No More Tears: Cooking Without Onions

Todd Quackenbush

It is difficult to find a recipe without onions, which makes sense since onions add a wonderful flavor to food regardless of cuisine.  However, some people do not like the taste of onions or they find that they cause stomach irritation. Those diagnosed with fructose malabsorption are recommended to stay away from onions and garlic since they are composed of fructans, which is a repeat of fructose molecules, also found in wheat.

When first diagnosed with fructose malabsorption, I felt lost in the kitchen and was forced to rethink how I cook. It was common for me to make up a recipe based on what I had in my fridge, and I always started with sautéed onions and garlic in olive oil as my base. It definitely took awhile, but after playing with different spices I have finally figured out how to live happily without onions and garlic. Below are some of my suggestions:

Garlic-flavored oil: You can find prepared oils at your local grocery store or you can easily make it by heating olive oil with garlic cloves on a medium to low heat for 15 to 30 minutes depending how strong you would like the flavor.  The garlic will flavor the oil without any of the fructans being released. Use this oil instead of unflavored oil to boost flavor. The oil will last for a couple of weeks in a jar or bottle.

Scallions and Chives: These are in the onion family but have a mild taste if you do not like the strong taste of onions. Only the green portion of scallions are safe to eat if you are on the FODMAP diet.

Fresh Herbs: Fresh basil, cilantro, dill, rosemary, mint, etc add such a freshness to foods that you do not even miss the onions. I prefer to use fresh herbs but dried herbs will work on those days that I run out of the fresh herbs and I am not in the mood to run out to the store. My dream is to one day have a garden which will make this a non-issue, but until then…

Red Pepper Flakes: This has been one of my main go to spices. I have been adding red pepper flakes to my recipes for years since I wanted to increase my ability to tolerate spicy foods and it has added a nice depth of flavor to my dishes.

Cumin and Coriander: I am combining these two spices since I tend to add them both when I use them but they are also good on their own. They are wonderful in my vegetable soups*, bean dishes such as rice and beans and chili, and I will also use them as a spice rub on tofu.

*I have not been able to find broths without onions so I use miso paste instead. I have found this to be a great replacement.

International Spices: If you have a local store that sells international spices, go in and smell different ones, ask the people in the store how and with what foods to use them with, and then try them starting with small amounts in your dishes. These spices can add fabulous and unique flavors to your meals. You can also find spices at most grocery stores in their international section, online, or you or a friend can buy cheap local spices to bring back home and try when traveling to different countries. My mom visited India last winter and brought back cumin, coriander, turmeric, and curry which have been fun to experiment with.

Asafoetida: I have not used this spice but a friend recommended it to me. It is a South Asian spice that has the taste of leeks, which is in the family of onions. WARNING: It may taste good, but I am told and read that it smells really bad. You can find asafoetida at or other online stores.

An easy example of a typical onion-centric dish, without the onions, is guacamole. I make mine simply and tasty (at least that is what my husband and I think).

One ripe avocado
1/3 of a lime
A couple of drops of hot sauce*, depending on how spicy you want it.
1 tbsp of chopped cilantro (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
*Trader Joes’s sells a Jalalpeno Pepper Hot Sauce without onion, garlic, or sugar.

Mash the avocado
Add the squeezed lime, hot sauce, cilantro, salt, and pepper
Mix to desired consistency

Do you have other recommendations on how to spice up your dishes without onions?

Photo taken by Todd Quackenbush on Unsplash.



  1. Learning how to cook without onions was a huge adjustment but now I do not miss them and I enjoy figuring out flavorful dishes using different herbs and spices. You can find more onion free recipes at and we will keep adding more. It is always good to meet others who have the same dilemma and I look forward to checking out recipes on your site.


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