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!

  1. Oh man, cooking without onions would make me an unhappy panda. I’m unhappy enough without celery which my husband HATES (although I still use it for mirepoix).

    I have waaaaay too many spice jars from Penzeys, and a lot of my go-to’s have already been mentioned (finishing salts, fresh pepper, ginger, lime, coriander, fresh herbs, basil, rosemary, chiles. smoked paprika, cinnamon). The only ones that are missing from the list that I use are Mexican oregano and fresh thyme.

  2. Lemon! So underrated in cooking.

    And Thai basil. Yummm. Doesn’t get any better. Embrace fresh herbs!

    Get yourself to ethnic food shops – African, Chinese/Asian, Indian – and shop around. I always ask for advice at my local Indian shop. Indian cooking to generalize tends to use tons of onions but it can be skipped and there are so many other flavours that it wouldn’t be missed.

    And I’d echo mushrooms simmered down with balsamic, olive oil, or red wine. Adds a huge depth of flavour.

    • Thai Basil is amazing, I have a small plant that I use in curry dishes and on it’s own with fresh fish.

      Cinnamin Basil is where it’s at. I’m serious, this beautiful plant tastes exactly how it sounds and is my very favorite spice for cooking autumn veggies. It’s flavour lends itself to anything you might use ground cinnamin in, namely squash, beets, carrots, cranberry sauce, pork and apple dishes, and pot -purri.

      Best Beets and/or Carrots
      Boil veggies to fork tender in a large pot and drain, reserving 2-3 tbsp of the water. In a saucepan, bring the water to a boil with 1/3 cup orange juice, 1 tbsp honey/brown sugar/maple syrup. Stir in a tsp butter, a heaping helping of fresh chopped cinnamin basil, 1/4 tsp nutmeg and 1/4 tsp ginger. Cook liquid until it reaches a caramel like saucey-goodness, and toss veggies in sauce untill warmed and smothered. Tastes like candy and heaven.

  3. A cinnamon/cumin combo is one of my favorite go-to spices. Even if you’re just eating straight rice, it makes the meal feel incredibly savory and hearty. Definitely kicks the plain tomato sauce up a few notches.

    Also, simmer things in wine, red or white. You can never go wrong cooking with wine. Or a well-chosen beer. Possibly any brown liquor would do as well. It adds so much flavor and none of the sodium, if that happens to be an additional concern.

  4. If you are new to using spices, I would also start with a few blends. I too prefer Penzeys – even if they are more expensive, they are usually much higher quality than grocery store spices – you can really taste the difference. Try:
    Berbere: http://www.penzeys.com/cgi-bin/penzeys/C13Berbere.html
    Maharajah Curry: http://www.penzeys.com/cgi-bin/penzeys/p-penzeysmaharajah.html

    They also have the world’s BEST cinnamon, the Penzey’s cinnamon ground:

  5. I’m a spice fiend, and all I can say is use your nose! Smell the spice while you’re cooking, and if it seems right, toss it in! You’ll find yourself experimenting with offbeat flavor combos that might just blow your mind. Also, dry spices and seeds release their flavors over time, so throw those in somewhere at the beginning, whereas fresh herbs like basil and cilantro don’t need all that time and can lose their flavor if you cook them too long, so use those near the end. Same goes for fresh hot peppers. The longer you cook them, the more they lose their spiciness, which may or may not be what you want.

  6. I sprinkle everything I cook with a mix of ground nutmeg, mild chili, pepper, curry, ginger, sometimes with cumin seed and/or cinnamon (basically, what I have in my pantry at the moment). It gives every savoury dish an indefinite but highly-seasoned and tasty flavour, and goes well with pretty much everything, from quiches to savoury muffins to gravy dishes and or even soup.
    Coriander is also a staple here.

  7. I found that omitting garlic or onions for a lot of recipes isn’t as big of a deal as one might think. But my boss is allergic to everything in that family (aka she can’t have garlic, onions, leeks, scallions, etc) but one trick she found is parsnip. If you are making a pureed soup, she tosses a chopped parsnip in it. She says it kind-of adds a little bit of some of the “onion flavor” to things.

  8. Most of my favorite tips, herbs and spices have been mentioned already but here are three unique ones:
    Tarragon. Totally underrated herb. Fresh, dried, whatever. It’s great.
    Fennel pollen. Worth the price.
    Garum colotura. It’s the liquid that drips off the chestnut barrels of traditionally cured anchovies and it is deeeelicious. You can totally have Italian food without the stomachache.

  9. Has nobody mentioned sumac??

    Get it at the middle eastern grocery – it’s fantastic on savory yoghurt dishes or anything with yoghurt sauce, grilled/baked/BBQ meats, grilled vegetables, popcorn with butter, salt and pepper, pumpkin-tomato dishes, couscous…it’s actually just all around great.

    I am a big fan of tarragon as well as dill – both have such distinctive flavors that you don’t need much else besides salt and pepper to season a dish (in fact, it’s smarter not to use anything else as other herbs and spices tend to clash with whichever one of the above you’re using). Tarragon tastes great on everything – I’ve used it in risotto, creamy sauces, sauteed veggies, roast veggies, salad, chicken (with veggies). It’s distinctive but delicious on almost everything. Try white bean tarragon salad – yum!

    I also use a lot of:

    Cardamom – great for baking, milk tea, Indian desserts

    Saffron – it seems like such a subtle flavor, but if you use it right it can change the whole feel of a dish and has such a delightful aftertaste

    chaat masala – totally different from garam masala (which is also great). You can leave out the garlic. Try it with chickpeas, chopped tomato (leave out the onion that would typically be there), lemon juice, salt, and grab a bag of “sev” from the Indian grocery (or you could use puffed rice/unsweetened Rice Krispies). Top with yoghurt, tamarind date masala and coriander masala if you want

    South Indian hot lime and sweet lime pickle – both fantastic

    Rosemary and thyme – I like these best when they infuse vinegar or olive oil – drizzle rosemary thyme infused good olive oil on goat cheese and eat like that with fancy bread and a glass of wine – amazing! Can easily be mixed.

    Sichuan flower pepper – but only in Sichuanese food

    Pomegranate molasses – technically not a spice, but try adding it to yoghurt for breakfast, drizzling it over grilled meat, or making muhammara (roasted red pepper, hot cayenne-like pepper, walnuts, bread crumbs, salt and olive oil – you can leave out the garlic – with some pomegranate molasses, ground up into a spicy red dip with hummus-like consistency).

    mahleb – technically ground up St. Lucia cherry pits – great in Middle Eastern baked goods

    bere-bere/berbere – it’s the garam masala of Ethiopia. Mostly paprika with some other additions, like allspice. Cooking with it calls for garlic and onions but you could sub those out.

    young ginger – ever since I realized I preferred it strongly to mature ginger it’s made its way into many of my dishes

    kaffir lime leaf – NOT JUST FOR THAI FOOD ANYMORE! (although I could wax rhapsodic on the wonders of Thai seasonings for awhile – like whatever sorcery causes shrimp paste and fish oil to make food so tasty). I sliced some up, fresh, to add flavor to a couscous and salmon floss with red and yellow bell peppers and julienned carrot dish I was making and it was amazing

    mustard – not mustard seed or mustard oil (although you can make some nice Bengali curries with a good mustard oil, there’s a coconut milk and fresh coriander one I am partial to), but regular high-end comes-in-a-jar fancy mustard. Try cooking up some beef and butternut squash or some nice sausages with veggies – think mushrooms and peppers – with dill, lemon, a bottle of decent beer. So good. You can even casserole that and do a beef and vegetable casserole with beer, lemon, mustard and dill. Then slather breadsticks (the big bready kind, not the thin hard kind) in mustard towards the end of cooking and lay them across the top until they brown nicely.

    Capers – I put capers in lots of stuff – try a rosemary-thyme-basil mix on halved cherry tomatoes with a touch of salt, lemon juice or vinegar, olive oil and capers.

    Dried mint – add this to yoghurt with sliced cucumber and salt (typically you’d also add raw garlic but you can skip that). Or mix it with cumin, paprika, allspice, black pepper and salt (throw some sumac in there too, why not) and rub down your meat with it before cooking. This mix is also good tossed with couscous. Also good if you’re going to make stuffed peppers (any color but green) with a Levantine flavor (think southern Turkey, Syria)

    lemongrass – but I still just use it in its traditional contexts – I make a mean red curry, green curry and Indonesian rendang daging.

    hibiscus – I’m still experimenting using it as a spice rather than to make iced tea, but I assure you when I succeed it will be amazing. It’s popular as a blood pressure lowering medicine in China and Taiwan and as a drink in Egypt

    kokum – sour like tamarind and hibiscus, fantastic with fish or anything where you need to add something tangy to a red wine-imbued sauce, very hard to get (try your local Indian grocery)

    Fresh ground nutmeg – the pre-powdered stuff may as well be sawdust next to a freshly cracked nutmeg nut.

    Instead of the usual Italian spices, try red wine and a touch of cinnamon in your next tomato-based pasta sauce.

    That’s all I can think of for now, but I can assure you it’s not everything on my spice shelf.

    Oh yes, and I am pretty sure bacon counts as a spice. Bacon counts as everything.

    • I forgot to mention truffle oil – a bottle of it so small it could stand in for a normal-sized bottle of nice olive oil for a doll costs about $10, but for any given dish it only takes a teaspoon or so to turn it from “this is good” to “THIS IS AMAYZING! WTF DID YOU DO TO THIS, SEASON IT WITH THE TEARS OF A VESTAL VIRGIN??”

    • Late to the party, but I was thinking my cooking had hit a rut, and along comes this post! This comment alone is like a crash course in how to use spices I either never use or have never heard of. Looking forward to trying your suggestions when I get back from Thanksgiving travel. Thank you!

  10. Fermented bean pastes (black bean paste, miso, gochujang which is korean bean and chile paste). Of course, these have to be checked for sneaky garlic, but they can make very good asian sauces when they are primary ingredients or add richness and complexity of flavor to anything from enchilada sauce to pizza sauce. Gochujang is my favorite.

    Sesame anything (oil, paste/tahini, toasted seeds). A little drizzled sesame oil or a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds can really liven up a dish at the last minute. Furikake, a seasoning salt with sesame seeds and seaweed is also excellent.

    Layering other vegetable flavors in the backgrounds of dishes: celery, less fruity chiles (avoid the bell peppers, they’re too sweet), shredded zucchini, finely chopped spinach, and finely chopped mushrooms (ground dried mushrooms, too) can all make things like tomato sauces much more interesting. Just lightly cook them at the beginning before you add in the other ingredients.

    As for spices, I’m a huge fan of smoke paprika, Korean chile powder, Indian chile powder (yes, they are very different both from each other and from American “chile powder” blends that often contain too much salt and probably some garlic. I’m a huge fan of fennel, coriander, nutmeg, and homemade garam masala are some of my other favorites.

    Basil, parsley, rosemary, thyme, and all kinds of fresh herbs are also excellent.

    I’d also like to suggest looking into traditional Buddhist recipes since alliums are avoided by monastics.

  11. Slightly off topic, but how did you figure out you were allergic to them? My husband has been having some strange food reactions lately and my best guess is that it is too a spice of some sort.

    • I used to get sooo many sinus infections for years and years; I had chronic sinusitis for six months my senior year of college. After a while I noticed that my sinus infections were always preceded by a sore throat for a few days. Then I noticed that I always seemed to get this sore throat after eating something with onions – usually a burger or sandwich with slices.

      Stopped eating onions completely and, what-do-you-know?, no more sinus infections. Ever. Unless I accidentally ate something. Once I got sick from just breathing in the fumes of freshly sliced onions. Later I found that I had the same reaction after eating something super garlicky so stopped that as well.

      Also, my problems with IBS pretty much ceased as well once I cut them out. Some internet research confirmed that others have dealt with that, too.

      For the longest time it was just a reaction from raw or barely-cooked onions or garlic, but I got sick two months ago from eating something cooked with just the spices. Which then made me realize how much food is made with one or both of those two. Eating at a restaurant is quite challenging! Burgers and sandwiches and salads are okay, but anything with sauces or marinades is questionable.

  12. I didn’t see it mentioned too much, so I wanted to add the flavors and spices in a lot of Japanese and Southern Chinese cooking are done without onions and garlic.
    Chinese broccoli, or American broccoli, with oyster sauce is popular at Dim Sum, and easy to make at home.
    The Japanese have a lot of recipes for things that are flavored with Miso. I like Miso glazed fish especially.
    There are really easy soups that are great for weeknight meals, like cold Japanese Soba soup.
    Sesame oil, ginger, cooking wine or sherry, are also all great flavors. It is really easier than a lot of people think to put together a Japanese pantry, and then you are ready for almost any vegetable or meat that catches your eye.

  13. Most of the meals I’m “attracted to” are southwest-inspired, which have a TON of flavor. Cumin and coriander are the PB&J of my spice shelf with a chili powder kicker. I’ll also second the other person who mentioned sun-dried tomatoes. Oils, vinegars, and wine give great depth- rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, and balsamic vinegar are my favorites. There’s a whole realm of things you can use outside garlic and onion- good luck!!

  14. Holy crap you guys, I don’t have an allergy but have just been in an onion and garlic rut lately and reading through these comments has been a good reminder of all the other spices that I love… wow…

    So since I don’t have much new info to add – I will toss in my votes for sesame oil, ginger, citrus fruits, dill, tumeric, cumin, coconut milk, raisins, cardamom, cinnamon, cayenne red pepper, roasted red peppers, chipotle, allspice, celery salt or dried celery, rosemary and beer/wine/whiskey… also for the cumin, you can change the flavor by using whole seeds and toasting them first.

  15. I’ve been allergic to onion and garlic for about 15 years, it’s progressively gotten worse over the years. “Natural flavorings” is one of the scariest things to read on a food label. Watch out for canned tuna packed in vegetable broth….. It’s most of them….. I find I can eat the “better than bullion” brand chicken base, it has the scary words natural flavorings, but I’ve has it and not gotten ill, their beef base has the words onion on the label. Companies change their recipes all the time and it sucks…

    • Hello, fellow sufferer! It’s crazy, isn’t it, how many things have onions and garlic as flavoring? My sensitivity is getting worse, too. It used to just be raw onion – like on salads or sandwiches – but progressed in the last few months to where I had a reaction to spices used in my own cooking. So I had to go on a big ol’ purge and donate half my canned goods.

  16. While I do have garlic salt and onion powder on my shelf of spices and herbs…. I tend to use tumeric, chili pepper, pepper, salt, oregano, rosemary, cilantro, cinnamon, and my favorite, BASIL! – I actually hate onions, so I generally don’t add them to my meals… but various combinations of the others, go into everything. 😀

  17. I have nothing to add that hasn’t already been covered – ROSEMARY! OREGANO! BASIL! PLAIN OLD SALT AND PEPPER! – but I just want to say that I feel like I have found my tribe on this thread.

    It’s easy to cook without onions and garlic at home, and I am a whiz at it, but eating out sucks sometimes. It’s amazing how often something on a menu will list every single ingredient EXCEPT onion or garlic, and you’ll check with the waitperson, and even request no onion or garlic just in case, and still have something come out with onion finely chopped through it or reeking of garlic. Recently I ordered cheese bread, and the moment they put it down in front of me the smell of garlic whacked me over the head. It’s CHEESE BREAD. Take some cheese, slap it on some bread, no need to add hidden garlic to it!

    I’m also recovering from the Friday night fun that was finding onion on a Margherita Pizza that had been ordered with the “no onion or garlic” request. In the first bite. In my mouth. True, I should know better by now and should have checked under the cheese before I bit in, but seriously, it shouldn’t be that hard to make it without.

    Anyway. Enough ranting. I’m off to dream about the rosemary potatoes I’m going to make for dinner. Cos that’s how I roll.

  18. I was on vacation last week (thankfully the cruise chefs were AMAZING and made me special allium-free meals :)), and I can’t tell y’all how chuffed I was to come home last night and find this post with SO MANY suggestions and ideas for me to try – some that I had heard of and want to revisit, and some that are completely new to me.

    Thank you, homies! *mwah!*

  19. Here’s a link with a few suggestions: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/mar/30/best-foods-for-ibs (Short version: green parts of spring onions, rocket pesto, fennel)

    I have two friends who can’t have garlic and onion. I bought one of them some of this wild garlic salt http://www.amazon.co.uk/Falksalt-Natural-Garlic-Sea-Salt/dp/B0046HNXRK – the flavour in wild garlic is in the leaves so it doesn’t seem to be so problematic – you could also just use wild garlic fresh leaves when they’re in season. (Nigel Slater has some great wild garlic recipes online, but I think if I post the link I will get stuck in the spam filter! Just google it.)

  20. You could get some new hints for your cooking from ancient roman cuisine, often with onions as well, but many spices and new taste- experiences!
    I promise, fish sauce sounds disgusting, but it is really delicious with almost everything 🙂 Like Soj sauce I guess: http://pass-the-garum.blogspot.co.at/
    They love sweet and sour tastes in a mix.

    And my new favourite: vinegar, especially balsamic vinegar.

  21. Stay with me here… I just found truffle-infused olive oil at Trader Joes for only $6 per decent-sized bottle. And guess what? It tastes and smells distinctly like nice, roasted garlic, though perhaps with a bit of mushroom or earthiness. It is delicious and highly flavorful, so a little goes a very long way, stretching out that high price point a little bit. It goes on everything savory: pizza, eggs, potatoes, other vegetables, risotto, garlic toast, salad, and the list goes on. I highly recommend this if you have a TJ’s nearby!

  22. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of a FODMAP diet. It’s recommended for IBS sufferers (like me) and garlic and onions are on the “no fly” list. There are some work-arounds like garlic oil, something about the way the particles merge with the oil makes it okay. Also chives are okay. You may find it’s not a trigger for you? Anyway look on Pinterest for FODMAP recipes, there’s a pretty good assortment out there. And smoked paprika is the bomb!

  23. First, someone mentioned truffle oil and I have to say, there tends to be a huge quality difference between the expensive stuff and the cheaper stuff (the bargain bottle I bought was nearly inedible and nothing like the deliciousness of the good stuff!)
    Along those lines, there are a lot of really great infused oils and balsamic vinegar options…I pretty much love everything from this company http://www.greatlakesoliveoil.com/. They are a little pricey, but well worth it for the quality (and if you happen to be near a location, their stores are set up to let you sample everything!) If you’re on a budget, I’m sure there are some great directions online for infusing your own oils as well.

    I’m also a huge fan of avocado oil…it’s not an overpowering flavor, but it has a nice finish/sear on meat that is a bit different than olive oil, etc. I especially love it with pork!

    Other than that, I absolutely love jalepeno powder! Be careful that you buy one that truly is 100% ground jalepenos though, because there are definitely some “blends” out there with garlic. I currently have this one & it’s great: http://www.amazon.com/Sonoran-Spice-Jalapeno-Powder-Oz/dp/B008EQM1YU/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1436354984&sr=8-3&keywords=jalapeno+powder
    It seems expensive, but it’s a really big container and a little goes a long way!

  24. My mum is allergic to alliums. She still eats garlic at her Drs suggestion so just in case one day she eats some onion by accident her body is used to it. She’s VERY allergic to onion. My aunt read somewhere that if you take the inside stem bit out of the garlic it is easier to digest. Food for thought.

    I grew up never eating onions etc so I couldn’t begin to tell you what is a good replacement because I’ve never cooked with onion myself. Ever. This post is just to say, I bet you don’t miss them as much as you thought you would 🙂 I’ve always just left it out of recipes with no issues, and no onion tears.

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