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Substitute For Onion


What can you substitute for onion if you’ve run out? Onions are versatile ingredients found in many recipes, so it can seem challenging to find an appropriate swap to replace the familiar flavor. Below are options for you to choose from that will provide a similar flavor in dishes.

table top with many onions, one onion sliced in half

What Is Onion?

Also known as allium cepa, onions are a plant in the amaryllis family. These plants produce delicious edible bulbs that can be used in various recipes, from stuffing to stir-fries, soups, roasts, salads, and many other recipes.

Most likely, onions originated in Asia. Though, this versatile vegetable is now produced worldwide and widely consumed. Onions offer a sweet, spicy, savory taste, with some varieties (like red onions) providing a spicy flavor in recipes.

You can use raw onion or cooked onion in recipes. Raw onions will provide a more robust flavor, while cooked onions offer a sweeter, less intense taste. The texture also changes as onions cook from crunchy when raw to soft when cooked.

Onion Varieties

Many onion varieties are available, including yellow, red, and white onions. Each of these onion types offers a slightly different flavor, with red having the most intense taste of the three.

Scallions and shallots are part of the same allium family as onions, and they offer a similar yet milder taste when used in recipes.

Besides the different varieties of onions available, onions are sold in various ways. Onion powder, dried onions flakes, and onion salt are offered in the spice aisles and provide an onion flavor. Pickled, frozen, and boiled/canned onions are also found in most stores.

Onion Substitutes and Alternatives

Onion Powder

This is one of the best onion substitutes for fresh onion as most people already carry this spice in their kitchen. It adds an onion flavor without having to chop fresh onions. This option is also easy to find in grocery stores and is affordable.

Pros
Use onion powder for any recipe that calls for onions.

Cons
Onion powder does not add the bulk to recipes that fresh onions do. Your dishes will look smaller in comparison. If this is a concern, celery can be added to most recipes to create a similar effect.

Cooking Tip:
Start with one tablespoon of onion powder and adjust based on preferred taste.

Dried Onion Flakes

This substitute is similar to onion powder, though they are not pulverized into a powder form. Thy better mimics the consistency of chopped onions in recipes and will provide a slightly bulkier texture.

These are also easily found in grocery stores or kitchens. They’re a budget-friendly option with a longer shelf life.

Pros
You can use dried onion flakes for any recipe that requires fresh onion for a similar onion flavor. Those seeking a better consistency match can rehydrate onion flakes by soaking them in warm water for a few minutes.

Cons
Using dried onion flakes does not allow you to create onion pieces to the size you want as fresh onion would. They also have a milder taste than fresh onion and onion powder, so you’ll need to use a much more significant amount as a replacement.

Cooking Tip:
To replace a medium onion, use three tablespoons of onion flakes.

Onion Salt

Onion salt is another great replacement for onions. This seasoning uses onion powder combined with salt to create a tasty seasoning.

Pros
Use onion salt in any recipe that requires fresh onions.

Cons
It’s easy to use too much onion salt and create an overpoweringly salty dish. Start with a smaller amount and increase as needed to desired taste. Also, ensure you use less salt or leave the salt out that the recipe requires to avoid this.

Cooking Tip:
Use two teaspoons of onion salt as a replacement for one onion (medium-sized).

Spring Onions

Spring onions are a less common onion replacement, though they provide a similar flavor. They have a green top and bulb at the bottom to create a different appearance in recipes. Those with gardens will likely have spring onions available for use in cooking.

Pros
Though milder and sweeter, this onion replacement provides a similar flavor to standard onions. You can use these versatile onions for any recipe that calls for regular onions. Use the top/green area for a more robust onion flavor in dishes.

Cons
These onions are challenging to find in grocery stores. Though, if you have a farmers market nearby, they will likely have this option for purchase.

Cooking Tip:
Start with a 1:1 ratio to substitute onions, then add more if needed.

Scallions

Scallions or green onions are another good substitute for onions. They offer a similar onion taste, with a grassy undertone. You can use the bulb and the greens of these onions in recipes. This swap is an excellent alternative for both cooked dishes and raw recipes.

Pros
Scallions are another variety of onions that many people grow in their gardens. These are more commonly found in grocery stores and are very affordable. Use scallions for any recipes that require standard onions.

Cons
When using this onion substitute, the appearance of dishes will be different. The green section of scallions needs to be added last as this part can burn easily and leave dishes with an unpleasant flavor.

Cooking Tip:
Start with three tablespoons and add more if needed.

Pre-Chopped Onion

Some grocery stores offer an option in their vegetable section for a pre-chopped onion. This swap is an excellent alternative for those short on time who want to include fresh onions in a recipe.

Pros
You can use pre-chopped onion in any recipe (fresh or cooked) that calls for onion.

Cons
As the onion is already cut, you can’t adjust the pieces to different sizes. This affects recipes like caramelized onions where you want large onion slices. This option is also more expensive than purchasing an individual onion.

Cooking Tip:
Use a 1:1 ratio to replace standard onions.

Chives

Chives are another great replacement for onions in recipes. They also offer a similar onion flavor and are pretty easy to find in grocery stores in the vegetable section. They’re also available dried in the spice aisle, making it convenient to find this alternative regardless of the season.

Pros
Use chives as a garnish or in salads and soups to replace onion.

Cons
Like scallions and spring onions, using chives will alter the appearance of recipes.

Cooking Tip:
Use a 3:1 ratio to replace chives with onions.

Chinese Onions

If you can find Chinese onions, they’ll work as an excellent alternative to standard onions. They have an appearance similar to green onions and spring onions to alter the appearance of recipes, especially those with light-colored sauces or broths.

Pros
The flavor of Chinese onions is very similar to standard onions, though more subtle. They also add a nice crunch to recipes when raw. You can use them for any dish that requires onions.

Cons
These onions are challenging to find in grocery stores unless you are nearby an Asian market. You’ll likely need to order them online, so they are not a great last-minute replacement.

Cooking Tip:
Start with a 1:1 ratio, then add more if a more pungent onion taste is needed.

Leeks

Leeks are vegetables in the same allium family to produce a similar flavor to onions in recipes. These vegetables have green leaves (similar to scallions and green onions) and a white bulb at the base, though they are much larger. Because of this, they will create a different appearance in recipes than onions if the middle light green area is used.

Pros
These vegetables are easily found in grocery stores in the summer and fall. Use leeks for salads, soups, and stews. Leeks are excellent, both raw and cooked.

Cons
There will be a difference in texture when using leeks as a replacement, as they are crunchier than onions.

Cooking Tip:
Use a 1:1 ratio to substitute chopped onions and leeks.

Fennel

Fennel works as a replacement for onions in recipes where you’re seeking a potent taste. When using fennel bulbs, you’ll be adding a licorice taste to dishes. This flavor may be a turn-off for some dinner guests who do not enjoy the flavor. Cooking fennel helps create a more subtle taste in dishes, so it better mimics that flavor of onions.

Pros
This vegetable is versatile; you can grill, fry, roast, or braise fennel making it a great swap in any recipes that call for onions (raw or cooked).

Cons
Fresh fennel may be challenging to find in some grocery stores, though dried versions are available in the spice aisle that provides a similar flavor.

Cooking Tip:
Use a 1:1 ratio to replace onions with fennel.

Shallots

Shallots are also part of the allium family, so they provide a similar taste to onions. However, their flavor is much more subtle, so a larger amount is required to mimic the taste. They also offer a garlicky taste to recipes, so the flavor will not be an exact match.

Pros
Use shallots for any recipes that call for onions. They are excellent in cooked and raw dishes. These are great swaps for yellow onions, as they offer a sweeter flavor.

Cons
Shallots are typically a red hue, so if you’re looking to replace white or yellow onions, there will be a difference in appearance.

Cooking Tip:
Use three shallots to replace a small onion.

Chopped Celery

Celery is an excellent replacement for onions that require more vegetable bulk like stir-fry, stuffing, soups, and stews. This vegetable is found at local grocery stores throughout the year.

Pros
When used raw, this onion substitute provides a nice crunch to recipes like salads. When cooked, this vegetable mimics the consistency of cooked onion.

Cons
Celery provides different flavors in dishes as an onion does. When using celery, you’ll be adding an earthy, grassy flavor to dishes.

Cooking Tip:
Use a 1:1 ratio to replace onions with celery.

Bell Peppers

Bell peppers may seem like an odd choice for an onion replacement as they do not offer an intense flavor. These vegetables provide a nice crunch when used raw or a similar soft texture when cooked. Expect a sweet, slightly bitter taste when using bell peppers. The sweetness will vary depending on the chosen color (green, red, yellow, orange).

Pros
These vegetables are readily available in grocery stores regardless of the season. They’re affordable and add a pretty pop of color to dishes. Use bell peppers for salads, stir-fries, and soups.

Cons
You will need to use a larger quantity to replace onions in recipes.

Cooking Tip:
Use a 2:1 ratio when replacing onions with bell peppers.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Can I Substitute for Onions?

Many substitutes work well for onions, including onion powder, onion flakes, and even pre-chopped store-bought onions. These options will all provide a similar onion taste in recipes.

What Is a Substitute for Onions in Stuffing?

If you’re looking for a way to bulk up stuffing, chopped celery is an excellent option. It does not provide an intense onion flavor, though it offers a similar texture when cooked. Otherwise, dried onion flakes or onion powder will add flavor to the stuffing.

Can You Substitute Shallot for Onion?

Yes, you can substitute shallots for onions. Shallots are a variety of onions to provide a similar flavor. Expect shallots to have a mild onion flavor, more so than a yellow onion, red onion, or any of the more commonly used varieties.

Does Fennel Work as an Onion Substitute?

Does Fennel Work as an Onion Substitute?
Yes, fennel is another option to use as a replacement for onions. If you use fennel to replace raw onions, you can expect a more robust licorice flavor. When replacing onions in cooked dishes, fennel has a milder anise taste offering a more similar flavor to onions.

Summary

Next time you seek an onion substitute, opt for onion powder or onion flakes as the most readily available options. Otherwise, pre-chopped onions or shallots will work equally as well.

If you have access to Chinese onions, these are another top substitution for standard onions. All the above onion substitutes will provide a delicious flavor to recipes.

More Ingredient Substitutes

Natalia | Flavorful home
Natalia is a recipe developer, food photographer, and home cook. She started Flavorful Home to document her recipes and share home cooking tips. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!

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