Onion powder is employed as an ingredient in a large variety of dishes, sauces, and grocery store products. Its flavor is more concentrated than fresh onion and it’s a popular ingredient in soup mixes and spice blends.
Once you start using onion powder, it’s hard to do without. When you’re out of it, you might be desperate for an onion powder substitute. Luckily, many other by-products of onion-like flakes and salt can work very well as a replacement.
The best substitutes for onion powder
Onion powder hasn’t always been as popular as it is these days, because, unlike other spices and blends, for a long time it has been perceived as something “too industrial” and less healthy than fresh onions since it is often an ingredient in store-made products.
Fresh onion and onion powder are, of course, not the same, but that’s not to say one is better than the other. Both have their pros and cons and both can have their own space in your recipes. While fresh onion provides texture and body, onion powder is all about boosting the flavor.
In fact, onion powder can be described as pure and enhanced onion flavor, and even more than that: it may come as a surprise to someone who has never used it before that its flavor is not just stronger, but also different. Oftentimes, it is considered more appetizing than onions.
Another great quality of onion powder is that it is ready to use, which of course comes in handy when you’re in a pinch, but it can also be a soothing alternative when you need to cook after a long day at work and you really don’t feel like chopping onions (and crying).
Onion powders are one of those seasonings you should always keep in your cupboard, but if you happen to be out of it, then you can choose one of the following substitutes for onion powder.
1. Onion flakes
When you need to substitute onion powder in salads, casseroles, and stir-fries, onion flakes should be your first choice.
As the name suggests, onion flakes are nothing more than small and flat pieces of onion that have been dehydrated. They share the concentrated onion flavor of onion powder, but they have slightly more texture because of their size.
Unlike onion powder, onion flakes won’t add any moisture to your dish because they’re drier than onion powder. For the same reason, they might dry your dish out more than it’s supposed to be.
Luckily, you can quickly and easily turn onion flakes into onion powder by passing them through a grinder. This is especially recommended for dishes that are supposed to be very smooth and liquid.
2. Onion salt
Many people wonder if they can substitute onion powder for onion salt and the answer is: yes, you absolutely can! In fact, these two onion-derived products are almost interchangeable.
Onion salt is great for soups, stews, marinades, egg and tomato dishes, and many other recipes. Just like onion powder, it can easily fit anywhere because it is simply onion powder mixed with salt.
Onion salt is convenient because it’s easily found in stores and it’s so widely used that you may already have it at home. It’s also a good diet choice because it has no fat, no calories, and no cholesterol.
If you choose to use onion salt as a substitute for onion powder, remember to adjust the amount of salt in the rest of the recipe accordingly.
3. Jarred minced onion
Jarred minced onion is very similar to onion flakes because they’re both onions in dry form. However, while onion flakes are very small, minced onion could have different sizes, some meant to be a substitute for fresh chopped onion.
Just like onion flakes, jarred minced onion is a good substitute for onion powder, however, the texture and the size of it might not fit all the recipes in which you would use onion powder.
Being a dry product, jarred minced onion risks drying out your dish just like onion flakes, so it’s better used in salads and stir-fries, or you can fix its dryness by adding more water to your dish.
4. Fresh onion
When looking for a substitute for a dry, jarred, or however industrial product, swapping it with a fresh version is never a bad idea because fresh products are always the healthiest choice.
The advantages of using fresh onion as a replacement for onion powder are numerous, starting from the freedom to choose which type of onion you want to use in your recipe.
Depending on the recipe, you can also choose how to cut your onion: some dishes may benefit from chopped onions, diced onions, grated onions, sliced onions, and so on.
The texture and crunch of fresh onion play a key role in some recipes, which powder cannot replicate. You also have full control over which parts of the onion you want to keep, while onion powder is made from unspecified varieties and parts of the onion, including skin and roots.
The only disadvantage of using fresh onion in place of onion powder is that the former may add more moisture to your dish than what’s needed. It can also turn into a mushy vegetable mix when cooked too long, so don’t overcook it, especially with zucchini and cucumbers.
5. Onion paste
Onion paste is a flavoring and thickening sauce made with pureed fresh onion. If you happen to have leftovers onions in the fridge a little too often, this can be a great way not to waste food, and to make your life easier when cooking.
It’s really easy to make onion paste, it’s a bit like making popsicles. You need to peel your fresh onions, chop them roughly and put them in a blender until they become a soft paste.
Next, you need to spread the paste over an ice cube tray and cover it with plastic wrap, so that the smell of onion doesn’t linger in your freezer long after the onion paste is gone.
Let the cubes freeze properly and move them into a zippered cooler bag if you wish. The onion paste cubes will last a long time and are ready to use for soups and stews as a substitute for onion powder.
You can also use them for other recipes, but in that case, you should thaw them before adding them to your dish.
6. Garlic salt
Just like onion salt is a mixture of onion powder and salt, garlic salt is a mixture of garlic powder and salt used in casseroles, pasta, soups, dips, and stock.
However, garlic salt is often made for ⅔ of salt, and while this makes it rich in sodium, it also means the garlic isn’t as strong as it seems and it can be used as an alternative for onion powder if you don’t mind the garlic flavor in place of the onion one.
Garlic salt is convenient because it is usually already present in the kitchen and it provides the same texture as onion powder. You can use it alone to enhance the flavor of your dish or to add salt where it’s needed, but you can also use it together with other seasonings.
The downside of this product is that for 1 g of garlic salt you have 350 mg of sodium, which is a lot for everyone, but especially for those who need to watch their sodium intake.
7. Fennel bulbs
No onions? No problem! Fennel bulbs are an excellent substitute for onion powder, but they’re also a valid replacement for a large variety of vegetables because every part of this plant is edible and it can be cooked in many ways.
When used raw, fennel has a crunchy texture, but it becomes silkier once cooked. If you’re looking for a healthy replacement for onion powder, fennel bulbs are the right choice because they’re rich in fibers, vitamins, and potassium.
You can find fennel in stores year-round, but the best fennel is found during winter when it will make a great addition to your soups, stews, roasted meat, or vegetable dishes.
Unlike onion powder, fennel bulbs will need to be prepared before you can add it to your recipe, which can be considered the only downside of using fennel as an onion powder substitute.
8. Chopped celery
Celery is one of those vegetables that has known a surge in popularity in recent years. It won’t provide your dish with a strong flavor like onion powder, but it could give an aromatic tone to it.
The main reason why you should use chopped celery as an alternative to onion powder is that celery is incredibly versatile and it’s rich in micronutrients.
Just like fennel, celery is a healthy alternative to onion powder, and it’s actually healthier than fresh onions as well. It’s best used in stews, salads, soups, and casseroles.
Since celery has a mild flavor that won’t overwhelm your dish, you may also combine it with other similar vegetables if you wish to reach a more complex and layered flavor.
If one of the strong points of your recipe is texture, consider using more than one type of chopped vegetables at once.
Back to the onions realm, we find scallion, which is a type of onion that it’s picked when it’s still young and it’s sold with long stalks and dark green leaves, which is why scallions are also known as green onions or spring onions.
Scallions have a sweeter flavor than the average onion, so they’re best used for pasta, pork, pizza, seafood, dips, and soups. Both the white bulbs and the green parts are edible, and they can be consumed raw or cooked.
While scallions do not taste exactly like onion powder, they can be a good substitute in a pinch, since they come from the same family of onions.
The downside of scallions is that they can only be used fresh and only last a couple of days in the fridge, which is why they’re best consumed on the same day you buy them.
Shallots can be described as somewhere between onion and garlic because they’re a type of onion that also shares some characteristics with garlic.
While their exterior varies from deep red to a sort of rose gold, they all have white flesh with green hues. They make for a good onion powder substitute because they taste very similar to onion powder, though their flavor is somewhat milder.
Shallots are very popular and extremely versatile, so you can use them in every recipe you would use onion powder, but note that despite the similarities, shallots will not give the same kick to your dish that onion powder or onions in general would.
However, one good reason to choose shallots over other replacements is that they’re extremely healthy and even healthier than onions because they contain magnesium, potassium, vitamins, fibers, and even proteins.
Some recipes that are perfect for shallots include stir-fries, sauces, salads, casseroles, and soups.
How to make your own onion powder at home.
Making your own onion powder at home is probably the best alternative to obtain an industrial powdered onion equivalent.
If you have an hour to spare, you absolutely want to dedicate yourself to this easy and rewarding procedure, because homemade onion powder has several benefits:
– It’s extremely cheap: a family of four only needs a couple of fresh onions to make enough powder to last for a long time. Fresh onions are much cheaper than bottled onion powder, so it becomes almost inexpensive to enhance the flavor of your recipes for several months to come.
– It’s controlled: you can choose the type of onion and the parts of the onion you want to grind. The problem with industrial onion powder is that you don’t know which parts of the onion are included in the powder. Sometimes, they include the skin, stem, or root as well. Furthermore, you don’t know which onion has been used, and each onion has a slightly different taste. Making your own onion powder lets you have full control over the final result.
– It tastes better: sure, industrial onion powder has a concentrated onion flavor and your homemade version serves the same purpose, so the result should be the same. But fresh products aren’t that easily beatable, and your powder made from fresh, selected onions, will always taste better than the commercially dried powder you find in stores.
In order to prepare your homemade onion powder, start by peeling off your onions, then chop them into very small pieces with a sharp chef’s knife. If you have a dehydrator machine, you can place the chopped onions inside and let them dry.
In the alternative, spread the chopped onions on a tray and heat them at 150 degrees in the oven. To know when they’re ready, check their texture: when they crumble easily to the touch, they’re perfectly dry.
Let the dried onions cool down, then you can use a coffee grinder, a food processor, or a spice mill to turn them into a fine powder. You can also do it manually with a mortar and a pestle.
The coffee grinder is usually the best option to obtain perfect onion powder because you can choose how fine you want the powder to be.
However, it is not recommended to use the same grinder for both coffee and spices, because some of them like onion and garlic usually leave behind a strong smell that is hard to get rid of.
Luckily, coffee grinders are very cheap, so the wisest thing to do would be to designate one for the spices and the other for the coffee.
Your freshly-made onion powder needs to be stored in an air-tight container and be placed in a dry spot, preferably in a cool room. During the first week, remember to shake the container every day to prevent mold from growing.
If you have similar spices stored in the same place, like garlic, remember to label each of them properly. Using painter’s tape usually does the trick, because it’s easy to remove and won’t leave residues, allowing you to wash the jar properly and label time and time again.
While industrial onion powder can last 3-4 years on your shelf, your homemade powder will probably retain its best flavor up to one year after being first stored, if you keep it in good conditions.
This might be the only disadvantage of homemade onion powder, however, since it’s so easy and cheap to make, you might want to consider making a big batch once or twice per year.
How to choose an onion powder substitute.
All onion powder replacements are good replacements. They will differ slightly in taste and some may add different characteristics to your dish, but there isn’t a substitution for onion powder that won’t give you good results.
More often than not you will make your choice based on personal preferences or what you have at hand at that moment, but when you need to make a stop at the grocery store to buy an onion powder equivalent for the first time, or because you grew tired of what you were using so far, it may not be so easy to make a choice.
What is the best onion powder substitute? There’s no such thing as a one-for-all answer, but you can make an informed choice by choosing a replacement following these guidelines:
– Flavor: before anything else, we’re looking for something that can give us the same flavor as onion powder. Although this might be impossible to achieve, we can reach very similar results by either making our own onion powder at home or by using onion flakes or onion salt. While the former has basically the same taste as onion powder, but in a different form, the latter is also a good substitute in terms of flavor, but it will add extra-sodium to your dish, so you might need to adjust the recipe a little.
– Nutritional value: the downside of powdered and dried food is that it loses most of its nutritional value during the production process. Although we may not choose our seasonings based on their health benefits, fresh food makes a better job of balancing your dish with healthy nutrients. In fact, fresh onion contains more nutrients than onion powder. If you’re looking for a nutritional replacement for onion powder, fennel bulbs, shallots and scallions are the healthiest choices because they contain more minerals and vitamins than onion salts, flakes, or powder.
– Time-saving: many people love onion powder because it’s quick and easy to use. Just sprinkling a little powder over your dish adds greatly to its flavor and may change the outcome of a whole meal with minimum effort on your part. When substituting onion powder with fresh vegetables, the preparation takes a bigger effort and a longer time, which might not be what you wish for, especially if you’re in a pinch. In that case, the most time-saving alternatives to onion powder include other products that are ready to use like onion flakes/salt, or garlic powder/salt.
– Vegan: none of the alternatives mentioned contains any trace of animal products, not even commercially available powders, flakes, or salt. That’s because these products are made from a single ingredient with no additives or secret ingredients (even though it’s always safer to check the ingredients on the jar or package). If you want to add freshness and texture to your dish, fresh onions are the best pick to substitute onion powder. The second best choice would be dehydrated onion flakes, which are really similar to onion powder.
Even if these replacements for onion powder won’t give you the exact same taste as the original, they might still add something new to your recipe that you didn’t know it needed.
In fact, some recipes may even benefit from one of these alternatives more than they would from onion powder, so don’t be afraid of trying out new flavors!
What spice can replace onion powder?
The best spice to replace onion powder is garlic powder. This will give your dish a garlicky flavor with some onion undertones. Another popular choice for substituting onion powder is powdered celery root. If you want a sweeter flavor, you can try powdered parsley instead of using parsley flakes or fresh parsley leaves.
Is onion salt the same as onion powder?
Onion salt and onion powder are two different products. Onion salt is a mixture of salt and some other ingredients while onion powder is just pure dried onion.
Onion salt contains a variety of spices, which may include garlic, celery seed, parsley, bay leaves, thyme, and sometimes sugar. This mixture is then mixed with table salt to make the final product.
In contrast to this, onion powder has no additives or added ingredients. It’s made from finely ground-dried onions that have been dehydrated at a low temperature for a long time.
How much onion powder equals one onion?
This is one of the most common questions when it comes to onion powder, in fact, a lot of people might assume that the answer is a one-to-one ratio, but it actually depends on what you are making. For example, if you are making a soup then you need more onions than if you were making a sauce or a dish with onions as an ingredient.
In general, the answer is that for every teaspoon of onion powder, you need at least 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh onion.
How to soften onion powder?
A great way to soften onion powder is by heating it in a low-temperature oven. First, you should preheat your oven and make sure the temperature is set at 275 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, mix the onion powder with a bit of water and place it on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Finally, bake it for about 10 minutes before letting it cool down for 10 minutes.