12 of the Best Onion Substitutes

No matter where you go in the world, you’ll likely notice onions are a staple ingredient in many the dishes. This is because onions grow in various environments and have a rich flavor that is useful when cooking everything from stir-fry to slow-cooked soups and stews.

However, some people have onion allergies and you may eventually run out of onions. In these cases, you will need to use an onion substitute.

The 12 best onion substitutes are:

  • Leeks
  • Chives
  • Scallions
  • Celery
  • Carrots
  • Shallots
  • Fennel
  • Onion Powder
  • Chinese Onion
  • Bell Peppers
  • Garlic
  • Black Salt

Each of these replacements for onions has its own unique flavor and should only be used in certain dishes. Keep reading to learn more about the flavor that each of these options can offer for your next meal.

Can You Cook Without Onions?

Next time you try to cook a recipe and realize that you don’t have any onions, you may be asking yourself if you can cook a recipe without onions. While it is technically possible, it is not recommended to cook a dish without onions. For many dishes, onions are a crucial ingredient that provides many necessary flavors.

Rather than completely omit the ingredient from the recipe, it is recommended to use one of the many alternatives to onions. That way you won’t be losing any flavor the next time you cook a recipe that requires onion.

What Can I Use Instead of Onion?

Fortunately, there any many great substitutes for onion that you can choose from the next time you cook an onion-flavored recipe. Each replacement for onion will be best for a specific flavor and texture of food so consider that before you pick which onion substitute to use.

1. Leeks 

One of the best substitutions that you can use for onions is leeks. Leeks are bulbous vegetables with a white base and long green leaves that extend up from the base. They have a mild flavor with distinct garlic hints that make them a great choice to add even more flavor to your recipe.

To use leeks as an onion substitute you will want to chop and cook them first. This will make them the most onion-like and give them the best texture possible.

2. Chives

Chives are a great option to use as a garnish to give a dish one last bit of crunchy onion flavor. They look very similar to leeks, just smaller, with a white base and long green stalks.

To add them to your recipe you’ll simply chop them up into pieces of the desired size and sprinkle them on top of your food. This will add a delicious crunch with a flavor that is reminiscent of onion.

3. Scallions

Another super good option that works both raw and cooked is scallions. Scallions are in the same family as onions, which means you should not consume them if you have an onion allergy. However, this also gives them one of the closest flavors to regular onions.

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They have a slightly sweeter, milder flavor than onions which makes them a good option if the flavor of regular onions is too much for you.

To prepare them you’ll simply chop them up and then use them in the same way that you would use an onion. You can also finely chop them and sprinkle them on top of your favorite salad for a crunchy garnish.

4. Celery

If you are allergic to onions, the majority of the options already mentioned on this list won’t work for you. Many of them are in the same family as onions and could have the potential to cause an allergic reaction. In these situations, you will want to use a vegetable from a completely different family to avoid causing an allergic reaction.

Celery is based used to substitute for onion in recipes where the onion is used as a base flavor like in soups, casseroles, or stews. As you cook the celery, it will slowly release a strong aromatic flavor into the dish that can help to make up for the lack of onion flavor.

If you like the flavor of raw celery, you can also chop it up and use it as a crunchy garnish.

5. Carrots

Another good option for slow-cooked dishes is carrots. Just like celery, these are aromatic vegetables and when cooked low and slow can create a rich flavor in your favorite soups and stews. This is why they are commonly used as an ingredient in vegetable broth.

They won’t provide the exact same flavor as onion, but they can help to make up for the lack of flavor in a different way without risking an allergic reaction.

6. Shallots

One of the most similar replacements for an onion that you can use is shallots. These are small, onion-like vegetables that have pale purple skin. They have almost an identical structure to the onion and can even create the same tearing response that onions do.

Since they are in the same family and are extremely similar, shallots are likely to cause an allergic reaction in those with onion allergies. Use caution with shallots if using an onion substitute for that reason.

The main difference between the two is in the flavor. Shallots have a more delicate, sweeter flavor than onions which makes them more tolerable to a lot of people. They don’t have the same spicy kick that is so characteristic of raw onions.

Shallots are often used as a key ingredient in soups, risottos, and sauces since they impart a deep onion flavor with a hint of sweetness that is appreciated in many recipes. 

You can use shallots in the exact same way that you use onions. Fry them up in your next stir fry, caramelize them for a sandwich, or put them in a salad. However you eat onions you can eat shallots and who knows, you may even end up liking them more.

7. Fennel

Another great option for onion allergy sufferers is fennel. This vegetable looks almost identical to onions in its raw form but has a bushier top with leaves that look similar to the dill plant. However, when raw, the flavor is anything but onion-like.

Before fennel is cooked, it has a strong licorice flavor that most people prefer to avoid. Because of this, it is best to only use fennel after it is cooked. After it is cooked the flavor is similar enough to the onion that it can make a great onion substitute.

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Use fennel in all of your favorite dishes that call for cooked onion. You can use it in everything from your favorite stirfry to fried onion-free rings.

8. Onion Powder

If your recipe calls for raw onion but you don’t have any on hand, a lot of the time you can just use onion powder. Onion powder is made from dried and ground-up onions and can give a delicious onion flavor to all of your recipes. However, it is not suitable for every recipe.

If your recipe requires raw onion or the slices of onion make up an important part of the dish’s structure, it is best to use one of the other substitutes. Onion powder is best used in dishes like soups or in sauces where the onion would normally be chopped finely or blended into the food.

9. Chinese Onion

If you have an Asian market close to your house, try using a Chinese onion as a substitute for regular onion. These onions have a very mild flavor and a crunchy texture that makes them ideal both for cooking and using raw in a salad.

Traditionally, both the bulb and stalk of the Chinese onion will be chopped and prepared. Try marinating the stalks in your favorite sauce and eating them raw for a delicious onion-y snack. 

10. Bell Peppers

Another option that you can use if the previous options aren’t available to you is bell peppers. These peppers can have many different flavors and give a similar depth to dishes that onions do.

Bell peppers are usually sold in four different varieties, red, orange, yellow, and green. However, they are actually all from the same plant. The color is just representative of how ripe they are with red being the ripest and green being the youngest. 

If you are using your bell peppers as an onion substitute, it is recommended that you use green bell peppers. These bell peppers will have the most bitter flavor and be the most reminiscent of onions. The riper peppers will have a sweeter flavor and will not give a similar flavor to the dish.

You can use bell peppers as an onion substitute in both their cooked and raw forms. Raw bell peppers are a great addition to any salad or sandwich for an extra crunch and burst of flavor. When they are cooked, they can add a good depth to your favorite foods and add chunks similar in size and texture to onion slices.

11. Garlic

Of course, it wouldn’t be a list of onion substitutes if garlic was not included. Garlic is one of the most popular seasonings in the world and can give a delicious flavor to all of your favorite dishes.

Garlic does not have the exact same flavor as onion. However, with the intense garlic flavor, you’re sure to not miss the lack of onion.

It is recommended that you cook your garlic before eating it. This can make it easier to digest and takes out the sharper, more bitter flavor notes.

12. Black Salt

The last substitute on today’s list is popular all throughout Asia, black salt. Black salt is regular salt that has been treated with sulfur. This gives the salt a distinct eggy taste and makes it a popular ingredient in the kitchens of vegans and those with egg allergies. Black salt can also give an onion flavor to your favorite dishes and add a depth of flavor that you didn’t know you were missing.

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If you decide to use black salt there are two things you should keep in mind. The first is to make sure you count black salt as both a salt and an onion substitute, don’t add the normal amount of salt in addition to black salt or you could be dealing with a very salty surprise.

You should also do your best to add the black salt after cooking. Heat tends to kill the flavor of black salt and make it taste like regular salt.

How to Choose a Replacement for Onion

When you are choosing your onion replacement there are a couple of things that you should consider. These include why you’re substituting and what dish you’re planning on using the substitute in.

Why

The first question you should ask yourself before picking your onion replacement is why you are using a substitute in the first place. 

If you are simply using a substitute because you don’t have any onions on hand, then you can pick any of the options on this list. However, if you are using a replacement for onion because you have an onion allergy, you will want to be a bit more careful.

The majority of the substitutions on this list are in the same family as onion and will likely cause a similar allergic reaction. In these cases, you will want to pick one of the other options on the list like fennel and celery which are generally considered safe for those with onion allergies.

The Dish

The next factor that you will want to consider is the dish that you are planning on using the onion in. If the dish calls for raw onion, you will want to make sure you pick a substitute that has a similar flavor to onion when raw such as shallots.

If the dish calls for cooked onion then you’ll have more options. One of the best substitutes for cooked onion is leeks which taste nothing like onion when raw, but has a distinct onion-y flavor once it has been cooked. 

Final Thoughts

The next time you are looking at a recipe and kicking yourself for not picking up onions on your last grocery run remember, there are plenty of onions substitutes. Not only are there substitutes that can make up for the lack of onion, but there are also several which can enhance the flavor of your recipe and make it even better than before.

If you have an onion allergy, always use caution when picking a substitute. The last thing you want is to trigger an allergic reaction from picking a substitute that was too similar to an onion. Generally speaking, if you have an allergy you should avoid all substitutes that are in the same family as onions.