4 Ways to Infuse Flavor Without Garlic and Onions


Garlic and onions contain fructans, a type of oligo-saccharides that may trigger GI symptoms in people with IBS. Although some people may find they are able to reintroduce them, either fully or in small amounts, some may need to avoid them altogether. For sure, you need to avoid garlic and onions during the elimination phase of the low FODMAP diet, as the fructans in these vegetables are so concentrated that even extremely small amounts (for example, a bit of garlic or onion powder) may cause tummy trouble.

But there is hope! Here I get to wear my chef’s hat and tell you about four ways you can infuse flavor in your food without eating these “aromatics”.

1.      Use garlic (or onion) and…(don’t) eat it too.

One not-so-well-kept secret in the FODMAP world is that fructans are soluble in water but not in oil. This means that (bad news) you can’t use onions or garlic to make a broth as the fructans will leach into the water and you will be ingesting them when you eat dishes prepared with that broth.

On the flip side (here come the good news), you can cut an onion or clove of garlic and sauté them in oil, then eliminate them. As long as you cut them in big enough pieces that you can completely remove them from the oil, you will be able to use that oil, which is now infused with their flavor. Voila! Now you can use the oil to stir-fry, brush sourdough bread, make hummus, you name it.

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

Another way to infuse a mild onion flavor to dishes is to use chopped chives or the green parts of spring onions. 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 tool to infuse a pungent 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 have an awesome flavor. You can make any stir fry that calls for sautéing ginger and garlic and only use the ginger, perhaps in greater amounts, and you will have plenty of flavor.

3.      Use fresh or dried herbs

When they are available, take advantage of fresh oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme, tarragon, mint, cilantro and basil to flavor your dishes. Rosemary and oregano are favorites for roasting potatoes and marinating chicken. Parsley and mint taste best when used raw, for example in potato salads, or a quinoa tabbouleh. Tarragon is great for flavoring fish. Basil oxidizes quickly and needs to be used just before serving: you can chiffonade it over freshly cooked gluten-free pasta, a caprese salad, or use the whole leaves in a sandwich. Cilantro is used freshly chopped as a garnish to top a 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, dried ones can be used: oregano, rosemary, tarragon, and thyme are especially flavorful. Basil, parsley, cilantro and mint are best when used fresh.

4.      Explore the world of spices

Virtually all spices are low in FODMAPs. If you are not used to cooking with spices, look up recipes for some of your favorite ethnic foods to experiment, 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

Finally, 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 amounts 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, as they lose their flavor fairly quickly after they are opened. Whole seeds, on the other hand, retain their flavor for a long time. Buy the spices you don’t use often in small amounts (they can be found in packages as small as 0.1 ounce) 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.

If you thought the low FODMAP diet was bland and boring, perhaps now you may think again!

Antonella Dewell