When you need chopped onion for a recipe and you don't have any onions on hand, onion powder or dried onion flakes are excellent substitutes. To maintain the dish's balance of flavor, the amount needed will depend on the size of onion called for in your recipe. If you're cooking for someone who's allergic to onions, there are good options in your pantry that you can use instead as well.
Using Onion Powder or Flakes
You can substitute chopped onions with either onion powder or dried onion flakes using the following equivalences:
- Small Onion: Produces about 1/3 cup of chopped onion. As a substitute, use 1 teaspoon of onion powder or 1 tablespoon of dried onion flakes.
- Medium Onion: Produces about 1 cup of chopped onion. Use 1 tablespoon of onion powder or 3 tablespoons of dried onion flakes as a substitute.
- Large Onion: Produces about 1 1/2 cups of chopped onion. When substituting, use 1 1/2 tablespoons of onion powder or 4 1/2 tablespoons of dried onion flakes.
Effects of Substitutions
These substitutes will give you the onion flavor that you’re after. At the same time, they will change the texture of your recipe and may also affect how many servings the recipe produces because dried onions take up less space than chopped onions.
If either of those factors is a concern, consider adding another ingredient to replace the lost texture and to bring the recipe back up to its intended volume. For example, if the recipe calls for one medium chopped onion, add a tablespoon of onion powder plus a cup of chopped carrots or celery.
Many recipes call for sautéing the onions in hot oil before the other ingredients are added. When using one of the dried substitutes, simply skip this step. Add the onion powder or dried onion flakes when you add the rest of the spices.
When cooking for someone who is allergic to onions, you'll obviously have to leave the onions out of the recipe. Consider replacing them with something that has similar bulk, such as chopped bell peppers, carrots, or celery. They won't taste the same, but they'll at least replace some of the flavors that the onions were intended to contribute to the dish and produce the same number of servings. Choose the vegetable—or combination of vegetables—that seems to work best with the recipe that you're preparing, and you should be reasonably pleased with the results.
If you're concerned that your dish will taste bland without the onions, consider adding a bit of extra spice to the recipe to ramp up the flavor. Chose one that you think will complement the other flavors in the dish. Cumin, for example, would be an option to consider if you're working on a Mexican recipe. Basil, oregano, and garlic are good choices for Italian foods and can work surprisingly well in many other dishes.
Avoid Running out of Onions
Though they're most often kept fresh, chopped onions freeze well. Prep a bunch and tuck them in the freezer, so you can grab a handful whenever you need them. There's no need to thaw them first, either. Measure out as many as you need for your recipe, add them to your dish, and they'll thaw as they cook. One cup of chopped, frozen onions is the equivalent of one medium onion.
If you prefer to work with raw onions, make sure you store them properly. This will ensure that they don't sprout before you get a chance to use them. It's also helpful to know that some onion varieties store longer and better than others.