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I am going to be cooking for someone who, because of Crohn's disease, is unable to eat pretty much anything from the allium family (ie. onions, garlic, shallots, chives, scallions and leeks; this includes garlic and onion powder), as well as spicy food (so that excludes chilis and piquant spices). I have seen Substitute for onions and garlic but because the suggestions there are pretty much other alliums, it is not very helpful for my purposes.

Because onions tends to be in a lot of things (if nothing else, as half of a mirepoix, which tends to appear in many recipes, and is also the base of stocks, which makes things complicated -- I am not 100% sure if the two degrees of separation from onion to stock to whatever the stock is used for is enough to make it "safe", and unfortunately I won't have time to make an onion-less stock), I am not really sure what I can use instead.

I realize that it might be hard to substitute onions and garlic with other similar tasting ingredients without using other alliums, so instead, I am looking for suggestions to replace onions and garlic with things that will still let me cook flavourful food (that doesn't necessarily need to taste the same as it would with alliums, though).

For example, I was thinking about roasting a chicken and making a couscous dressing, but the chicken would sit on mirepoix (can I replace the onions in it with something else?) which would be used as a base for the sauce as well; and my couscous dressing recipe uses shallots (as well as sage, thyme, oregano and pine nuts). General suggestions would be useful as well, though.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

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I know this is unhelpful, but the allium component of most cooked meals is such a primary and definite aspect that replacing it will substantially alter the dish away from what you are aiming at. My advice would be to steer clear of all dishes that involve onions, plenty of decent dishes that do not include them. My mother can not bare onions to be cooked in her vicinity, nor could her father, so I know there are decent savoury dishes without them. – Orbling Nov 30 '10 at 10:17
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Here is a good list of choices for substitutions:

The thing I found interesting though, is what it says about Garlic and Onion powder:

Garlic powder and garlic salt are made from dehydrated, finely ground garlic. Onion powder and salt, likewise, are made from onions. These products are not suitable for anyone with a true allergy to either of these foods. However, some people who do not have true allergies to these foods and avoid garlic and onions due to gastrointestinal upset find that these products do not aggravate their symptoms, especially if used in small amounts.

So the question becomes, is it an actual allergy? You may want to check with the doctor on that one.

Here's their list of substitutions:

  • Fennel has a licorice-like taste but onion-like texture. Try it with chicken or fish.

  • Celery is among the most common aromatics.

  • Bell peppers are often used in Cajun cooking. Green peppers and celery are a good base for rice dishes or savory stews.

  • Carrots are used as an aromatic in French cooking in combination with celery.

  • Celeriac, or celery root, is the knobby root of one variety of celery. Peeled and diced, it can be used as an aromatic in sauces or stews.

  • Peppercorns: white, pink, or Szechuan pepper can add different flavors to your cooking.

  • Cumin's distinctive taste that may work well in some recipes, especially where garlic is used raw.

  • Horseradish, freshly grated, can add some of the pungent notes you might otherwise lack.

  • Ginger and galangal have distinctive flavors but may be useful in stir-fries as aromatics.

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Sorry I meant to include it in the question, but she is unable to eat garlic or onion powders either. It's not an allergy, but because of her Crohn's, she'll get a bad stomach reaction, so I want to avoid that! :) – Daniel Vandersluis Nov 30 '10 at 4:47

There are some varieties of Hindu cooking (especially as practiced by Hare Krishna / ISKCON folks) that don't use onion and garlic for religious reasons. They always use asafoetida powder (a spice), which has a taste similar to aged garlic, and supposedly good for the digestion. Use it in very small quantities, like 1/4 teaspoon in a curry for 4, to get started. The Indian name for this spice is hing. Don't be put off by the smell when raw, it gets milder when cooked.

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I use hing a lot in Indian cookery and it is a very potent and decent addition, I would not say it adds a particularly "allium" like flavour however. As you say, must be used sparingly. – Orbling Nov 30 '10 at 10:14

My wife has a severe allergy to Onions. I also try to do as much cooking as I can and vary what we eat. Omitting alliums is possible.

If I'm working with Asian cuisine (It's what I'm more familiar with), I end up using a lot of ginger (combined with other spices/flavours to give it a "heat" without the spiciness). For "other" flavours, I commonly use combinations of soy, fish sauce, oyster sauce, black bean sauce, varieties of sugars (in small quantities), stocks (homemade or store bought, both can be done without onions or garlic).

In other cuisines, I also find myself increasing the presence of fresh herbs (cilantro, parsley, rosemary) and acids (various vinegars, citrus).

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I have a severe Allium allergy (imagine eating poison ivy) and am an avid cook. I have found that the function of the allium in the recipe is crucial in determining the substitution. Alliums can add heat, sweetness, tang, and often also give depth to the flavor of a complex sauce. Celery is always the base from which I start, adding some combination of carrots, sweet peppers, hot peppers, soy, anchovies, horseradish, ginger, cumin, sweet paprika, vinegar and even (rarely)a tiny bit of sun-dried tomatoes. I also sometimes smoke the ingredients. Please do not use any purchased spice mixes( like chili or curry), sauces, stocks or broths as they almost ALWAYS contain alliums. It is far better to serve your guest a simple piece of broiled meat or steamed vegetable than to make them sick!

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There's really not a substitute that will taste exactly the same, but there are some things that would still taste nice. You could try turnip, parsnip or fennel. You could try potato, which would basically just be "filler," or you could just do half carrot-half celery and omit the alliums. Again, it won't be identical, but I'll bet it would be tasty, just in a slightly different way. Maybe add a bit of finely chopped Italian parsley, too, just for a bit of extra flavor.

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As you mention in a comment a 'bad stomach reaction', for the Low FODMAP diet (which is intended for dealing with lower GI issues), alliums are on the 'avoid' list ... however, you can infuse garlic or onion flavor into oil, then strain & use the flavored oil.

The goal is to eliminate the fermentable carbohydrates, so you extract the flavor but avoid the rest. I've seen similar things done in some Italian cooking -- large slices of garlic cooked in oil for a few minutes, then removed before continuing the dish.

Something else that might be of interest is the spice asafoetida aka. hing. I'm still playing with it to determine the proper amounts to use, so can't give a specific replacement amount, but be warned that it absolutely stinks. (I found a bulk spice store that had it when I was traveling last year, and they double bagged it, but I made the mistake of putting it in a zip-top bag in my luggage, and even with three layers of plastic, the scent still permeated everything)

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