3 Ways to Infuse Flavor Without Garlic and Onions

Published on: 09/26/2019

Why cook without garlic and onions? Garlic and onions contain fructans, a type of oligo-saccharides that may trigger GI symptoms in people with IBS. Fructans are so concentrated in these aromatics that even extremely small amounts (for example, a bit of garlic or onion powder) may cause tummy trouble.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy flavorful food! Nor do you need to give up the garlic and onion flavors altogether! Here I get to wear my chef’s hat and tell you about four ways you can infuse flavor in your food without eating garlic or onions.

3 Ways to Infuse Flavor Without Garlic and Onions

1.      Use other members of the garlic family… and more

You can infuse a mild garlic or onion flavor into dishes by using other parts of the plant. The best ones are the green parts of spring onions or leeks, and garlic scapes. You can also use chopped chives. You don’t need to cook them as long as an onion, and you might want to add them towards the end of the cooking to preserve their flavor.

One more way to infuse a pungent garlicky or onion flavor is to use the Indian spice asafetida. You only need to add a pinch to the hot oil, as this spice is very strong (for some people it may be too much). Try it and see if you like it, especially when cooking low FODMAP servings of legumes, as it will also increase their digestibility.

Finally, don’t forget ginger. This is another great aromatic, which happens to be low in FODMAP and has an awesome flavor. You can make any stir fry that calls for sautéing ginger and garlic but use only the ginger, perhaps in greater amounts, and you will have a lot of flavor.

2.      Use fresh or dried herbs

When available, fresh herbs are an amazing addition to any dish. Take advantage of fresh oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme, tarragon, mint, cilantro, and basil to flavor your dishes. For example, rosemary and oregano are favorites for roasting potatoes and marinating chicken. On the other hand, parsley and mint taste best when used raw, for example in potato salads, or a quinoa tabbouleh. And tarragon is great for flavoring fish.

Basil is one of my ultimate favorites! However, it oxidizes quickly and needs to be used just before serving. You can chiffonade it over freshly cooked gluten-free pasta, or a Caprese salad, or use the whole leaves in a sandwich. Cilantro is used freshly chopped as a garnish to top chili or tacos, and many Asian  (Thai, Indian, Chinese) dishes. Finally, Thai basil, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves give that authentic flavor to Thai curries.

When fresh herbs are not available, you can certainly use dried ones: oregano, rosemary, tarragon, and thyme are especially flavorful. Conversely, basil, parsley, cilantro, and mint are best when used fresh.

3.      Explore the world of spices

Virtually all spices are low in FODMAPs. If you are new to cooking with spices, look up recipes for some of your favorite ethnic foods to experiment with, or just improvise. Here are some ideas for spices used in a few ethnic cuisines:

  • Mexican – cumin, paprika, chili powder, black pepper cinnamon
  • Middle Eastern – cinnamon, cloves, cumin, coriander seeds, allspice
  • North African – cumin, coriander, paprika, fennel, cinnamon, cloves, saffron, sumac, ras-el-anou, and zaatar (these last two are spice blends)
  • Indian – coriander, cumin, turmeric, curry, cayenne, garam masala, amchur (dried mango powder), fenugreek, black pepper, saffron, fennel seeds, cardamom, cloves

A few notes about spices:

  • Chili powder and cayenne contain a substance called capsaicin, which may trigger heartburn or abdominal pain in people with IBS. Try a very small amount at first and see if you notice any symptoms.
  • Chili powder is a blend of different varieties of chili peppers and may have other spices added to it – make sure it does not contain garlic or onion powder.
  • If you are following a strict gluten-free diet, be sure to buy gluten-free spices and spice blends.
  • To maximize the flavor of your dishes, don’t keep ground spices on your shelf for more than 3-6 months. They lose their flavor fairly quickly after they you open the jar. Whole seeds, on the other hand, retain their flavor for a long time. Buy the spices you don’t use often in small amounts so you can use them before they become bland or stale.
  • If you are really into spices, you may want to roast and grind your own to get the best flavor. This works especially well with spices like coriander and cumin. Roast them on a skillet on low heat only until you start smelling their aroma; then grind them in a coffee grinder.

In sum, there is no shortage of flavor on a low FODMAP diet, in spite of the absence of garlic and onions. I hope that, if you thought the low FODMAP diet was bland and boring, perhaps now you may think again!

Want to learn more?

Read more Low FODMAP Tips

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I’m a registered dietitian with a passion for helping women with IBS find their way back to eating without fear of painful gut symptoms and without unnecessary diet restrictions.

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