I’m allergic to garlic and onions: talk to me about your other favorite spices!

Guest post by Alissa
By: Sudhamshu HebbarCC BY 2.0
My diet has gotten a bit more challenging lately: I’ve identified that I’m allergic to onions and garlic. A moment of silence while we mourn the loss of so much yummy Italian food…

I read a critique recently that said cooks are too dependent on garlic and onion to spice dishes. I know I’ve been quite guilty of that, as both flavor-wise and cost-wise you can get a lot of bang for your buck with these staples. While it’s annoying to work around this new limitation — in both eating in and eating out — I’m also trying to look at it as an opportunity to break out of a rut and try out some new flavors in my kitchen. (And, you know, not getting sick any more will be awesome.)

So Homies, tell me about some of your favorite spices and how you use them! So far I’m getting more adept with cumin and red pepper, but I know there’s more out there.

Comments on I’m allergic to garlic and onions: talk to me about your other favorite spices!

    • Smoked paprika is $2 at Trader Joe’s, y’all!

      I also love liquid smoke, for almost any soup and especially for vegetarian dishes that you would otherwise flavor with bacon/ham.

  1. Maybe not so much about the other spices, but I use leeks if I’m out of onion as it does a similar job! Not sure if your allergy will be a problem.

    Otherwise, paprika, cumin, thyme and basil are staples in our house! Good luck 🙂

    • while i can’t speak for the person who asked the question, most folks who are allergic to garlic and onion tend to be allergic to the entire allium family, which includes leeks and other similar items.

    • Yeah, unfortunately it’s the whole garlic/onion/lily family that I’m allergic to – which includes leeks, shallots, chives, and scallions. Certainly makes things interesting! 🙂

  2. I cook with ginger and lime together on nearly everything. Chicken, tofu, rice, grilled veg (particularly carrots yuuummm).

    In terms of getting some bang for your buck try keeping a few fresh herb plants in the house. A fresh basil leaf or sprig of thyme goes a whole lot further than the dried stuff. Even you have no green thumb and they die off in a few months, it’s still a better deal than spending nearly the same price (in my grocery store anyhow) on some packaged cut fresh herbs that will be rotten within the week.

    • I’m gonna add sesame oil to the ginger and lime combo – I only started using it this month but now I fry everything in it! And especially fried up with ginger and vegetables, or on noodles, then a squeeze of lemon or lime (or from a bottle!) to give it a last hit of freshness.

      Is celery part of the allium family? If not then I love celery salt to add the sort of sharpness again that you’d be missing from garlic and onion.

      Also seconding smoked paprika, along with coriander, cumin and chipotle for that mexican style flavour.

      Also, do you like mushrooms? Dried mushrooms are fantastic for giving you a rich stock (as I’m guessing commerical stock powders are out) that you can then add other flavours to. They’re also really deep and rich flavour themselves to chop up and add to food. They can be expensive but they’re really cheap in my local asian supermarket – which you’ll find with all spices and herbs so look them up!

      • Mushrooms are a staple in our house, too. Although they can be expensive, dried mushrooms often offer a really good bang for your buck. You can soak them in hot water and then save the broth for other dishes. Alternatively, if you re-hydrate them in the juices of whatever you’re cooking, they can add a really nice flavor.

        Another spice to try is cinnamon. Persian cuisine makes great use of cinnamon in savory dishes, and it’s something I’m trying to experiment with a little more myself. Good luck!

        • Yes! Cinnamon in savory foods is wonderful! I like it best on chicken or beef, paired with allspice, cumin, ginger, and lemon juice. It also pairs well with cayenne red pepper, cumin, and chili powder.

    • Anyone else with an onion allergy, can’t have curry powder and stock. I got so excited at finding an onion free chicken stock. I ecxiterlly got to work making pumpkin soup, I had missed. Only to have an reaction. Found that curry powder has cumin in it, which contains onion powdwer. That makes me really sick. Double antibiotics and still stick and in pain.
      Chicken and Beef stock G F and animal freelo by Massel at New World in the GF section. Check what you buy they do have one with onion in as well.

      • I am allergic to the Lily family, which includes onions and garlic, but I am also having trouble with cinnamon and paprika. If I ingest any of the above, I will most likely be vomiting in the next few hours and there is often blood mixed in, mostly from onions.
        (I learned some time ago that my digestive juices and onions react like vinegar and baking soda. That was when I only had a sensitivity to onions. When it morphed into an allergy, onions actually intensified my stomach acid and it would eat away at the lining. I keep Mylanta handy all the time, as I have found relief from the pain and it lessens the intensity of my stomach acid. I still have diarrhea, though.) I also have to be careful when onions and garlic are being cooked, as I have had shortness of breath and swelling result. I miss soup and other foods and read ingredient labels very carefully and have to be very cautious when I go out to eat. It sucks, but many friends do cook food without onions and garlic for me. It has broadened their horizons.

  3. While not allergic, my otherwise very adventerous daughter doesn’t really care for garlic or onions, so a lot of the time I just leave them out and compensate by adding extra of other spices. I adore cumin, and find you get a lot of flavor with the whole seed rather than ground. Fresh cilantro is great too. These are good for both Mexican and Indian dishes. Fresh basil is always good for Italian, of course. You can flavor a lot of meatier things with thyme or rosemary (fresh or dried). For Asian flavors, soy sauce and ginger are great, as is a dash of hoisin sauce. Also consider using citrus as a flavoring, rather than an ingredient itself (lemon on chicken or pasta is a lovely light flavor, orange goes well with pork). Good luck, and I hope you feel better soon!

  4. And I thought my mom was the only one! I grew up in an onion and garlic free home, thanks to Mom’s allergies.
    My dad is a big lover of spice, and has distilled that love onto me. So here’s my list:
    Rosemary. When I ate meat, chicken. Now, potatoes, bread – basically any starch goes well with rosemary.
    Fresh basil and I are BFFs. If you forget the garlic, pesto can still be pretty delicious.
    Smoked paprika. It’s kind of pricey, so I don’t have any in my home (broke Master’s student, yo), but when I visit my parents, I cook with it every chance I get. I particularly like it on roasted chickpeas.
    Roasted red peppers. While they’re not technically a spice, they’re loaded with flavor. I love it in soup, and it pairs well with red pepper flakes. With a jar of roasted red peppers, some chili flakes, two sweet potatoes, and some coconut milk, you can make a banging soup in the crock pot.
    On a similar note to red peppers, sun dried tomatoes and pine nuts impart a lot of flavor on pastas and veggie dishes. Also, if you’re blender happy like me, create a similar to pesto sauce (leaving out the garlic, of course) using pine nuts and either sun dried tomatoes or roasted red peppers. It makes my tummy happy.

    • Dang, I want to know more about that soup. Do you just cube the sweet potatoes and toss everything in on low? Drain the red peppers?

      • Yep, cube the sweet potatoes and throw it in for 4-6 hours, and blend when done. The original recipe called for chicken broth (which I don’t eat as a vegan) so I just throw the entire jar of red pepper in – juices and all. If you want, you can drain it instead, and add extra coconut milk. Either way is great.

        • Ooo, I make something similar sometimes but instead of red peppers I use kale. And make it on the stove top. And you serve it over a little mound of rice in a bowl. Thank you for inspiring my next dinner!

  5. Chipotle is amazing! And roasting or caramelizing your veggies will give them a deeper, more complex flavor. Caramelized fennel bulbs are awesome! Fennel seeds are great too, as well as curry spices such as allspice, clove, ginger (fresh ginger root = my true love!), cardamom, and coriander. Instead of sauteeing onions in your dish, you could steep fresh herbs such as basil, sage, rosemary or mint in oil before cooking veggies or meat in it. Lemongrass is an interesting addition to any dish – you just lightly bruise it with the side of a knife and let it release it’s natural aroma as the food cooks. And a good strong broth will add oomph, but if you use canned broth or bullion, just be sure to check the ingredients for onion or garlic! Food can be flavorful and fragrant without those two items, and the fresher herbs or ingredients you can get, the better they’ll taste! Happy experimenting!

  6. I use a lot of curry spices (garam masala, vindaloo, the list goes on…), as well as ras el hanout (a N. African spice that is AWESOME). I’d also look into some salt-free spice blends if you want a more complex flavor profile. You may be able to find one that omits garlic and onion!

    • Same here! I generally make my mixes from scratch so here’s the common spices you could use for a curry:
      coriander, cumin, fenugreek, Vietnamese cinnamon, cinnamon, red chili powder (hotter than “Amercian” chili powder and as red as paprika!), coriander seeds, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, ginger, turmeric, hing/asafoetida, curry leaves, black cardamom (smoky!), green cardamom (citrusy!), cloves, star anise, fennel, and tamarind

      A relatively easy dish you could make and omit garlic & onions, but get that Indian goodness, is poha!

      • I learned the hard way that red chili powder is waaaaaaaaaaaaaay hotter than “American” chili powder!

  7. How do you feel about chilies? Do you react to those as well? I would try using some mild chili as a replacement to onion and garlic.

  8. My “spice” suggestion is actually not spices at all–it’s chopped celery and carrots! In a lot of various recipes, you can sauté them up in place of onions and garlic and come out with a totally tasty result (which won’t be exactly the same, of course, but will most likely be delicious.) I had a friend who made bolognese this way and she’d just add a few splashes of balsamic vinegar at the end to add a little twang.

  9. I just love a good quality garam masala. It’s the smoky flavour in Indian cuisine and I’ve been using it everywhere: pan fried potaoes (add cauliflower for a homemade gobi masala!), carrot ginger soup, roast chicken or beef, tomato sauce based dishes, stirfries, squash. It’s super versatile and really warm and comforting this time of year. Can be spicy, but you can cut it with tumeric or paprika if the heat is too much.

  10. Cloves, cardamon, ginger, chili powder, curry powder, dried mustard, fenugreek powder. I’m a spice hoarder (as in I have a huge drawer full) and those are what I go for the most after garlic.

    I recommend hitting up your nearest Middle Eastern or Indian market and start sniffing. Most spice mixes are probably a no go for you, but there’s plenty of recipes online and you can omit what you can’t have (bonus points of way less salt).

    • Curry powder is actually a mix of spices too that can sometimes (but not often) contain garlic, but you can easier find a recipe online to make your own.

      • Curry is a single plant from which you get curry powder. Which in no way means that we haven’t bastardized the word, but yellow curry powder usually is just that–the powder of curry leaves. If the ingredients say “spices,” it’s a mix. If it says “curry” or does not have ingredients (as single-ingred packages of spices do not require separate labeling, thanks for the confusion FDA) then you’re probably getting the leaf.

        • Yes, curry leaves are dried leaves of a plant in the citrus family. And I agree that we’ve bastardized the word, but I’m still pretty sure that in practice “curry powder” does not equal powdered curry leaves. Silly, right? I tried to figure this all out when someone gave me a huge book of recipes from different parts of India. So what I’ve come up with is that when a recipe says “curry powder” it means the mix of spices, but when they say “powdered curry leaves, or dried curry leaves, or curry leaf powder” they mean just the leaves and it looks kind of greenish. Is that what other people have found when following recipes from India?

          I have bought “curry powder” in bulk from spice shops, and it was the blend of spices that’s very yellow due to the turmeric I believe. I am curious what the exact words are on the packaging, since what you said about FDA mandated labeling. So maybe the shop labelled it wrong.

          • Curry powder is a creation back from when the British colonized India and was beginning to experiment with its food culinary wise. It was a quick and easy way to imitate the flavors without necessarily learning the cooking process that enhanced those spices. It’s generally a mix of other powdered spices, but rarely contains powdered curry leaves. I vaguely recall reading that it’s because the leaf doesn’t work as well dried. If someone knows otherwise, please guide me!

            It’s also worth noting that when it comes to gardening there are TWO “curry” plants! One is a true curry plant and is generally referred to as a “curry leaf” plant (murraya koenigii). The other is often sold as a “curry” plant, but it’s not the plant that most recipes refer to. It smells similar but the taste is bitter and barely suited to cooking. And sadly you’ll still see stores or even groceries sell that herb to the unsuspecting. Like me.

            I only linked to Wikipedia, but I’ve spent a year researching the murraya koenigii plant. I’m not in the right region or position to grow it yet, but that’s my long term goal! EAT ALL THE CURRY LEAVES.

          • From my memories of shopping in India, “curry powder” is not something you would normally see anyway, since “curry” basically just means “sauce”.

            I’d expect something labelled “curry powder” in the UK to be a blend. In India, those spice mixes normally have more specific names, like garam masala, channa masala, etc. That’s how my “curry” mixes I bought in India are labelled, anyway.

            If I were allergic to anything, I’d definitely find out the normal constituents and make my own, as recommended above!

          • So I checked my spice box when I went home, and this is what I found:

            I had two different “curry powders.” They definitely say curry powder on the front, but on the back they also list the ingredients, none of which are curry leaves. They are both yellow due the the turmeric, but honestly my American tongue can’t taste the difference between the two mixes.
            And I’ve always seen “garam masala” labelled just like that, not labelled as curry. My packages of that also have the separate ingredients listed on the back. I make a dal palak with garam masala, and I liked the mix, so I didn’t feel the need to make my own garam masala.

            Thanks for the info about the plants, Claire. I don’t live in the correct climate to grow my own, either!

          • I know the one I grew and dried and powdered gave me the same flavor as one of the yellow curry powders I bought from a bulk bin, and the same flavor as what a friend brought back from India. Definitely different than the spice mixes with turmeric, which to me smell different enough I can usually pick them out in store. That’s actually how I figured out the labeling trick, and have since discovered that curry powder from curry leaves is usually about twice as expensive as the flavored turmeric. But since I can’t seem to keep a leafy plant alive without my mother’s help I’ve gone back to buying my herbs in the bottle. Thankfully my rosemary is sticking around quite happily!

  11. My go to spice is coriander. You can add it to just about anything in fairly large quantities (I buy it in bulk at Indian/Asian groceries), it gives really good underlying flavor that can then be adjusted or spiced up with whatever other things you’re using.

  12. Garam masala is my favorite too. I make it myself using a recipe I found online and keep it in big quantities so I always have some ready. One of the perks of homemade mix is you can adjust the levels of seasonings, so if you like it heavier on, say, cinnamon or black pepper, boom, done.

  13. I have a packed spice cabinet and I make my own spice blends, I’m a nut for spices.

    You’d be amazed how far sea salt and freshly ground pepper can get you.

    I use a lot of lemon in my cooking too, although that’s not really a spice unless you use powdered lemon peel. Basil is a favorite of mine (INSTANT ITALIAN. To me, pasta is not complete without a chiffonade of basil up top), so is cilantro, but I only use those fresh, never dried. Bay leaves are great in almost any kind of sauce or stock. Coriander seeds are really nice too, especially in chili. For baking and in tea or cider (since it’s that time of year) I love using star anise, either ground or whole, depending. Thyme is amazing on poultry. Dill is really good on fish. Rosemary is another good one, but a little goes a real long way.

    See if there’s a specialty spice shop near you, those are awesome for getting ideas and picking up new yummies.

  14. We use ginger in green leafy veggies. You can get it fresh, powdered, or in a paste. I love the convenience of the paste if I don’t have fresh around. If you use fresh, you can either grate it, or use large slices that you can pick out later.

  15. Saw that you are looking for a chicken broth w/out onions. I can say I’ve recently stumbled into making my own. I made a crock pot chicken the other day with lemons, lemon pepper, rosmary and let it cook on low for about 6 hours. The meat literally fell of the bones and I was left with an amazing chicken broth in the crockpot. I poured it into an ice cube tray and just used it the other day as a base for soup. Turned out amazing and it didn’t require a single lick of effort on my part.

    • I make my own veggie broth, but I don’t do chicken, so I was hoping someone would suggest this for her!

    • Yep, I’ve just started making my own! Sadly, most-recently it was when I was sick and really wanting chicken noodle soup so soup-making turned into an all-day process. In the future I’ll have to make it in advance to have on hand. 🙂

  16. I’m surprised no one has mentioned flavored sea salts, yet! They can have a huge impact on flavor. My two favorite ones are bourbon smoked sea salt and regular smoked sea salt, but they have so many kinds out there.

    In soups, ginseng can add flavor to the broth. I also love adding in fresh lemon thyme to my soups.

    I’ll second some of the other things people have mentioned: fresh basil, fresh cilantro, chili peppers fresh or powdered, black pepper, chipotle peppers, rosemary, lemon grass, ginger, cloves, allspice, curry…

    The suggestion for sauteed celery and carrots is a good one. So is adding a squeezed lime or other fruit on top of a dish as you’re almost done cooking it. For the sweetness sauteed onions can add to a dish, try substituting in a chopped apple (not granny smith or red delicious – something more neutral like fuji or gala).

    Also, try cooking with different kinds of wine. And don’t forget to play around with different oils as they can add completely different flavors to your dish! At my house, we pair up what we’re cooking with butter, saved grease from meats we’ve cooked (bacon, sausage, chicken, steak, etc), duck lard, grapeseed oil, avocado oil, olive oil, coconut oil, and sesame oil.

    I live near DC, so I’m lucky with lots of spice shops; but there are some online, too. You may want to talk to someone who works in a spice shop to get more ideas.

    • I second the wine cooking!

      I always have a plastic water bottle with white wine, rosemary and thyme in the fridge (it has garlic too but it can go without, definately). It gives a very nice “woods-style” flavor to meats and some fish (salmon, for example) 😀

  17. Cumin, oregano, rosemary, thyme, ginger, chili, all some of my faves. It can be worth visiting a specialty spice shop if there is one around you and asking there for suggestions for the types of cooking you do. I have a jar of some kind of ground red pepper that is more sweet than spicy. I don’t notice it much but I do sometimes add it to tomato sauce.

    Oregano is super popular in Greek and Italian cooking.

    Ground pepper helps too. And salt. Love sundried tomatoes and goat cheese. Lemon.

  18. Herbes de provence is my “secret” in everything. It’s a bit more delicate than Italian seasoning and is good in just about anything you put it in (meats, bean soup, roasted potatoes, you get the idea). A tiny pinch of cinnamon in savory dishes, especially long cooking dishes like pulled pork or chili, adds a nice dimension as well.

    • love herbes de provence! I make a super tasty baked tilapia with tomatoes and bread crumbs and it totally delicious!

      I would take a look at some Indian recipes. They tend to have tons of spices, and omitting the garlic or onion from them won’t matter as much. I love black mustard seeds, whole cumin seeds, curry, and nutmeg.

    • Revisiting this thread and I have to chime in that our Thanksgiving turkey this year was rubbed in herbes de provence and HOLY FREAKING COW it was amazing! I’m gonna have to remember that.

  19. Mustard – in either seed or liquid form. If you go for liquid, I prefer either Dijon or whole grain mustard. It makes a wonderful sauce for meat, veggies, or anything else.

  20. I have been onion free my whole life. My father, sister, cousin and I are all deathly allergic so we have gotten creative. We use a lot of garlic so I can’t help with that, but as onion replacement we use choyote, celery, fennel, potatoes, daikon, ginger, green chile, or just extra veggies. It was a bigger adjustment for my husband who does most of our cooking and came from an onion eating household, so I’m going to invite him to chime in. The hardest part for me is eating prepared or prepackaged foods. Canned soups or frozen dinners are all out which means taking lunch to work is a pain if I don’t prepare ahead of time. I can’t use bottled sauces like barbecue or ketchup so we go without or make our own. It’s definitely healthier since I avoid a lot of excess sugar, HFCS, sodium etc, but way, way more time consuming
    I’d love suggestions if anyone has found premade foods that are onion free!

  21. Asafoetida! Used sparingly and heated in the pan at the beginning of the cooking process, it gives a bit of a garlicky flavor. Emphasis on sparingly–it’s strong stuff.
    I second Claire on the fenugreek. It’s another one that benefits from toasting before use, even if you’re using ground. It has a round savory flavor that I think goes really nicely with chicken.

    • I second the asafoetida. Its aroma when it’s being cooked is pretty much identical with that of onion and garlic. It has a very strong smell when raw, though. You might find it a bit unpleasant, but the smell goes away when cooking. And you’ll only need max. 1/4 teaspoon for most 2-4-person dishes, so one of those yellow jars (you’ll see them if you do a Google search) goes a long long way.

      There’s a religious sect in India that’s all vegetarian, and the members don’t even eat onion or garlic because those are usually prepared to go with meat. Asafoetida is what they use instead.

      So yes, I’d really recommend asafoetida. It’s not just for Indian food, by the way.

      Oh, and if you miss a bit of onion texture in a dish, you can use some finely chopped celery (or other vegetables). No one will even believe you there’s no onion or garlic in there wih the combination of asafoetida and chopped celery. 🙂

  22. I’m a little obsessed with dill. I love it on basically everything, but I think it works best on salmon, in canned tuna, and in deviled eggs. Throw some capers, lemon and olive oil into the mix (or maybe just some cheese), and you’re good to go! Sometimes, you get a tasty Greek flavor out of it, but other times, it just adds a little savory, tart punch.

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