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Onions are an ingredient in almost every recipe. I hate the taste(flavour) of them (I know I might be the only one). I always try to avoid eating them and try to pick them out of the food. Seeing that I am the only one in the house that doesn’t like the taste of onions not using them in a recipe would be selfish.

I was just wondering (a) if there would be a good substitute or (b) do I really need to have them in a recipe? And (c) what purpose do they add to food?

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"The taste of onions" covers a huge range, from raw and pungent, to sweet and sweated to translucency, to slightly browned on the edges but generally soft, through to scorched into bitter rubbery strips by prolonged high temperature cooking. Is there a particular method of preparation you object to, or would for instance sautéed onions in a soup that has been blended smooth be acceptable? – András Salamon Mar 24 at 16:55
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You're not the only one. András's comment notwithstanding, onions all tend to share a rather unique sharp, irritating quality that many people's palates--including my own--find fundamentally offensive. No matter what other "huge range" of flavors may be included, if the essential onion-ness quality is discernable in the food, it automatically ruins it, making it disgusting and inedible. – Mason Wheeler Mar 24 at 19:54
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@MasonWheeler The lachrymatory pungency seems to be almost entirely gone from all major commercial cultivars of American (US) onions. If you want the old fashioned make-your-eyes-water item, it seems you now have to buy Mexican onions. Then there's the abomination called the "sweet" onion, which becomes more popular with each passing year. – Wayfaring Stranger Mar 24 at 21:01
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In India we do alter many recipes to remove onion and garlic as some religious groups don't eat them. Search with "Jain recipes" to get an idea of cooking without onions. jainfoodie.com – Tanmoy Mar 25 at 4:20
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Your not alone, I fundamentally hate all onions. Other foods I don't like, i like some times (like dis-like tomatoes like pizza), but onions in almost any for make me want to gag (except BBQ sauce for some odd reason) – coteyr Mar 25 at 18:23

12 Answers 12

up vote 12 down vote accepted
+150

As a child, I used to hate the feel and taste when I conciously bit on a piece of onion (strongest offender: medium-sized chunks, sautéed glassy but still firm). Sometimes that still happens.

However, I use onion a lot myself now in cooking. Lots of dishes really need the kind of taste onions can supply; even though that taste may by itself be a bit gross, it's really useful in the mix. (This is true for many other ingredients as well!) I can only speak for myself, but very likely, there are some dishes where you don't even notice that onions are in, but they are – and you wouldn't like it if they weren't!

Do use onions, just do it consciously. There are broadly three ways of preparing them that I consider effective, each suited to different cases:

  • Disperse them throughout the dish. Either chop them really fine and sautée (with the right technique and a decent knife you can get the chunks down to only a few millimetres), or boil with other vegetables and then purée. You'll get all the good taste, but nowhere too strong and without any unpleasant mouth-feel.
    Ideal for light/creamy sauces or soups.
  • Caramelise them boldly. Frying changes the taste of onions a lot, it makes them much sweeter, gets rid of the pungency in exchange for a really concentrated savouriness, and almost completely tames the consistency. Browned onions play great together with strong seasonings like garlic and pepper, as flavouring for chewy mushrooms or meats.
  • Or the opposite: keep them mostly raw! The freshness and crunch of raw onions can also be very useful without evoking what I call the bad onion effect – albeit in a completely different way. Thinly sliced in salads, or very quickly stir-fried in rice dishes, you keep the raw pungency in check while staying clear of the uncanny softness. Again, it's a good idea to define the taste heading with other sharp flavours: vinegar or chilies work well.

Perhaps you won't be able to befriend yourself with all of these preparation methods, but you should give them a try.

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This may be true for someone who likes onions... but I can still taste raw onion that's been removed from a sandwich/burger or salad and it lessens my enjoyment of it, if I can even manage to eat it. Perhaps someone with a lesser dislike will find these solutions helpful but, If someone tells you they don't like raw onions, please don't think your last solution is an acceptable workaround. It's not. – Catija Mar 24 at 23:19
    
@Catija: I don't propose raw onions as a workaround, I propose it as a way of taking the bull by the horns. If it doesn't work for you – pity, but at least you've tried. – leftaroundabout Mar 24 at 23:26
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Your answer calls this method "safe" and "careful". How is raw onion, the most in-your-face way of consuming it, "safe"? You even negate that statement yourself in your comment by saying it's a method of "taking the bull by the horns". Perhaps you just need to rewrite part of your answer so that that bullet isn't under the "safe" methods. – Catija Mar 24 at 23:31
    
Well yeah, carefully and safe aren't really the right words. I changed it to consciously and effective. – leftaroundabout Mar 24 at 23:37
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My girlfriend who claims to hate onions, will nevertheless happily eat them stir-fried. – Michael Hampton Mar 25 at 1:00

Their primary purpose is flavor, although (as mentioned by @David Richerby) they can also be used for thickening in some cases. If you don't like them, but other members of your household do, then it becomes a cost-benefit analysis of every dish.

If your hatred of onions is visceral, yet other family members would just kind of rather have them than not, not including them is easy. It becomes trickier if everyone else loves them.

Consider prepping onions by quickly soaking the chopped onions in cold water or giving them a quick pickle in vinegar and salt. That may remove flavors that you find offensive while still keeping those qualities that other members of your household may like.

Garlic provides much of the same flavor profile as onions. Can you add a bit more garlic when you eliminate onions?

You might find some types of onions less offensive than others. Consider supersweet onions like Vidalia, green onions (AKA scallions), and red onions that have been tamed a bit by soaking or pickling.

Consider asafoetida as a substitute, along with other substitutions found here: What can I substitute for onions?

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This is correct. Onions are one of the most popular aromatics and help to establish a base flavor for many dishes, typically it is a sweetness as that is what onions impart. The main question is if you actually dislike the flavor or if it has more to do with the texture and earthiness of the onion. I have this issue, so I can cook with them no problem, but I can't stand to even get a sliver of them in my bites or the texture just ruins it for me. My usual solution is to use them in large enough pieces that they can be removed after imparting flavor and supplementing with onion powder also. – Prof. Bear Mar 24 at 13:42
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Yup - a lot of people truly believe they can't stand the taste, but are totally okay with invisible cooked onion flavor, e.g. in broth/soup. So before you worry about modifying recipes, it's important to figure out what it actually is you don't like. – Jefromi Mar 24 at 15:48
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My neighbor insisted that she hated onions ... but I came to find out that she either wasn't cooking them enough (still partially raw) , or cooking them too hot (and burning them some, while leaving the middle raw). Once she learned to cook them properly, she stopped avoiding them. – Joe Mar 24 at 18:50
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Avoiding onions in cooking is essentially impossible. There is no single "onion flavor", so it's also essentially impossible to hate all onions. For example, I can't stand eating slices of tomato on a burger, but I sure do love ketchup, pasta sauce, salsa (even pico de gallo), bruschetta, etc. It depends how you use and/or prepare the item. – SnakeDoc Mar 24 at 20:10
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"Their purpose is flavor." Not only that. For example, onions act as a thickening agent in many sauces they're included in. – David Richerby Mar 25 at 7:19

As a onion-lover I suggest using a similar vegetable instead of onions themselves. Try with leek, it has a lighter flavour than onion. Cook it in the same way.

Another option would be shallot, which has a stronger presence but is different.

In some soups or salads, also dried onion is a viable option, as you can add it directly on the servings.

I would avoid garlic, as it is very different from onion and many people dislike it.

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Shallots are good but they're much more delicate. If you treat them the way a recipe tells you to treat onion, they will burn easily. Care is needed when replacing onions with shallots. – Catija Mar 24 at 16:22
    
I would use garlic, as many people love it, but I suspect it's not nearly different enough for @LambChop. An even larger number of people could be described as "having strong opinions about garlic", as that would include both dislike and love. It's also a thing that varies with how it's cooked - raw and roasted garlic are quite different, for instance. – Ecnerwal Mar 26 at 2:34

Try onion powder. It has much of the flavor but won't give you slimy chunks of something you don't like.

(Just a warning, it's a gateway drug and pretty soon you will be using garlic powder, then garlic cloves, then shallots and finally real onions chasing that first high).

People are disagreeing, but I hated onions too, taste and texture, and found onion powder to be a "softer" version of both. It's really meaningfully different in a way that's worth trying, and it's shelf stable, cheap and easy. Not fancy by any stretch, shallots will be better for finer dining, but day-to-day I use onion powder all the time.

Go make a sandwich with onion powder, salt, pepper, paprika and mustard mixed into the mayo, then come back and tell me it's not better than plain! Another quick test is a bean burrito with onion powder, chili powder, paprika and salt mixed in the beans.

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The question clearly states that the OP "hates the taste of them" and says nothing about texture. How does replacing onions with onion-flavored stuff help the fact that he doesn't like the taste? – Catija Mar 24 at 18:38
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@Catija to be fair, people seldom make a strict differentiation between taste as in flavor and as in the tasting experience as a whole. It can be that the OP hates the texture only, but choose a sloppy expression. – rumtscho Mar 24 at 19:41
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No its definitely the flavour as well as what the flavour does to the food that's made with it. I edited the question to be more clear on this. Sorry I am still new to asking questions here. Thank you so much for the help in this regard. – Lamb Chop Mar 24 at 21:02

Asafoetida, also known as hing powder, is a good option as a substitute for alliums like onions and garlic (also as a complement to!). It is used in a lot of Indian cooking; big in Hare Krishna cooking .

It comes as a powder, which is from the grownd resinous sap of a particular root. You can pick it up in most Asian / Indian grocery stores (in Australia, at least).

When I use it, I briefly fry it (e.g. 15 seconds or so - til fragrant) before adding bulkier, more liquid ingredients (so somewhat like garlic). I've found this brings out the flavour; I found it a bit unpleasant if not fried beforehand, but it really is quite special if you treat it well!

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And make sure to store it in a glass jar -- I got it in a plastic bag when I was on a trip, and even though they double bagged it, the smell really permeated everything in my luggage. – Joe Mar 29 at 15:36

For onions, I'm with some of the folks above - I have been presented with them in ways that I find quite literally disgusting, but cooked other ways they are fine.

However, I feel about peppers, all peppers (excepting the "peppercorns" that make the ground black or white pepper on the table) the way you claim to feel about onions. As such, I'd recommend not using them at all, at least in anything that you are eating. If you feel that you need to cook dishes for your family that have them, cook a separate dish for yourself that does not, or cook the onions separately and add them to the dish after removing part of the dish for yourself. Once peppers (very much including green bell peppers) have contaminated a dish, it's useless to me - removing the source of the foul taste does not remove the foul taste throughout the dish.

For your three point question:

A) Nothing else is really a direct substitute, and I suspect that most will be too close if you feel this strongly about onions; ie, I'd be surprised if you like garlic, leeks, or shallots, all close relatives of onions.

B)You can leave them out if you are an adaptable cook. If you are inflexible and following a recipe that depends on the liquid in the onions, you might have issues. If you see that things are too dry and compensate, should be fine, other than...

C) It's for the (highly variable, depending how they are prepared) taste. But if you don't like that, it's not a good reason to use them, is it? If, however, you have an objection to one part of the flavor/texture spectrum that they provide, but not others, preparation/cooking becomes key. But I know that there is no method of preparing or cooking a pepper (other than throwing it in the trash, not in the food) that makes it taste good to me; and if that is your relationship to onions, skipping them is your best bet.

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I think I know what you mean by not liking green bell peppers, but are you sure you can't stand any capsicum at all, regardless how ripe and how it's prepared? That seems likely as much an over-generalisation as if someone says they don't like any onion at all. Powdered red, e.g. bird's eye chilies, or even tender-cooked yellow bell peppers, give a completely different result from the unripe aroma of green capsicum. – leftaroundabout Mar 26 at 11:09
    
We have a very finicky friend who hates cooked peppers, but loves things cooked with paprika. It really is a completely different flavor. (Unfortunately for the OP's purposes, the difference between cooked fresh onions and onion powder is not so pronounced.) Also, the trash is, indeed, the only appropriate place for green bell peppers. It's not the peppers' fault that someone picked them before they had a chance to ripen, but that doesn't make them edible. – Marti Mar 30 at 0:23

(a) if there would be a good substitute

If you strongly don't like onions and are inflexible in that regard, You will not find a good substitute. You like what you like and don't like what you don't like, substitutions can't change that.

Though, if you want to try a substitute: try dehydrated minced onions (usually found in the spice section of the grocer). Aspects:

  • they rehydrate to very small size, that may address texture issues you don't like
  • the dehydrating process takes away some of the flavor notes you might find objectionable
  • You don't have to clean or cut them, which if you don't like onions, you probably despise this task

I use dehydrated onions with one of my children who hates onions. She actually welcomes the dehydrated onions.

(b) do I really need to have them in a recipe?

Usually: No, you do not need them. Drop them from the recipes, come back here with any specific problems that may cause.

(c) what purpose do they add to food?

In the dishes I cook, they are there for flavor. Others have mentioned emulsifying and other factors, but I believe the majority of onion entries in recipes is for flavor, and that onion may be omitted in those cases without consequence.

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People use onions for the flavor. You may have noticed that not only do many recipes include onions, but there often a few other ingredients as well at the start of the recipe - specifically the addition of carrots and celery, or carrots and green pepper. These ingredients appear in many recipes because they offer a balanced flavor to build other recipes on:

  • In France, carrots, onions, and celery is called Mirepoix
  • In Italy, carrots, onions, and celery is called Soffritto and they sometimes add pancetta and garlic
  • In Cajun and Creole-style cooking, it's carrots, onions, and green peppers, and it's called the Holy Trinity
  • In Germany, it's carrots, leeks, and celery root and it's Suppengrün

This article has some good info about Mirepoix and worldwide variations of this flavor base across a few countries. http://www.seriouseats.com/2014/05/all-about-mirepoix.html

If you hadn't noticed, all the countries listed in the article are European or had strong European influence. So if you don't like this trio of flavor, you will need to look outside of European style food. I can already think of a few Middle Eastern/Mediterranean recipes that use garlic, but no onion. Korean recipes that use garlic, and only green onions. Japanese food doesn't really use onion or garlic, and Ethiopian food has some but not too much onion.

Some recipes may have onions that have been stewed so long (2+ hours) they've become mushy and don't taste like onion at all. You could also try submerging them in a brine to change the flavor. You might have luck there.

Lastly, you might try changing the type of onion you use. There are many different varieties of onions, from leeks to spring onions, to cippolinis to ramps. If you don't want to skip a recipe entirely, maybe you can use a milder onion instead, so it's a less intense flavor than what you'd get from a white or yellow onion. (You could also try soaking your onions, or try to modify the flavor by putting them in some kind of brine or pickling liquid. Pickling liquids can be based on salt or vinegar, and can be sour or sweet. That would obviously change the final taste of your recipe.)

I don't know if there's a way to use a recipe that calls for onions and not feel that there's a flavor missing. I don't think there's a substitute, except using another type of onion/garlic.

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The Hungarian version of Mirepoix/Soffritto/etc. is onion, onion, and onion. :) – Marti Mar 30 at 0:28

Green onions are a great alternative that are much less intense in flavor, have a different texture, usually make your dishes look nicer, and essentially fill the same role.

Cut perpendicular to the stem on to get round rings or at a 45° for longer tubes.

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Onions are a good edible emulsifier, as is garlic, turning the fats and juices from any meat into a rich, water-soluble gravy.

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Really been cooking for more then 2 decades and never liked onions since I'm a kid (not allergic though) so none of them got into my house or kitchen as a adult. I've been learning to try any dish whether containing onions or not but I still don't eat onions regularly or incorporate them in my diet (garlic's in though for other reasons) in any case and also been super-lucky to find a significant other with the same dislike for onions, so no onions in my cooking to this day (over 25 years of cooking). In essence you don't need them, but always be open minded, they are used for flavour and in some recipes for thickening but those can be easily replaced by leeks, chives or (relatively tasteless) thickening agents such as crushed flax seeds or eggs. At the end of the day it's up to you, I've been lucky to spend all of my adult life onion-free and sucka-free, it's up to you and the people you love (and love you enough to compromise).

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Onions were used as a way to collect bacteria as it passed through the gut, when using less than perfect meat. It was a way of preventing people from getting sick before Refridgeration. This is one of the reasons it is included in stews so often. Eating an onion whilst sick with food poisoning will rapidly reduce the period of time with symptoms. The taste aspect then in modern cooking can be eliminated if it is too strong.

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Can you cite any sources for this information? Also, you say that the taste can be eliminated but not how. – Catija Mar 25 at 22:25
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Many people in the herbal medicine community believe what Dave says about onions. Though the sources would probably be thin on science, or merely anecdotal. – Paulb Mar 27 at 15:30

protected by Jefromi Mar 28 at 6:17

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