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Best Red Onion Substitutes

Lisa Price
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by Lisa Price

Many of the best recipes call for red onion, but what happens if you don’t have this staple readily on hand?

Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can substitute for red onion, such as chives leaves, celery leaves, white onion, leeks or yellow onion.

What is Red Onion?

Red Onion
Red Onion

Red onions are known for their reddish-purple skin and purple-tinged flesh. Although we commonly use them in the culinary world, the vibrant peel of this onion has been used for centuries as a dye. They tend to be larger than most cooking onions, and people traditionally eat them both raw and cooked.

Raw red onions have an intense, spicy flavor. Cooked ones are generally sweeter and more mellow. They are robust and hold up well when grilled. They’re also delicious when roasted and pickled. If you get onion on your burger, there’s a good chance it will be red onion, and these bright purple beauties are also prevalent in salsas, salads, and as crunchy toppings for tacos.

Since they have such a robust flavor, these types of onions stand up well to citrus and vinaigrettes, as well as heavier sauces. In addition, they tend to have a more nuanced flavor profile than traditional cooking onions and are available worldwide.

1. Chives

Chives Leaves

Chives mimic the robust flavor of red onions. Raw chives also have the desirable crunch of onions, making them an ideal substitute for the real thing. When it comes to chives, you will want to add roughly half the amount of onion that the recipe calls for because chives tend to be a little bit more on the compact side.

You can substitute chives for fresh or cooked red onion, and they make a lovely garnish to most recipes. With their delicate, signature flavor, chives will never overpower your dish but will give you that pleasant oniony flavor that you want.

2. Celery

Celery leaves as red onion substitute
Celery Leaves

Celery might seem like an odd substitute for red onion, but it does the trick texture-wise. You can certainly throw in some celery instead of red onions if you’re cooking a stew or roast. You’ll want to use a one-to-one ratio, putting in exactly the same amount of celery that the recipe specifies for the red onion.

Celery has a delicate flavor, but it’s still an aromatic ingredient. You can certainly add it to recipes that call for red onion, but it won’t have that traditional zing that you get from the real thing. Offset this with a bit of extra pepper or garlic salt, and you won’t even really know the difference.

3. White Onions

White Onions
White Onions

Although white onions tend to be slightly milder than red, they are still a good substitute. White onions aren’t as peppery, so you can use them in place of red onions in uncooked dishes. The only thing that you’ll really be missing is the purple hue.

Soak your white onions in water before using them to bring out their sweeter flavors. You can use standard white onions or pearl onions for a similar taste. As with celery, you should adhere to a one-to-one ratio when adding white onions to a dish. Like red onions, they also caramelize beautifully.

4. Leeks

Leeks as red onion substitute

Leeks are close cousins of onions and are a suitable substitute for red onions. They tend to have a slightly milder flavor, so you might want to use a little bit more in your dish. Also, make sure that you properly clean your leeks and chop them finely.

As leeks tend to be a little bit denser, they take longer to cook. Also, the outer green leaves can be on the tough side. Remove these leaves and only use the vegetable’s pale green or white parts for the best results.

Cooked leeks tend to be much sweeter than onion, so you’re not going to find yourself with an exact match. Still, the flavor profile fits, and certain dishes, like stews, will get a hefty dose of nuanced flavor from leeks. Avoid using uncooked leeks in place of red onions. The flavors won’t match up, and these vegetables can taste a little stringy when they’re not cooked.

5. Yellow Onions

Yellow Onions as an alternative to red onion
Yellow Onions

Yellow onions are the stars of dishes like French Onion Soup and can stand in for sweet, tangy red onions in a pinch. These vegetables also go by the name brown onions and tend to be a little smaller than red onions. As such, you might need to use two or three in place of one large red onion.

It’s a good idea to get out your measuring cup with yellow onions and try to do a one-to-one ratio. While you can usually find red onions at the store, sometimes they might be expensive or out of season. When this happens, get your hands on some yellow onions. They tend to be cheaper and a good stand-in for the red ones.

Yellow onions aren’t that delicious raw, but they are great when they’re cooked. If you are looking for a red onion substitute for a cooked dish, you might want to opt for something different, like chives or celery.

Each red onion substitute on our list will give you a similar flavor profile and help your dish taste delicious. So try them out next time you find yourself without a red onion on hand.

Frequently Asked Questions

These frequently asked questions will help you to make intelligent decisions when substituting other ingredients for the red onion.

What do onions bring to the table?

Onions are one of the most aromatic vegetables on the planet. Although all onions are different, many of them are both acidic and juicy. They also have a spicy kick that adds another element of flavor to salads and uncooked dishes and textural interest to salsas and dips.

Cooked onions tend to be sweet and hearty, bulking up stews, soups, and braised dishes perfectly. Along with carrots and celery, onions are one of the main components of any vegetable stew or stock.
You can get onions virtually any time of the year, and they are relatively cheap. As a result, many chefs find that onions are one of the vital go-to vegetables in their kitchens.

You usually need one medium to medium-large onion for one cup of chopped onion. You can also substitute a tablespoon of powdered onion or onion flakes, although you won’t get the same bulky texture as you would from a fresh onion.

What are the reasons for substituting onions?

If you don’t have a red onion on hand, you’ll want to use one of the substitutes on our list. Additionally, some people want to substitute other ingredients for onions because they dislike the way onions make their eyes water.

Should you find yourself tearing up while chopping onions, take a break and wash your hands in soap and water to remove the onion juice. Or better still, get yourself an onion chopper.

Additionally, some people don’t like to use onions because they’re afraid they will have bad breath after their meal, although other ingredients, like garlic, have more unpleasant results. Realistically, you can neutralize onion breath fairly easily by drinking some water or eating certain fruits, like apples, after your meal.

Those with onion allergies should avoid the vegetable altogether. Instead, use a substitute like celery which is entirely outside of the onion family.

What spices can I substitute for red onion?

Those who aren’t allergic to onions can certainly use dried onion flakes or onion salt to substitute for red onion.

The benefit of onion flakes is that they tend to have a very long shelf life and are pretty cost-effective. If you don’t use red onion very often but find yourself with a recipe that calls for it, this spice will do in a pinch.

You can also substitute garlic salt for red onion. Garlic salt has a deep, layered flavor profile that’s slightly on the spicy side. As with onion flakes, it won’t give cooked dishes that robust oniony heaviness, but it is a good stand-in for onion flavor.

Be careful with garlic salt. A small pinch is really all you need. If you overdo it, you can seriously overseason your dish. A good rule is to add a pinch, taste, and then add more as you need it. Remember, you can always put more in, but you can’t take it out!

Wrapping Up

If your recipe calls for a red onion substitute, don’t fret. You can almost certainly find something in your kitchen pantry, refrigerator, or spice rack that will do the job. Consider whether or not texture and crunch, or flavor, is more important to you and make a selection from the substitutes that we’ve outlined here.

About Lisa Price
Lisa Price
Lisa is Food Champ's resident fitness enthusiast and nutrition expert. She holds a nutrition degree in her home state of Florida and works for a large health system to ensure sound nutrition and dietetics information is passed on to all members.
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