Onions are a cornerstone of culinary delights across the world, and red onions are no exception.
With their vibrant color and punchy flavor, red onions add a touch of magic to many recipes. However, there are times when you might need to seek a substitute for red onions, whether due to dietary restrictions, flavor preferences, or simply because they’re unavailable.
Fear not, dear reader! In this comprehensive and engaging guide, we’ll explore a variety of red onion substitutes that will keep your dishes flavorful and satisfying.
I’ve already touched a bit on the topic of onion interchangeability in an article on how to cut onions. Today let’s look at the detailed substitution of red onions
👅 Flavor Profile
Red onions boast a mild, sweet taste with a hint of spiciness. They have a slightly crunchy texture when raw, which mellows out to a softer consistency when cooked.
While it’s challenging to find an exact match for their unique flavor and texture, several options come close, especially when it comes to other onion varieties.
How to make red onion milder or less pungent?
To make red onions milder or less pungent, there are a few methods you can employ:
- Soak in Cold Water: Slice the red onions and soak them in cold water for 10 to 15 minutes. This method can help to draw out the onions’ sharpness and reduce their pungency.
- Quick Pickling: Thinly slice the onions and soak them in a mixture of vinegar, salt, and sugar for at least 15 minutes. This process not only reduces the pungency but also adds a tangy flavor.
- Lemon Juice Rinse: Slicing the onions and rinsing them under lemon juice can also help to neutralize the pungent flavor.
Remember to drain well before using the onions in your recipe.
⚖️ Scale Conversion
It’s always great to have a kitchen scale handy for more accurate measurements. But if you don’t have one, use the envelope chart below.
|Onion Size||Weight (g)||Weight (lbs)||Onions in a Pound||Onions in a Cup||Onions in a Kg|
|Small Red||70g||0.15 lbs||6-7||2||14-15|
|Medium Red||150g||0.33 lbs||3||1||6-7|
|Large Red||300g||0.66 lbs||1.5||0.5||3-4|
🔄 Best Red Onion Substitutes
The most suitable substitute for red onions often depends on the specific recipe, but a generally good replacement is a white onion. Yellow onions, too, are an effective substitute. They balance astringency and sweetness in their flavor, becoming even sweeter the longer they cook.
For raw applications where red onion’s color and mildness are desired, shallots can serve as a substitute, albeit with a more pronounced garlic note.
White onions have a sharper taste compared to red onions, but they can be substituted at a 1:1 ratio. When cooked, white onions mellow out and become sweeter, making them a suitable alternative.
Ratio: 1:1 ratio
Know more about white onion substitutes.
Yellow onions are the most common onion variety and make an excellent red onion alternative. They have a slightly stronger flavor but still offer a hint of sweetness when cooked. Use an equal amount of yellow onions in place of red onions.
Ratio: 1:1 ratio
Shallots have a delicate, mildly sweet taste and are less pungent than red onions. When substituting shallots for red onions, use the same amount, but be aware that the dish may have a more subtle onion flavor.
Ratio: 1:1 ratio
Sweet onions, like Vidalia or Walla Walla, are known for their mild flavor and natural sweetness. They can be used interchangeably with red onions, though the resulting dish may be slightly sweeter.
Ratio: 1:1 ratio
Looking for sweet onions substitutes? Check here!
Green Onions (Scallions)
Scallions, or green onions, have a milder flavor than red onions but still provide a nice crunch. Use an equal amount of scallions to replace red onions, but note that the color and taste will be slightly different.
Ratio: 1:1 ratio
Read also: Green Onion Substitutes
Red Onion Powder
In a pinch, red onion powder can be used to replace fresh red onions. Keep in mind that the texture will be different, but the flavor will be similar. Use 1/4 teaspoon of red onion powder for every tablespoon of chopped fresh red onion.
Ratio: 1/4 tsp powder = 1 Tbsp chopped fresh onion
⤵ More alternatives
While garlic has a distinct, pungent flavor, it can still impart a depth of flavor in recipes that call for red onions. Use one clove of minced garlic for every third of a medium red onion required.
Ratio: 1 clove = 1/3 of a medium red onion
Chives have a delicate onion-like taste and can be used as a garnish or in dishes where a subtle onion flavor is desired. Use an equal volume of chopped chives in place of red onions.
Ratio: 1:1 ratio by volume
These small, flat Italian onions have a sweet, mild flavor, making them a decent substitute for red onions. Use the same amount of cipollini onions as you would red onions, but be prepared for a slightly different texture.
Ratio: 1:1 ratio
Don’t have cipollini onions? Check for substitutes.
Pickled onions can be used in place of red onions in recipes that call for a tangy flavor. Use an equal amount of pickled onions as red onions, but note that the taste will be noticeably different.
Ratio: 1:1 ratio
Try making these instant pickled onions to use as substitute.
Red Bell Pepper
While not an onion, red bell peppers can be used as a substitute for red onions in recipes that require a crunchy texture and vibrant color. The flavor will be sweeter and less pungent, but the visual appeal will be similar.
Ratio: 1:1 ratio
Fennel has a mild, licorice-like flavor and can be used as a red onion substitute in recipes where a sweeter, more aromatic taste is desired. Use an equal amount of fennel as red onions, but be prepared for a unique flavor profile.
In recipes that call for a crunchy texture but not necessarily an onion flavor, celery can serve as a substitute for red onions. Use an equal amount of chopped celery in place of red onions.
Radishes offer a crunchy texture and a peppery taste, which can be an interesting substitute for red onions in salads or other cold dishes. Use an equal amount of thinly sliced radishes in place of red onions.
Read also: Radish Alternatives
Jicama has a mild, sweet flavor and a crunchy texture, making it a suitable substitute for red onions in salads or slaws. Use the same amount of jicama as red onions.
Pearl onions have a sweet, mild flavor and can be used as a substitute for red onions, especially in cooked dishes. Use an equal amount of pearl onions in place of red onions, but be prepared for a slightly different texture and a less vibrant color.
Check also: Pearl Onions Substitutes
Pickled Red Onion Substitutes
- Pickled Shallots. Swap out pickled red onions for pickled shallots if you’re looking for a milder, slightly sweet alternative. With a similar texture, you can easily use them in a 1:1 ratio, adding a less pungent and sweeter touch to your dish.
- Pickled Red Cabbage. A visually appealing option, pickled red cabbage brings a vibrant color and crunchy texture to the table. Its tangy and mildly sweet flavor with a hint of earthiness can be used in a 1:1 ratio to replace pickled red onions.
- Pickled Jalapeños. For those who enjoy a little heat, pickled jalapeños offer a tangy, spicy kick and a crunchy texture. Use an equal amount of pickled jalapeños to replace pickled red onions, but be ready for a noticeable change in heat and flavor.
- Pickled Banana Peppers. With their tangy, mildly sweet taste and a slight heat, pickled banana peppers are a suitable stand-in for pickled red onions. Use them in a 1:1 ratio, but keep in mind that the flavor will be slightly different and less pungent.
- Pickled Radishes. For an intriguing alternative, pickled radishes deliver a peppery, tangy taste and a crunchy texture. Simply replace pickled red onions with the same amount of pickled radishes, and embrace the more peppery flavor profile. You can make them yourself using this recipe.
- Pickled Red Bell Peppers. Boasting a sweet, tangy flavor and a crunchy texture, pickled red bell peppers are a visually appealing and tasty option. Use a 1:1 ratio to substitute pickled red onions, but expect a sweeter and less pungent flavor.
- Pickled Pearl Onions. These little gems offer a sweet, mild flavor and a similar texture to pickled red onions. Use them in a 1:1 ratio to add a less pungent and sweeter touch to your dish.
- Pickled Cipollini Onions. Small and flat, these Italian onions provide a sweet, mild flavor when pickled. Use the same amount of pickled cipollini onions as you would pickled red onions, but be ready for a slightly different texture and a milder taste.
🍳 Substitution by Meal Type
Substituting red onions in salads requires alternatives that can provide similar crunch, color, and a balance of sweetness and pungency. Here are a few options:
Shallots: Shallots have a milder and slightly sweeter flavor compared to red onions. Their size makes them easy to slice thinly, and they can add a subtle flavor to salads without overpowering other ingredients.
Sweet onions: Varieties like Vidalia or Walla Walla offer a pleasant sweetness and a less pungent flavor, making them an excellent substitute for red onions in salads.
Scallions: The white part of the green onions can provide a mild onion flavor to salads, while their green tops can add color and a mild, almost grassy flavor.
Radishes: For an entirely different option, radishes can provide the crunch that red onions offer. Their peppery flavor can be a refreshing change, although they lack the sweetness of red onions.
Scallions and shallots make excellent substitutions for red onions in salsa. Scallions offer a milder flavor and similar crunch, while shallots provide a delicate, slightly sweet taste. Both can be used in a 1:1 ratio for red onions.
In a Greek salad, kalamata olives and thinly sliced radishes can be used as substitutes for red onions. Kalamata olives add a salty, tangy flavor that complements the other ingredients, while radishes provide a peppery taste and crunchy texture. Replace the red onions with an equal amount of either kalamata olives or radishes.
Finely minced garlic and diced yellow onions can replace red onions in guacamole. Garlic imparts a rich, savory flavor, while yellow onions have a slightly stronger taste but still offer a hint of sweetness. Use one clove of minced garlic for every third of a medium red onion or substitute diced yellow onions at a 1:1 ratio.
Diced celery and chopped chives can replace red onions in tuna salad. Celery provides a crunchy texture and a mild flavor, while chives offer a delicate onion-like taste. Use an equal amount of diced celery or chopped chives as a substitute for red onions.
In a broccoli salad, thinly sliced leeks and diced white onions can be used as substitutes for red onions. Leeks have a sweet, mild flavor, while white onions have a sharper taste that mellows when combined with other ingredients. Use an equal amount of thinly sliced leeks or diced white onions in place of red onions.
For pasta salad, try using diced green bell peppers and chopped scallions as red onion substitutes. Green bell peppers add a crunchy texture and a mild, slightly sweet flavor, while scallions provide a milder onion taste. Replace red onions with an equal amount of either diced green bell peppers or chopped scallions.
💡 Tips and Guidance
- Adjust the cooking time. Different onion varieties may require varying cooking times. Be mindful of this and adjust the cooking time accordingly.
- Taste as you go. As the flavor profiles of these substitutes can vary significantly, taste your dish as you cook to ensure the flavor is to your liking. Adjust seasonings if necessary.
- Experiment with combinations. Try combining two or more substitutes to create a more complex flavor profile that closely mimics red onions.
- Consider the dish. Choose a substitute that complements the flavors of the dish you’re preparing. For example, use fennel in an Italian recipe, or pickled onions in a tangy salad.
- Embrace the differences. While these substitutes may not exactly replicate the flavor and texture of red onions, they can still bring their own unique qualities to your dishes. Embrace these differences and use them to your advantage, adding depth and creativity to your culinary creations.
- Use caramelization to your advantage. Many onion varieties, especially sweet onions, develop a rich, caramelized flavor when cooked slowly over low heat. Use this technique to enhance the flavor of your substitute and bring it closer to the taste of red onions. For more on this, see the recipe for caramelized onions.
- Color matters. If the vibrant color of red onions is essential to your dish, consider using red bell peppers or a combination of different onion varieties to achieve a similar visual effect.
- Texture considerations. If you’re using a substitute with a different texture, such as jicama or celery, consider how it will affect the final dish. You may need to adjust the recipe to account for the changes in texture.
- Adjust the spice level. Some substitutes, like white onions or radishes, may have a stronger or more pungent taste compared to red onions. If needed, adjust the spice level in your dish to accommodate the flavors of your chosen substitute.
- Be open to experimentation. Ultimately, cooking is an art form that allows for flexibility and creativity. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different red onion substitutes and discover new flavor combinations that elevate your dishes to new heights.
In conclusion, while red onions hold a special place in our culinary hearts, there are plenty of viable substitutes that can step in when needed. Whether you’re faced with dietary restrictions, flavor preferences, or ingredient availability, this comprehensive guide should equip you with the knowledge and inspiration to confidently swap out red onions for an alternative that suits your needs.
So go forth, dear reader, and embrace the world of red onion substitutes, knowing that a delicious and satisfying meal is always within reach!