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17 Substitutes for Onion in Indian Cooking

If you’re looking for a substitute for onion in your Indian cooking, there are a few different options.

Consider what it is that you’re trying to achieve.

  • What kind of taste/flavor does onion give to the dishes you make?
  • What about texture or color?
  • Are you looking for something similar, or do you want to try something totally different?

Another factor to consider is availability and price.

Substitute for Onion in Indian Cooking

Onions tend to be relatively cheap and easy to find due to their widespread production.

Is your substitute going to be available at the same price point and in the same places?

Make sure you take all of these factors into account before deciding on a substitute!

Now that we’ve covered how to think about substitutes, let’s go over some good options for replacing onion in Indian cooking:

17 Substitutes for Onion in Indian Cooking

When you’re cooking Indian food, it can be hard to find a good onion substitute.

That’s why we created this list of 17 things you can use as an onion substitute in Indian cooking:

1. Fennel seeds

Fennel Seeds

Fennel seeds are a great substitute for onion.

They’re crunchy like onion but have a sweeter taste. Fennel seeds can be used as is or ground up into a fine powder to replicate the texture of finely chopped onion.

Fennel isn’t as readily available as onion so they may be more expensive.

They also don’t come in many colors so if you need yellow or red onion, it won’t work as well.

2. Sliced or diced jicama

jicama

Jicama is a root vegetable that comes from Mexico.

It’s crunchy and mild—similar to an apple or a potato—and it has a pleasant, light taste.

You can use it as a garnish for dishes such as dal tadka or as a substitute for onions when making chana masala samosa filling.

3. Shallots

Shallots

Shallots are a member of the allium family, like onions and garlic, but they’re just smaller and sweeter than onions.

They’re perfect if you want to add depth of flavor without too much bite or spice.

4. Chopped leeks

Leeks

Leek has a milder taste than onion, so if you’re looking for something even more subtle than shallots, leeks are a better bet.

You’ll find that leeks are easier to find, but shallots are more readily available in most areas and will give you the most similar texture as onion.

5. Grated carrot/cauliflower

Cauliflower

If you’re open to straying away from the allium family altogether, grated carrot or cauliflower are great substitutes for their texture and ability to soak up flavors.

If you go this route, make sure you have plenty of spices on hand to bring out the natural sweetness of both vegetables!

6. Chives

Chives

Chives are another great substitute for onions in Indian cooking.

They look very similar to green onions, though they have a milder flavor that’s less like an onion and more like a green onion.

They’re available at most grocery stores, but if you’re having trouble finding them you can always substitute green onions instead!

7. Cipollini onions

Cipollini onions

These onions’ small size makes them a great all-purpose onion substitute for Indian cooking.

They are easier to peel than many other varieties of onion and have a fairly mild flavor compared to other kinds of onion.

The downside is that they tend to be more expensive, so it’s not always an affordable choice for everyone.

However, if price isn’t an obstacle, cipollini onions can add great flavor and texture to all sorts of Indian dishes!

8. Scallions

Scallions

Indian cooking is known for its use of spicy flavors, so scallions are a great substitute because they can add that spicy kick without overpowering the dish with the stronger flavor of onions.

9. Garlic

Garlic

Garlic might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of substituting onions in Indian cooking, but it’s actually a great option!

It has some similarities to shallots (crunchy texture), though its flavor is much stronger than either chives or shallots—it will make your dishes stand out from others.

Garlic is also very reasonably priced at most grocery stores so there’s no need to spend extra money on this ingredient if you don’t want to!

10. Asafoetida (Hing spice)

Asafoetida

When using asafoetida, one teaspoon is typically sufficient to replace one onion.

The flavor of this spice is quite pungent and different from the flavor of onions, so be sure to add it sparingly to your dishes.

This spice works best when added at the start of the dish and allowed to cook through the entire time the dish is being prepared.

Asafoetida can be found at most grocery stores in India and abroad and is relatively inexpensive.

If you have an Indian grocery store nearby, it would be a good idea to check there first.

11. Pickled pearl onions

Pickled pearl onions

These little guys can be expensive, but they’re a good substitute if you’re looking for a crunchier texture and similar flavor to regular onions.

They do have a sharp, tangy flavor because of the brine they’re pickled in, but they can also be a fun addition to traditional dishes.

12. Kimchi

Most of these are available at grocery stores, but you might want to try looking at specialty Indian shops if you want a more authentic taste.

Kimchi

This fermented cabbage is an excellent substitute for onion in any dish where you want to add some tangy flavor without using onion—like the traditional Indian curry.  

It’s also rich in probiotics and other nutrients so it will help keep your gut healthy while giving your curry an extra kick of spice!

13. Bottarga

Bottarga

If you like the taste of onion, but want to try something new, consider substituting it with bottarga.

Bottarga is a salt-cured fish roe that has a powerful and distinctive flavor.

Use it sparingly, and you will be rewarded with a complex and interesting addition to your favorite Indian recipes.

14. Green Beans

green beans

Green beans are a great substitute for onion in Indian cooking.

They are readily available in most parts of the world, have a fantastic texture and are quite cheap too.

You can add them to dishes like Paneer Butter Masala and it will be more delicious than before.

They also have a solid crunch just like onion does and will give your dish an overall good taste.

15. Tomato

Tomatoes

Tomato is a good choice if you’re looking for something that’s sweet rather than bitter.

Tomato has a similar texture to onion as well, so it works well when cooked down into chutney or sauce.

However, tomato will change the color of your dish, so bear that in mind when you choose this option!

16. Spinach

Spinach

Spinach offers the mildest flavor of all the alternatives on our list.

It’s also relatively inexpensive, easy to find, and will not lend too much of a green tint to your dish if that’s not what you’re looking for. (Note: For best results, use baby spinach instead of mature spinach.)

17. Cilantro stems

Cilantro stems

Cilantro stems (also called coriander stems) can be chopped fine and used where onion is called for.

The stems are usually discarded, so this is a great way to reduce food waste!

You’ll still get the flavor and texture of cilantro without overpowering the dish with its distinct aroma.

Onions

17 Substitutes for Onion in Indian Cooking

Choosing a substitute for onions in your Indian cooking is easy! Just follow this 4-step process.
First, decide whether you want a substitute that's edible raw or one that's only edible cooked.
Second, decide whether you want a substitute that retains its volume when cooked or one that shrinks.
Third, decide whether you want a substitute with a neutral flavor or one that adds its own unique flavor to the dish.
Fourth, decide whether you want a substitute that is widely available at grocery stores or whether you're okay with buying from specialty stores.
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 5 mins
Total Time 10 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine Indian
Servings 4 people
Calories 200 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • Fennel seeds
  • Sliced or diced jicama
  • Shallots
  • Chopped leeks
  • Grated carrot/cauliflower
  • Chives
  • Scallions
  • Cipollini onions
  • Garlic
  • Asafoetida (Hing spice)
  • Pickled pearl onions
  • Kimchi
  • Bottarga
  • Green Beans
  • Tomato
  • Spinach
  • Cilantro stems

Instructions
 

  • Pick one of the alternatives from this list.
  • Prepare the rest of your ingredients.
  • Enjoy your meal in no time!
Keyword Substitute for Onion in Indian Cooking