Part of my every day job is figuring out how to add flavour without using onion and garlic, but it occurred to me that I have never written about this specifically. So today I will discuss all my tips and tricks for adding flavour back in to onion and garlic free dishes.
Adding flavour without onion and garlic
As someone who develops FODMAP friendly recipes, about half of the gig is figuring out how to replace onion and garlic with FODMAP friendly alternatives. Onion and garlic are the powerhouses of the flavour world, and are included, in some form or another, in just about every cuisine worldwide.
Why would someone avoid onion and garlic?
People avoid onion and garlic for different reasons. Some people, like myself, follow the FODMAP diet, or avoid high FODMAP foods. I do this because certain high FODMAP foods cause me digestive distress. Being unwell, in turn, often impacts my mental health, so it’s important to me to ensure what I’m eating doesn’t make me feel unwell.
I have done the FODMAP elimination diet and unfortunately my tolerance to onion and garlic has not improved. I should say here that there is is absolutely no need to avoid onion and garlic if you tolerate them after the elimination diet! As above, the aim of the FODMAP diet is to reintroduce as many high FODMAP foods as possible, so hopefully this is just a temporary guide for some of you.
Onion and garlic are sometimes excluded because people don’t like the taste, believe it or not! This might be just onion, just garlic, or both onion and garlic.
Some people avoid onion and garlic for religious reasons. Jain, Buddhist, Taoists and Hindus avoid onion and garlic.
What does it feel like to be intolerant to onion and garlic?
Maybe a weird entry, but I thought it might be helpful to some people. For me personally, I get a sort of dry mouth sensation when I eat something with onion or garlic in it. I can feel it the second the food hits my mouth. This feeling stays with me for the whole day, even if I drink loads of water. On the digestive side, I will bloat, cramp, feel nauseous and all that other stuff we know and love. I used to absolutely love onion and garlic, so being intolerant to them has been a real blow for me.
Of course, this might be a different experience for different people. Always consult a medical professional if you are having digestive issues.
What is FODMAP?
The FODMAP diet was invented by Sue Shepherd and Monash University. It singles out and identifies highly fermentable components of different foods that can cause digestive distress. The idea of the diet is to eliminate these highly fermentable foods in the short term, and to slowly reintroduce them to see what you can tolerate. The goal of the diet is to bring as many high FODMAP foods back into your diet as possible by the end.
Is onion low FODMAP?
Onion is a high FODMAP, high fructan food. This includes white onions, purple onions (or Spanish onions) spring onion bulbs, leek whites and shallots. Better yet? This even includes onion powder. Even small amounts of onion are high FODMAP. You can see why this might be an issue when they are in practically every dish ever.
Is garlic low FODMAP?
Sadly, no. Garlic, like onion, is high FODMAP in tiny amounts. This also includes garlic powder.
What can I use instead of onion and garlic?
There are a number of ingredients that can help replace the flavour lost by removing onion and garlic. Onion and garlic are distinct flavours and add different bulk and texture, so let’s address them separately.
Replacing the flavour of onion
Spring onion greens
Spring onion greens are a really easy way to add onion flavour back into your low FODMAP dishes. People tend to pair them with Asian cuisines, but they can be substituted into any style of food for a subtle onion replacement. They can be used cooked, as in my FODMAP friendly vegetarian chilli, or raw, as in my spring onion dip.
Leek greens are another great way to add a base note of onion flavour. Importantly, they are generally filled with hidden dirt so they need a thorough wash before use. They can be quite hardy, so I recommend slicing them really thinly and cooking them thoroughly.
Chives, surprisingly, are a FODMAP friendly ingredient. This also includes garlic chives, which you can often find at your local Asian grocer. Chives are also quite easy to grow at home, so it can be inexpensive to throw in some chopped chives to your low FODMAP dishes.
Replacing the texture and bulk of onion
Sometimes a recipe uses a lot of onion and replacing it will lose a lot of the texture or bulk. There are a couple of things I generally do to add this back in, in addition to using the spring onion greens and leek greens.
Carrots are a low FODMAP way to add bulk back to a dish without onion and garlic. They are relatively plain and generally included in a soffritto anyway, so they are not out of place in a lot of dishes.
Fennel is not without it’s FODMAP limits, but it does mimic the fibrous aesthetic and texture of cooked onion. I use caramelised fennel cooked with some asafoetida in a pizza recipe in Intolerance Friendly Kitchen.
Replacing the flavour of garlic
Garlic chives, as we’ve discussed, are a great FODMAP friendly garlic replacement if you have an Asian grocer nearby. They have a subtle garlic flavour that is quite distinct from chives at the supermarket. They are well worth trying if you happen to see some.
Asafoetida powder, sometimes called Hing, is made from a variety of giant fennel. It has a pungent onion and garlic taste, and is a real coup for adding in flavour without onion and garlic. It is often used in Indian cuisine, although I see it pop up in more and more places these days.
Asafoetida powder makes a great substitute for onion and garlic powder, too. Because it is so pungent, the powder is often ‘cut’ with flour to lessen it’s potency. This can mean that the asafoetida is not gluten free, so make sure to read the labels. Don’t use too much, either – it is very strong.
Garlic infused oil
The fructans in garlic are water soluble but not fat soluble. This means that if you were to make a soup with garlic, the fructans would leech into the liquid and result in a high FODMAP soup. Because the fructans are not fat soluble, though, you can safely infuse garlic in oil to create a garlicky taste.
Personally, I find that adding garlic infused oil to a dish while cooking has no effect. The subtle garlic flavour is drowned out by the time all the flavours come together. Where it really shines, though, is as a finishing oil, left uncooked. I like to drizzle the garlic infused oil over finished pasta or bread to get the full effect. This FODMAP friendly spaghetti aglio e olio is a perfect example.
I also find that store bought garlic oil isn’t as strong as homemade. Garlic oil can be at risk for botulism, so store bought oils are stabilised in a way that prevents this. As a result, I find them to be quite subtle. I make my own garlic infused oil in small batches so I get the full effect in a food safe way. You can find a full recipe and rundown on making your own garlic oil here.
Garlic infused ghee
Garlic infused ghee is my alternative to garlic butter. Ghee is made by cooking the water content out of butter at a low temperature. You are left with only the butter fat, sometimes called ‘oil of milk.’ Because the liquid has been cooked off the butter, it is nearly 100% fat.
Once the liquid has been removed, you can infuse the ghee with the garlic. The garlic is then strained out (I give it to my garlic loving family members) and you have the most delicious garlic infused ghee. I like to whip it and serve it with homemade gluten free baguettes.
This is not as foolproof as garlic infused oil. There is a chance that a tiny amount of liquid will remain in the ghee, leaving something for the fructan to leech into. However, I have never had an issue with it, and my intolerance for garlic is high.
You can find my full recipe for garlic infused ghee here.
Low FODMAP umami ingredients that are vegetarian
Adding umami ingredients adds another dimension to a dish without onion and garlic. Meat and seafood provide umami, but here we’re discussing vegetarian options to add depth of flavour.
- Miso paste (make sure it’s gluten free if it needs to be)
- Nutritional yeast
- Aged cheeses (see this list for vegetarian cheeses in Australia)
- Tomato paste and sundried tomatoes
- Tamari and gluten free soy sauce (or regular soy sauce, if you don’t need it be gluten free)
- Truffle oil
- Mushrooms (see section below)
- Vegetarian oyster sauce and vegetarian fish sauce (check the labels to ensure FODMAP)
A quick note on mushrooms
Mushrooms are a great vegetarian umami builder that can be used for a low FODMAP dish. They do, however, have upper FODMAP limits, so it’s worth quickly discussing which are appropriate. I have kept it to the more common varieties, as these are what Monash provides FODMAP data on. The dried varieties often provide the strongest umami flavour and are handy as they keep well.
- Dried shitake – 2 mushrooms or 7g serving per person
- Dried porcini – 1 tablespoon or 10g serving per person
- Oyster mushrooms – 75g serving per person
Bonus flavour builders
These flavour builders aren’t umami, nor do they taste like onion and garlic. But they do add great flavour to dishes and are incredibly helpful to have on hand when replacing onion and garlic.
- Fresh herbs – a given! Coriander roots are also great in Asian and Indian inspired dishes, so don’t throw them out.
- Curry leaves – these give big bang for their buck! Delicious fried, as in my FODMAP daal recipe
- Ginger, lemongrass and galangal
- Dijon mustard or any sort of mustard (check for FODMAP content)
- Red wine (which could be considered umami)
- Tamarind puree – great in Asian dishes like Pad Thai
- Liquid smoke or smoked cheeses – these add a meaty depth of flavour
- Preserved lemon – used in North African and Moroccan cuisine
- Fresh citrus – you’d be surprised at what some lemon juice or zest can do
- Pickles (make sure they are FODMAP friendly)
- Makrut lime leaves or zest – adds the most incredible flavour to anything it touches but best suited to South East Asian cuisines
- Black and white pepper – distinctly different flavours that can be toasted to change it up again
- Salt – salt chemically brings out flavours in a dish. If something is tasting bland when you have thrown the book at it flavour wise, add a little extra salt.
- Maple syrup, a small amount of honey or sweetener – this can balance out the flavours and add a little something unexpected
- Dried spices – duh. I often find that mimicking the flavour profile of a dish with the spices can help trigger a muscle memory and I feel like I’m eating an onion and garlic based dish. For example, adding oregano and rosemary to my vegan bolognese makes it taste very legit.
- Special mention to dried sage powder here – it has a really meaty flavour that I love to use. It works incredibly well in my vegetarian, gluten free sausages.
Building a flavour base without onion and garlic
The following is my process for building flavour into dishes without using onion and garlic. Layering in different flavours and substitutes is key to creating a tasty end result. I am vegetarian, so I assume this process is even easier for carnivores, given the bold flavours in meat.
- Start with a spring onion and leek green base. Depending on the dish, I sometimes just use the spring onions as they cook quickly and are dissolve more easily into dishes.
- In the applicable cuisines, I use a considerable amount of grated ginger. Once well cooked, the ginger mellows into most dishes but provides another layer of flavour.
- Add asafoetida powder to taste.
- Incorporate umami ingredients listed above. This would change a little if I were cooking with meat, as it already contains strong savoury flavours.
- Add plenty of spices, fresh herbs, lemon juice or vinegar to add flavour and brighten the dish.
- Make sure the food is well seasoned to bring out all of the flavours.
- Finish the dish with garlic infused garlic oil or garlic ghee, as appropriate.
My favourite vegetarian recipes without onion and garlic
1. FODMAP friendly not quite pickled onion
A quick recipe I developed to accompany my gluten free bagels that adds brightness, colour and a pop of onion flavour thanks to the asafoetida powder.
2. Everything bagel seasoning without onion and garlic
While we’re on the topic, this delicious everything bagel seasoning is made without onion or garlic.
3. Vegetarian chilli
This vegetarian chilli is full bodied, full of flavour and convincingly meaty, all without meat or onion and garlic.
4. Spaghetti aglio e olio
This delicious gluten free pasta is finished with a garlic infused oil for all the flavour of the classic spaghetti aglio e olio, made without FODMAPs.
5. Whipped garlic ghee on gluten free baguettes
I have to say that this might be one of the most satisfying recipes I have ever developed. Fresh and fluffy gluten free baguettes topped with whipped garlic infused ghee and sea salt flakes. My absolute dream combination, all without onion or garlic.
6. FODMAP friendly Paneer curry
With the help of the ingredients above, this vegetarian paneer curry is made without any onion or garlic, without compromising on flavour.
7. FODMAP friendly chilli oil noodles
A quick and easy weeknight dinner that uses spring onions and a sizzle oil for a bold flavour without FODMAPs. Bonus points if you infuse your oil with garlic before you start.
8. Vegan bolognese
This vegan bolognese is one of my favourite recipes I have developed. With some simple replacements for onion and garlic (as well as meat) this is a hearty weeknight bolognese that is FODMAP friendly but filling and delicious.
9. Spring onion dip
A lactose free FODMAP friendly dip that is packed with that classic spring onion flavour we all know and love.
10. Cheesy garlicky gluten free naan
The only thing better than this gluten free cheesy naan is finishing it off with garlic infused ghee for the full heavenly experience.
11. FODMAP friendly green Thai curry
A homemade green Thai carrot paste without onion and garlic keeps the FODMAP content of this vegetarian Green Thai curry down.
12. FODMAP friendly Pad Thai (vegan option)
One of my favourite things to eat regardless of the day or time, this Pad Thai is FODMAP friendly, gluten free and easily vegan.
13. Vegetarian Moussaka
A hearty and full bodied vegetarian lasagne made with an onion and garlic free vegetarian mince meat and a delicious smoked mozzarella bechamel for an extra meaty hit.
14. FODMAP friendly vegetable tagine
A FODMAP friendly take on the Moroccan dish tagine that is packed with vegetables, a FODMAP friendly amount of canned chickpeas, plenty of spices and some heavenly preserved lemon.
15. Vegan gravy
This super speedy and delicious vegan gravy is gluten free and made without any onion and garlic. It uses toasted nutritional yeast for a oniony garlicky umami.
16. FODMAP friendly paneer shahi
One of my favourite low FODMAP vegetarian curry recipes, this shahi paneer is vegetarian and delicious. I have a recipe for lactose free paneer, too.
17. Leek and potato soup
This leek and potato soup might look a little different but it has just as much flavour as the original. Leek greens provide a beautiful leek flavour without the FODMAPs.
18. Vegan Dan Dan style noodles
This FODMAP friendly, vegetarian take on dan dan noodles with a delicious spicy peanut sauce and tofu ‘mince’. One of my favourite savoury recipes from my cookbook Intolerance Friendly Kitchen.
19. Pumpkin, leek, sage and goat’s cheese tart
This autumnal and deeply savoury tart uses sage and leek greens to provide a rich and delicious flavour base. Encased in a gluten free pastry, this is a delicious comforting tart for multiple dietary requirements.
20. FODMAP friendly vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie
A delicious vegetarian and gluten free Shepherd’s Pie without onion and garlic. You can choose from a tater tot topping or a cheesy mash topping. It’s easily vegan, too (not that your cat will know it)
21. Garlic oil potatoes with a zingy yoghurt base and herb salsa
I say this a lot, but this is one of my favourite recipes without onion and garlic. The garlic infused oil complements the crispy potatoes perfectly, while the yoghurt provides a tangy foil to all the richness.
22. FODMAP friendly pizza sauce
Garlic onion and Italian cuisine are synonymous. This FODMAP friendly pizza sauce uses a few easy tricks to create a delicious pizza without the need for the onion or garlic.
23. Vegetarian curry without onion and garlic
A delicious and rich vegetarian curry filled with vegetables and tofu in a rich curry gravy without onion or garlic.
24. FODMAP friendly vegetarian lasagne
A delicious vegetarian lasagne that is layered with FODMAP friendly vegetarian mince, gluten free lasagne sheets, delicious roast vegetables, a hint of greenery and a creamy low lactose bechamel.
25. FODMAP friendly vegan lasagne
A rich and delicious vegan lasagne that is gluten free and made without onion or garlic.