so this yet another attempt of mine to start cooking and yet again I'm frustrated by the perverse need of every single recipe to include onions. I hate onions, their flavour, their texture etc. and I can even taste it in soups. So my question is, if I leave onions out of the picture entirely, will the recipe still come together or do I absolutely need to come up with a substitute for them?

Thank you!

  • 11
    Why wouldn't it not be ok? The food must taste good to you. It's a recipe, not a law that needs to be followed to the letter.
    – Robert
    Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 21:05
  • 9
    @Robert I don't like eggs, but would certainly not leave them out when making schnitzel.
    – ESR
    Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 2:39
  • 13
    The Peelers will come to get you.
    – copper.hat
    Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 3:08
  • 13
    @copper.hat So many layers to that joke. Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 4:35
  • 2
    What's the difference between this question and cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/67709/…? Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 9:39

6 Answers 6


While you can do whatever you want to recipes you're following, you should be aware that onions are the backbone of the flavor of many dishes. If the recipe calls for more than a quarter onion or so per serving, and particularly if they are to be browned rather than cooked until translucent, the dish will probably be blander than intended if you leave the onions out.

The good news is, there's a lot of things that are similar to onions, notably scallions, leeks and shallots (thanks Benjamin Hodgson). If you are more okay with any of these things, go ahead and substitute (in the case of scallions and shallots, the amount should be roughly halved).

  • 7
    For dishes with a higher onion content, the missing bulk can affect a recipe - leaving the recipe thinner, or saucier, or drier, or otherwise oddly balanced depending on the onion's role... but any veg should work for just bulk, even if flavor is a bit trickier.
    – Megha
    Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 8:13
  • 5
    I agree with the things you listed as substitutions, and I would use any of them. However, I don't think someone who really hates the flavor of onions would find these acceptable given that their flavor is somewhat similar.
    – Cindy
    Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 13:18
  • 4
    @Cindy You'd be surprised. I know at least two people who dislike onions but are fine with shallots. I suspect it's one of those things, like cilantro tasting soapy to some people, where I'm not tasting what they're tasting.
    – Sneftel
    Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 14:01
  • 1
    @Cindy - I was surprised to find out that Krishnas do not eat onions or garlic for religious reasons. Haven't been able to find out why or if similar foods like the shallots, leeks, etc. are also forbidden. So aside from taste preferences or allergy/health issues there are other groups who avoid onions for whatever reason...
    – ivanivan
    Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 14:34
  • 2
    @zibadawa Fascinating link. The only person with a scientific veneer is Dr. Robert C. Beck though and I don't find a single peer reviewed paper of him. His website makes claims about HIV cure based on some kind of electrotheraphy. It also nowhere states where he got his doctor and in what field. So no those rationalizations are almost certainly not based on solid science. Or if they are the linked article doesn't reference them.
    – Voo
    Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 10:32

You can absolutely leave the onions out! Onions are only necessary if you like them. And, no, you don't need to find a substitute.

Think about it this way. Recipes are like guides. You can tweak most recipes to your liking. That's one of the reasons you can find so many different recipes for the 'same' dish.

The only things that wouldn't be the same are onion based dishes, like perhaps French onion soup or an onion dip. But anyone who doesn't like onions probably wouldn't be making those - at least not for themselves.

  • 10
    I would add that you do need to have an idea of what purpose onion serves in the recipe, though. If it's used to reduce the odor of meat/fish: maybe you do need a substitute...
    – xuq01
    Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 6:29
  • 2
    or maybe they are used to sweeten the sauce. The OP could try to use Shallot instead, which has a slighlty gentler taste
    – Ant
    Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 19:04

If you don't like the flavour of any of the onion family, you'll have to be more creative. Some close replacements would be garlic, leeks or chives which are also related to onions, but may be just far enough away to replace some missing flavour (I won't go so far as to say substitute, as you'd sue smaller quantities).

If those are still too close, but you have a rather thin flavour overall, adding some finely chopped and well-browned carrot with a little celery and/or bell pepper can work in many dishes (such as Bolognese sauce, curry or chilli. Being a little generous with any herbs in the recipe also helps, as may a touch of sugar.

As onions have a thickening effect when cooked for long periods, a little less liquid overall might be a good idea.

  • 3
    Also, try using asafoetida: onion-less savoury flavour (make sure to cook it well, the raw spice smells like you rubbed a finger behind satans unwashed ear).. Also, in some recipes you might want to reduce liquid levels, since cooked-to-oblivion onions are sometimes essential as thickeners. Also, you might want to add sugar when leaving the onions out. Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 1:40
  • 3
    Leeks are another good sort-of-substitute. While they’re still related to onions, they have much less of the pungency (certainly less than garlic does), which is the aspect a lot of onion-haters dislike.
    – PLL
    Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 7:44
  • @rackandboneman I've just bought some asafoetida for the first time, but haven't used it yet, so can't give any indication of how much to use (even whether we're talking pinches or teaspoons) so I haven't edited that point in for now, but have mentioned your other 2
    – Chris H
    Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 16:06
  • 1
    @Chris H I think there is no better advice than "watch cooking videos from india, pay attention when the phrase "pinch of heeng" falls" :) Be aware that there is the "compounded" product (which is likely what you'll get in a store, a pale yellow powder) and the actual resin (haven't seen it IRL yet). Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 23:31
  • 1
    +1 for carrot+celery+pepper. A lot of "quick" recipes for mediterranean dishes tend to miss out the carrot and celery that should traditionally be in them (for a proper Bolognese, for example, the starting point is carrot+celery+onion simmered gently in olive oil for a while until they're completely softened -- a base generally called "soffritto" or "sofrito") and just put too much onion in in place of them. Putting them back and replacing the onion with something else should get you just as close to the original intent as those quick recipes tend to achieve.
    – Jules
    Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 12:18

You can edit out (omit) just about anything from most recipes I hate 'heat' in my food so I just leave out the chillies. Of course, it can significantly change the final flavours. So what? recipes are guidelines, and ver few need be followed exactly to still turn out a finished dish to my liking

  • A recipe where spicy heat is used to balance a greasy, pungently aromatic, cloying, or bitter element is likely going to taste dank if you just leave the spicy heat out.... Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 23:35
  • @rackandboneman - yes, but making a bad meal the first few times you try a recipe until you figure out how to change it so you like isn't exactly the end of the world...
    – Jules
    Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 12:20

Of course you can. As other have pointed out, a recipe is only for guidance. What I would like to add is, that far too many recipe books and cookery programs put too much emphasis on being precise in following recipes. The only important thing is whether you like the result, and the only way to find out by trying and accepting that you will fail from time to time. There are certain thing you shouldn't leave out - they are the "major components", like flour, if you bake a bread, or other things that constitute a large part of the recipe. Other than that, feel free - it's meant to be fun.

So, don't be afraid to experiment - the result may be surprisingly good; like banana and fish.


Remember that you can sauté an onion to have a sweetness to your dish without the onion taste.

  • 5
    French onion soup involves sauteing the heck out of onions, and I can confirm that it still tastes like onions. Sauteing only removes the piquant raw-onion flavor/smell.
    – Sneftel
    Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 8:41
  • Yep. And the other way around: Remember that you might need a sweetener when leaving out onions.... Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 23:37

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