One of the toughest barriers people face on a low FODMAP diet is avoiding onions and garlic. These potent flavoring agents are in nearly every savory dish across the globe.
But hope for flavorful food on a low FODMAP diet is not lost. In this three-part series, we will teach you how to add flavor when cooking without onions and garlic.
Part one of this series zeros in on flavorful substitutions for onions. Then stay tuned for part two to learn about delicious alternatives of garlic. And finally, in part three we will talk about other ways to add flavor to your dishes, including low-FODMAP herbs and spices.
Now let’s get started with a few of my top tips for preparing tasty meals without the use of onions and garlic.
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5 Basic Tips for Cooking Without Onions and Garlic
- Choose your recipe wisely. If you are planning to modify a recipe to leave out garlic or onions, you might be most successful if the recipe doesn’t feature large amounts of them as the dominant flavor.
For example, you might not want to attempt French Onion Soup without onions… I mean if you get really creative, maybe you can still pull it off. And if you do, please let me know about it!
- Get familiar with low FODMAP alternatives to onions and garlic that have a similar flavor profile. Use one or a combination of these ingredients to add a deeper flavor to your foods. See below for specific examples.
- Experiment with other low-FODMAP vegetables, fruits, herbs, and spices. More to come in part three of this series.
- Utilize onion- and garlic-free spice blends. There are some great certified low FODMAP products on the market from brands like Casa de Sante, FODY Foods, Smoke N Sanity, and (if you are in Australia) Pincha Salt.
- If you have moved on to the personalization phase of your diet, you may experiment with adding back small amounts of onion and garlic. Many people have a threshold for tolerance.
Personally, I find that if a recipe calls for one small onion, I can get away with about ¼ that amount. And I usually do fine with one clove of garlic. Sometimes even both in the same dish.
But everyone is different. Monitor your symptoms to help find your threshold. And remember that tolerance to FODMAPs can change over time. So, just because you didn’t tolerate it last month doesn’t mean that there is no hope for the future.
Low FODMAP Onion Substitutes
Green Onions or Scallions
The tops of green onions or scallions are an easy substitute for onions. They are low FODMAP in a generous portion of 1 ½ cups. The white bulb is high FODMAP. Discard the white portion or toss them onto your non-IBS dining partner’s plate.
Green onions can be used raw or cooked. You can use them in place of white onions in many recipes. Please note that they do not take long to cook, so you may want to add them closer to the end of the cooking process.
The tops of green onions also make for a nice garnish, adding both flavor and visual appeal.
When tested in Monash’s lab, FODMAPs were not detected in chives. So, use them freely to add onion flavor to your low-FODMAP meals. Chives can be used cooked or raw. The flavor is usually stronger when used raw – add them just before serving.
The green leaves of leaks are one of my favorite onion substitutes, especially in soup or this low FODMAP frittata. They are low FODMAP in a serving of 1 cup, chopped.
Like green onions, the white part contains fructans. However, there is a low FODMAP portion for leek bulbs – 1 Tablespoon. So go ahead and use a bit of that as well if you would like.
You may be wondering… if leek greens are edible, why do most recipes say to discard the top of your leeks? This is usually because leek greens can be bitter and are tougher in texture as you get further from the bulb. However, cooking them improves the flavor and texture.
But leek leaves can be eaten raw – slicing them very thin can make them more enjoyable.
Onion-Infused Olive Oil
Infused oils are a nice way to get some flavor from real onions without the FODMAPs. Due to the water-soluble nature of FODMAPs, many infused oils are safe to use – the FODMAPs will not leach out into the oil.
But be sure to avoid any products with bits of visible onion. And because the method of extracting the flavor is not usually disclosed on the bottle, going with a certified low FODMAP product might be the best bet. Cobram Estates and FODY Foods are two certified brands that carry onion-flavored oils.
Or make your own by sautéing rings of onion in olive oil over low heat. Remove the onion before proceeding with the rest of your dish. Note that homemade infused oils should not be stored long-term.
Pickled onions are low FODMAP in a serving of 45 grams according to Monash, and 30 grams according to FODMAP friendly. Check the label on your pickled onions for the serving size – it should list a conventional serving (1 each or 2 Tablespoons) along with the gram weight.
But wait… Before you rush to the store to buy pickled onions, consider this: Monash University had some confusing results with pickled onions. They found that large pickled onions were low FODMAP while small pickled onions contained high amounts of fructose.
The difference could be in the onion variety or in the brine ingredients. And we don’t have test results available on all varieties of pickled onions. So, proceed with caution.
You might also choose to hold off on refrigerator-, or quick pickles. Although FODMAPs leach out into the pickling brine, quick pickles are only in the brine for a short period of time (as little as 30 minutes). That probably is not enough to significantly reduce the FODMAP content.
Onion Powder Substitutes
Asafoetida or Hing
This pungent yellow powder is frequently used in Indian cuisine. It has a flavor similar to that of onions and garlic, but it is very potent. This should not be used as a one-to-one substitution for onion or garlic powder! You only need a small pinch to add flavor (personally, I stick to a few granules).
Some people dislike the flavor (and smell), hence it’s nickname “devil’s dung”. But if you miss the flavor of onion and garlic, it’s worth a try! Asafoetida is best when heated in oil and used in a cooked dish.
Just a word of caution… pregnant women should avoid large amounts of asafoetida – there may be a link to an increased risk of miscarriage.
Green Onion Powder
There are a few companies out there making green onion powder. It can be a nice substitution for onion powder, with one downside – it can alter the color of your food.
I recommend the use of a certified low FODMAP product here. Otherwise, the powder may contain the low FODMAP green tops and the high FODMAP whites – this might not be obvious from the label.
Gourmend Foods has a nice green onion powder product that is certified low FODMAP. Use Code CASSIEMADSEN at checkout for 15% off (I do not receive a commission for this).
Side Note: You could try making your own green onion powder by dehydrating and grinding the tops of green onions. However, I have attempted dehydrating green onions in the past and felt the end product was lacking in flavor compared to other onion substitutes. Freeze drying usually results in a superior product, so now I let the pros handle it.
FreeFOD Onion Replacer
This powder claims to add onion flavor without the FODMAPs. Just 1 teaspoon replaces a whole medium onion in a recipe.
The flavor is noted to be that of raw onion, so don’t expect to get a caramelized onion flavor, even when used in a cooked dish. I personally have not tried this one yet, but it generally has good reviews.
FAQ on Onions and The Low FODMAP Diet
Picking out the onions from a cooked dish might reduce some of the FODMAPs, but it might not be enough. Since FODMAPs are water soluble, they can leach out into whatever food you are preparing. This means that even when you pick out all the bits, some of the FODMAPs will remain in the dish.
The exception is if you are cooking an oil-based dish. FODMAPs are not fat soluble. So they will not leach out into oil. See the section above on onion-infused olive oil.
Ok, so maybe there are two exceptions here… If you are eating a cold salad with raw onions, then picking out the onions is an acceptable way to get rid of some FODMAPs.
All fresh onions that have been tested so far are high in FODMAPs – at least the bulbs anyway. As mentioned above, the tops of green onions are low FODMAP. But red, yellow, white… all are high FODMAP.
Unfortunately, there is no established low FODMAP serving of onions. Maybe that will change in the future with more testing. But as it currently stands, onions should be avoided on a low FODMAP diet – at least through the elimination phase.
If you find that you tolerate fructans in the reintroduction phase, you may be able to experiment with small amounts of onion. It might take some trial and error to figure out where your threshold for tolerance lies. A dietitian can help you through this process.
Nope. A single shallot (about 6 grams) is high in fructans.
Cooking does not significantly reduce the FODMAP content of onions. However, if your intolerance to onions is related to reflux, cooked onions are usually better tolerated than raw.
As noted above, pickling may reduce the FODMAP content because the FODMAPs will leach out into the pickling liquid. Using the same principle of water solubility, some people chop and then rinse their onions with the hope of reducing FODMAPs. However, the reduction in FODMAPs from this method is likely minimal. Rinsing can tame the sharp flavor of raw onions.
Your guess is as good as mine. But my guess would be that the leaves are less likely to be a problem than the root. Still, they have not been tested for FODMAP content, so if you are in the elimination phase of your diet, it is best to skip them. If you are in the personalization phase, go ahead and try a small amount and monitor your symptoms. Feel free to increase as tolerated.
And in case you are wondering, wild ramps are a type of wild onion with a distinct garlic-onion taste and smell. They are native to North America, but there are similar species that grow in Europe. They are sometimes referred to as wild onions, wild garlic, or wild leeks.
They can be found in the forest in the spring, or if you are lucky, at a local farmer’s market. But before you forage, make sure you know what to look for. Not everything from the forest is safe for human consumption!
If you love onions, a low FODMAP diet can be a bummer for sure. Fortunately, there are many low FODMAP onion alternatives with a similar flavor profile. Familiarize yourself with these and get busy experimenting in your kitchen.
Then come back for parts two and three of this series: Garlic Substitutes and Herbs, Spices, and Other Flavors.
Tell me, what’s your favorite onion substitute?
Not sure if a low FODMAP diet is right for you? Read The FODMAP Elimination Diet: What to Consider Before You Start.
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Remember: this post is for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. It shall not be construed as medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read here.
Melinda is a research journalist working performing her duties as chief editor at this news station. She is a talented writer and comes up with facts everybody wants to know.