in things. Maybe that will help. Worth a try!

                  2. Is it an actual allergy, or could it be solved by taking some digestive enzymes?

                    1. My father is a very "fussy" eater and always claimed that onions upset his stomach. He is now almost 90 years old... My mother always just cooked as she normally would but either left the onions whole or in large pieces so she could pick them out or strained out the onion solids from whatever she was cooking. So you still get the onion flavor but not the actual bits of onion. I don't know if your Mom's problems are more serious, as in an actual allergy, but it has worked for my mom for the last 65 years. (Yes 2014 marks their 65 year wedding anniversary.)

                      As somebody else suggested, maybe have your mother try some taking some digestive enzymes or probiotics.

                      1. What if you grate the onion and use the juice/liquid vs any of the actual onion?

                        1. I think the onion in any conventional form is a problem, as even finely mincing and using minimal amounts in a recipe has still caused mom problems.

                          It is not an allergy per se, as it does not cause anaphylactic reactions, or hives, or anything. But it is a digestive sensitivity.

                          I think you have all given me some great ideas to start with. Once I've tried these we should be able to narrow done what the limits are, and what can work instead (who knows maybe dried, or blanching/freezing/soaking may be enough to get around the issues).

                          Thank you all!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: LauraMichc

                            Hi Laura, I don't know you or your mother in terms of ages etc. But...could it be that she just "thinks" onions are the problem? Trying to write this in delicate terms. Does she definitely have a stomach reaction after consuming onions? Or after eating, has gas/acid build up and burps/gas that taste/smell like onion? The second description could cause her to be identifying onions as the problem, when it could be an underlying problem that is not actually related to onions.

                          2. To all that ask if it is a perception-issue, or something else.
                            It is an Intolerance, not an allergy or in her head.
                            Because this is relatively anonymous i will reveal the details I would otherwise not.
                            she gets bad diarrhea, nausea (sometimes vomiting), cramps, gas, and other symptoms.

                            I liked the one person's link to a previous thread where people mentioned sulpher: not only does it explain mom to a degree, but it is helpful to me as well - as I also have an issue with several foods that cause such a reaction (ex. I LOVE eggs, but unless they are part of a mix I can basically no longer eat them without 48hrs of relatively-minor reactions).

                            Luckily neither of us has to eliminate all alliums of sulpher-foods. Neither one of us will enjoy losing any more of our dietary range.


                            3 Replies
                            1. re: LauraMichc

                              Laura, I don't know if this will work with your mom, but it may help you with your intolerance of eggs. When I was in my 20's I developed an intolerance to eggs. Eating eggs caused me horrible pain in my stomach and I felt like I would explode from one end or the other. This went on for over 10 years till I mentioned it to a doctor. He told me since I developed it later in life, and was not born with the sensitivity to eggs, it was an intolerance and he could help me to eat them once again. I had many doubts about his claim, but followed his instructions. He told me to scramble up an egg and eat only the tiniest amount... like 1/4 of a teaspoon. The following day I was you repeat the process but this time eat slightly more... such as 1/2 a teaspoon. Each day I was to increase the amount of scrambled egg, until I could eat a plate full of scrambled eggs. He said doing this would reintroduce the food in question and allow my body build a tolerance to it. IT WORKED!!! I have never had any problem with eggs prepared in any fashion since then. I am now in my 60's. Don't suffer Laura. You can do this too.

                              1. re: i_am_Lois

                                I will definitaley be trying this! That's almost my exact scenario!!!
                                Maybe that will work on mom too...
                                ...mildest variants/tinest amounts and then adding
                                Thank you :)

                                1. re: LauraMichc

                                  Good luck Laura. And please, let me know how you make out. Not being able to eat eggs is awful. I still remember how I needed to avoid so many foods I had loved (cheesecake, many sauces, pancakes, etc). Always had to ask the waitress if eggs were used in the preparation of the dishes I wanted to order. Then there are the times when you are a guest at someone's home. Even if they are aware, an egg can slip their mind. On one occasion I visited my sister to enjoy her homemade lasagna. A short time later I was doubled over in pain & had to leave, I felt so horrible. Dear sister had used an egg to bind her cheeses in the lasagna. She was almost in tears, feeling horrible about that reckless egg. So I'm glad you're willing to try overcoming this. Remember, start out with a very teeny weeny amount, and be very patient as you increase it very gradually each day.

                            2. If you can find Walla Walla sweets, or Vidalia onions, since they have a lower sulfer content they may be easier on the digestion. Spring onions are also milder, but seasonal.

                              Have you isolated the problem to onions per se, or undercooked onions? If it's the latter, there are ways to cook onions - partially caramelizing them, or cooking them in the Indian dopiaza style - that (at least to me) make them taste milder. Otherwise, other than going with milder alliums like leeks or shallots, I can't think of a good substitute. But then for me, onions are a staple.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: tardigrade

                                Yeah they are a staple for us too. Such a frustrating disaster!!!

                                1. re: LauraMichc

                                  Many women find their gastrointestinal systems change once they near, and go through, menopause. Before changing your cooking style and diet, spend $10 and try Beano, sold in pharmacies and the health aisle of the supermarket. The drops are more reliable, I think, than the pills. You put a few drops on the first forkful of the meal. It tastes similar to soy sauce, not at all unpleasant. If it works, you'll know after the first meal taken with it.

                              2. A family member has the same problem with fresh onions. But found that dehydrated onions don't cause a problem when used in a dish.

                                1. My mother can't eat onions but she can tolerate shallots. She now uses them instead and no longer has issues.