Sweet onions, also known as Walla Walla, Vidalia, or Maui onions, are a kitchen staple and a must-have for anyone who enjoys a milder onion flavor. You might be seeking substitutes for sweet onions due to dietary restrictions, personal taste preferences, or simply because you’ve run out.
If you are in such a dilemma, White onions and shallots are among the best alternatives. They closely mimic the sweet, mild flavor and can be used in a similar ratio as sweet onions in your favorite recipes.
I’ve already touched a bit on the topic of interchangeability of different types of onions in an article about onion slicing methods, but here let’s break down all the alternatives for substituting sweet onions.
👅 Flavor Profile
Sweet onions have a unique flavor profile. They are known for their mild, sweet taste, unlike their regular onion counterparts, which can be pungent and spicy.
When raw, sweet onions have a crisp texture, which softens beautifully when cooked, releasing their natural sweetness.
This sweetness is further enhanced through caramelization, making them an excellent addition to stir-frys, soups, roasts, and salads.
🔄 The Closest Replacements/Substitutes
White onions are among the closest substitutes for sweet onions. They have a similar mild flavor, albeit with a slightly stronger pungency. This substitute is excellent in stir-fries, soups, and roasts, maintaining a similar texture when cooked. Substitute white onions in a 1:1 ratio for sweet onions.
Cooking times will remain relatively unchanged, but expect a slightly stronger onion flavor.
Note: Check for white onion substitutes.
Shallots provide a unique blend of garlic and sweet onion flavor. They are smaller and more delicate, which can enhance the texture of your dish. In terms of nutritional comparison, shallots have slightly higher amounts of vitamins and minerals than sweet onions. Substitute two shallots for one sweet onion in your recipes.
Leeks offer a mild, onion-like taste that can substitute sweet onions in many dishes. Use only the white and light green parts, as they have the softest flavor.
Note that leeks have a softer texture when cooked, which may alter the final texture of your dish. Substitute one leek for one sweet onion in your recipe.
Red onions can be a suitable sweet onion substitute, especially when cooked, as the cooking process mellows their strong flavor. They are great for grilling, roasting, and in fresh salads if marinated before. Substitute red onions in a 1:1 ratio for sweet onions.
Note: Red onions substitutes are here.
Vidalia onions are a type of sweet onion that’s typically grown in Vidalia, Georgia. They have a sweet, fruity flavor that’s similar to other sweet onions, making them an excellent substitute if available. Use Vidalia onions in the same quantity as sweet onions.
Walla Walla Onion
The Walla Walla onion, like the Vidalia, is a specific type of sweet onion with a mild flavor profile. Named after the region where they are grown in Washington State, Walla Walla onions can be a direct substitute for other sweet onions. Use them in a 1:1 ratio for sweet onions.
Maui onions are Hawaiian sweet onions known for their mild flavor and slight sweetness. They are an excellent substitute for sweet onions, especially in tropical dishes. Use the same quantity of Maui onions as sweet onions in your recipes.
Scallions, or green onions, can replace sweet onions if you’re seeking a milder flavor. Only the white parts should
be used for a flavor closest to sweet onions. Scallions also have a softer texture when cooked, which may alter your dish’s texture. Substitute three scallions for one sweet onion.
Yellow onions, although more pungent, can be caramelized to bring out their sweetness, making them a good substitute for sweet onions. They’re excellent in soups, stews, and roasts. Substitute yellow onions in a 1:1 ratio for sweet onions.
Cipollini onions, small and flat onions, are known for their sweet and mild flavor. They can substitute sweet onions in roasts, sauces, and pickling. Substitute two cipollini onions for one sweet onion in your recipes due to their smaller size.
⤵ Other Substitutes
While not ideal, onion powder can provide an onion flavor in dishes where texture isn’t critical. This substitute is best used in small quantities due to its concentrated flavor. Use one teaspoon of onion powder for each small sweet onion.
Similarly, onion salt can be used to add an onion flavor to dishes. It should be used sparingly due to its salt content. Use one teaspoon of onion salt for each small sweet onion.
Dehydrated onion flakes can offer a mild onion flavor in soups, stews, and casseroles. They won’t provide the same texture as fresh sweet onions. Use three tablespoons of onion flakes for each sweet onion.
Frozen Chopped Onions
Frozen chopped onions are a handy substitute in cooked dishes like soups, stews, or casseroles. They lack the crisp texture of fresh onions but can deliver a good enough flavor. Use a half cup of frozen chopped onions for one sweet onion.
Pickled onions have a tangy flavor that can add an interesting twist to your dishes. However, their flavor is quite different from sweet onions. Use pickled onions sparingly in salads, sandwiches, and garnishes.
Onion Soup Mix
In a pinch, an onion soup mix can lend an onion flavor to dishes. This option is best used in roasts and stews. Use one packet of onion soup mix as a substitute for two sweet onions.
Chives can offer a mild onion flavor to dishes. While they can’t completely mimic the sweet onion’s flavor, they can be used in salads, garnishes, and to finish off dishes. Use a handful of chopped chives for each sweet onion.
Garlic has a more pungent and distinct flavor but can be used in a pinch to replace sweet onions in some savory dishes. Use two cloves of garlic for one sweet onion, and adjust to taste.
Onion juice can add onion flavor to sauces, marinades, and soups. It lacks the texture of fresh onions. Use two tablespoons of onion juice for one sweet onion.
While not a typical choice, a fennel bulb can mimic the crunchiness of sweet onions and has a slightly sweet flavor. It’s best used raw in salads. Use one small fennel bulb for one sweet onion.
💡 Tips and Guidance
Substituting sweet onions in recipes can be an adventure, allowing you to experiment with a range of flavors. Remember, the goal is to replicate the sweet, mild flavor of sweet onions without overwhelming your dish.
Here are some tips to help:
- When using a stronger-flavored onion substitute, consider reducing the quantity or caramelizing the onions to mellow out the flavor.
- If your dish calls for raw sweet onions, pick a substitute that’s palatable raw, like Vidalia onions or shallots.
- Some substitutes like onion powder or onion flakes won’t replicate the texture of sweet onions, but they can still add flavor to your dishes.
- Experiment! Combining a couple of substitutes can create a more nuanced flavor profile in your dish.
So, the next time you’re out of sweet onions or just want to try something new, feel free to substitute with confidence!