Cooking with IBS: How to Add Flavor Without Garlic and Onion

If garlic and onion trigger symptoms, you’re not destined to bland food.

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When many people learn they have IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), they first hear that they may need to limit caffeine, sugary foods, and fatty foods. However, that’s barely scratching the surface of IBS trigger foods. In fact, many people with IBS eventually realize that they have symptoms after eating garlic and onion.

Garlic and onion contain fructans. These are a specific type of carbohydrate. They’re not bad for your health in general, but they can sometimes trigger symptoms in people with IBS.

Realizing that garlic and onion give you IBS symptoms can be devastating. After all, they’re in almost every savory dish, and they take meals from “blah” to delectable. Turning to garlic powder and onion powder won’t help either. In fact, these might actually be worse because they’re more concentrated.

Understanding Your Tolerance

Before you give up garlic and onion entirely, it may be worth the effort to understand your tolerance level. IBS can be complex and unpredictable. You may be able to tolerate garlic and onion in small amounts. Similarly, you may be able to enjoy a garlicky dish as long as it doesn’t contain other IBS triggers, like cheese or heavy cream.

On the other hand, you may be very sensitive to garlic and onion. If that’s the case, you may find it’s worth it to try to avoid these ingredients entirely. Luckily, there are a number of other ways to add great flavor to food without garlic and onion.

Cooking for IBS Without Garlic and Onion

Whether you want to eat less garlic and onion or give them up entirely, try these tricks to boost flavor in your meals.

1. Use fresh chives or the tops of scallions

Some (not all) people with IBS find that they can tolerate chives and scallion tops better than garlic and onion. Just be sure to use the soft, green tops of scallions (not the white bottom part). Both chives and scallion tops are delicate, so they’re best used as a garnish.

2. Use infused oil

Infused oil means letting garlic, shallots, onions, etc., steep in oil for a long period of time, and then straining them out. This results in a flavored oil that doesn’t have the fructans of the actual garlic or onion. You can then use it to cook. For example, you could saute broccoli in garlic-infused oil, and it would have garlic flavor without actual garlic.

If you’re extremely sensitive to fructans, it may help to look for a bottle that is “low-FODMAP certified.” Learn more about what the low-FODMAP diet is here.

3. Pump up the flavor with other herbs and spices

Let’s say you’ve tried chives, scallion tops, and infused oils, and all of them have still triggered symptoms. It might be wise to look beyond the typical aromatics and find flavor in other ways.

Add fresh and flavorful herbs like basil, cilantro, rosemary, and dill to your dishes. (Fresh herbs are much better at delivering a big flavor compared to dried herbs.) Add punchy spices like cumin, paprika, chili powder, and fennel seeds.

4. Focus on umami

Umami refers to a pleasurable, savory flavor. It literally translates to “deliciousness” in Japanese. You can find umami in foods like mushrooms, miso paste, and soy sauce. These ingredients add a major savory flavor, so they may help make up for missing garlic and onion.

Remember: You may be able to tolerate some garlic and onion. For example, if a recipe calls for four cloves of garlic, try it with one or two cloves instead, and see how your body reacts. Track your symptoms using a food diary, which can help you find your tolerance level.

Finally, talk to a registered dietitian if you feel lost about what to put on your plate. Dealing with symptoms of IBS is hard enough as it is, so you don’t want to add more stress just figuring out what to eat.