Garlic is one of those things that shows up in lots of different recipes, and Indian cooking is certainly no exception.
But what if you’re trying a new recipe, and it calls for garlic, but you don’t have any (or you’re allergic to it)?
As someone who knows how frustrating it can be to get stuck without an ingredient, I totally get it.
To help you out, I’ve compiled a list of 16 substitutes for garlic in Indian cooking to help you keep moving forward with your culinary adventures.
16 Substitutes for Garlic in Indian Cooking
Garlic is a staple of Indian cooking, but sometimes you don’t have any garlic around—or you’re just not a huge fan of the smell.
In that case, here are 16 alternatives to garlic you can try in your next recipe:
1. Onion Powder
Onion powder and garlic powder are like cousins—they have a lot of similarities.
Garlic is stronger than onion powder, so if your recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of minced garlic, use 1 teaspoon onion powder instead.
Be aware that onion powder will give your dish a slightly different flavor than regular garlic, but the taste won’t be too far off!
You’ll also need to add salt, since onion powder doesn’t contain any salt on its own.
Asafoetida (also known as hing) is a spice used in Indian cooking that has an odor similar to leeks or onions.
You’ll want to use less than the recipe calls for if you substitute it; ¼ teaspoon should do it.
Keep in mind that asafoetida is quite strong, so it might overpower other flavors in the dish unless used sparingly.
3. Garlic Infused Oil
This substitute can add a nice aroma, flavor and texture to your dish.
It’s also really versatile!
You can use it instead of butter or oil when sauteing vegetables. You can also use it on pizza, pasta, and in salad dressings.
4. Onion flakes
For those who want to avoid all things garlicky, onion flakes are a flavorful substitute that still provides that punchy texture and taste you’re looking for.
Use 2 tablespoons of onion flakes per clove of garlic called for in your recipe.
These onion-like herbs are a great substitute for the flavor of garlic in Indian dishes.
They have a milder flavor than garlic but they will still give your dish a little something extra!
They work well when chopped up and mixed into sauces or soups.
6. Chili Powder
This powder packs some heat! It’s a good substitute for the spice of garlic or ginger in Indian recipes.
Just make sure to taste your food before adding salt so you don’t overdo it on seasoning!
These little guys pack a ton of flavor, even though they look a little like onions that didn’t grow up right.
They’re good at just about any job garlic could be put to—roasting, frying, caramelizing, or otherwise enhancing your meal.
If you’re planning to use them as a substitute for garlic in pesto, one option is to prep them first by mashing them with salt and black pepper.
Then add them to the rest of your pesto ingredients as you normally would with garlic.
Leeks are milder than garlic, but add a similar oniony tone that’s great in any dish.
They’re especially suited to add a nice flavor boost to sautéed vegetables and curries.
When substituting leeks for garlic, be sure to use less than the amount called for in your recipe, since their flavor is more delicate than that of fresh garlic cloves.
Ramp is a delicious, super-garlicky green that is flavorful and versatile.
It’s the perfect substitute for garlic in Indian cooking because of its strong taste, but also because it has a similar texture to garlic.
The only downside to ramp is that it’s not available in all seasons or all areas, so you may need to plan ahead if you want to use ramp.
In terms of color, ramp can vary from light green with blue tones to dark green with red tones, depending on how ripe they are.
The color will also change slightly over time as they age, so take that into account if you’re using them for recipes where you expect them to look the same throughout their lifespan.
Ramps are also more expensive than garlic cloves and don’t keep as long—so make sure you have a plan for using up your ramps before they go bad!
10. Green onion
This is an easy-to-find option that looks good with practically any dish!
It’s also one of the cheapest options out there (not including simply omitting the ingredient altogether).
Green onion is a bit more mild than its garlic counterpart, but that’s what makes it so great—because it’s not as pungent as garlic, you can put green onion in just about anything that calls for garlic.
Cilantro is another great substitute for garlic in Indian cooking!
It’s easy to get and affordable, but it does have a slightly different flavor than garlic that may not appeal to everyone.
If you love cilantro and are looking for something that will pack some punch in your recipes without breaking the bank, then cilantro should be high on your list.
Ginger is a great substitute for garlic because they both provide that much-needed bite to your dish.
It’s also easy to find, and is less expensive than buying fresh garlic cloves (and they almost never go bad)!
When using ginger as a substitute, keep in mind that it will add a little more zest to your dish—so if you’re trying to tone things down, you may want to steer clear.
Often used as a substitute for chili powder when making Indian curries, because its flavor and aroma are similar.
It’s a great alternative to chili powder for those who can’t tolerate spicy food, or if you’re not a chili fan yourself.
Fennel is particularly good when you’re making a curry with potatoes or other root vegetables: the flavor of fennel complements the potatoes, and you get a nice onion-y taste from the fennel, as well.
Plus, it’s all about adding color to your dish!
14. Mustard seeds
Flavorful and aromatic with a slightly peppery note; these are great to use in addition to cumin in Indian curries.
They’re also great in dishes like vindaloo sauce, where they give your dish an earthy and warming taste.
Turmeric is an excellent substitute for garlic when it comes to adding flavor to your dishes.
It can also be a good substitute for color, and it works well as a thickener.
It has a light flavor and is readily available in most Indian kitchens.
16. Honey (for a sweet element)
Here’s one of the sweetest of all substitutes: honey.
Honey is a great alternative for garlic because it has a similar consistency, and can be used as a binder in sauces, dressings, and marinades.
It’s also relatively easy to find at the grocery store, and is usually budget-friendly—although if you’re using it as a substitute for garlic in Indian cooking, you’ll likely want to seek out organic honey from your local farmer’s market or specialty food shop.
You may be surprised how well the sweetness of honey contrasts with the more savory notes of Indian cuisine, but this variation will give you an excuse to experiment!
Any time you’re looking to substitute garlic in a recipe that calls for sweet flavorings—like in a dessert-like salad dressing or marinade—honey is going to be your best bet.
16 Substitutes for Garlic in Indian Cooking
- Onion Powder
- Garlic Infused Oil
- Onion flakes
- Chili Powder
- Green onion
- Mustard seeds
- Pick one of the alternatives from this list.
- Prepare the rest of your meal.
- Be ready to munch in no time!