How To Counteract Too Much Onion In A Dish (With Examples)


Where would the world be without onions? They appear in many of our favorite foods, including salsa and spaghetti sauce. Despite having the ability to make us cry, we toss them into soups, stews, and casseroles in abundance. But sometimes, they come on too strong, grabbing attention from all the other flavors. Thankfully, there are tricks to try to mellow them.

To counteract too much onion in a recipe, try to “balance out” the harsh taste by removing excess onion or adding other ingredients found in the recipe. You can also distract the tastebuds with other strong tastes like lime juice, vinegar, salt, or sugar. Onion mellows when cooked so try cooking your dish for longer to reduce rawness.

For example, if you’re making a salad then try adding more leaves and cucumber to hide the onion. If you’re making a casserole then add some more canned tomatoes and vegetables.

Onions overpower a recipe for two main reasons: too many were added, or the onions had a particularly strong intensity. This article covers some tips on spotting strong onions and some examples of balancing different recipes.

Fixing Strong Onion Flavor Now

If you’ve made up a dish that has turned much too strong for your liking then try some of the tips below.

Remove any visible onion you can. It’s a fairly obvious one that will be easier to do in some dishes than others. But if you can at least remove some of the onion then you will be able to reduce some of the intense taste.

Balance the recipe with more ingredients. This is basically masking the taste of the onions with the other ingredients in the recipe. Usually, there are a few ingredients that give bulk to a recipe but don’t have too strong a flavor. Some examples could be canned tomatoes, extra meat, or vegetables with a mild taste. Add more of these to the dish which will in effect “water down” the onion taste.

Distract the palate. If your recipe will allow you to use strong flavors to mask the taste then you can try this too cautiously. Things that are sweet, sour, salty, or spicy will do the trick so try to pick one that works for you.

How Can You Neutralize Onion Flavor?

Onions can come in a range of potency, even the same variety. You can neutralize those extra sharp tearjerkers before using them in a recipe. There are a few neutralizing hacks to try.

Cooking Onions To Neutralize Them

Everyone has had raw onions in salads that burn the mouth and leave you with a lingering aftertaste. Cooking onions mellows the flavor, sweetens them, and makes them easier on the tastebuds. Try sauteing your onions until translucent to remove their “rawness”. Check out my super useful guide on caramelizing the best onions without burning them.

Soaking In Water Neutralizes Onions

Soak sliced onions in water for 10-60 minutes to sap its potent punch. Once done, drain and pat dry before using in your recipes.

The quickest method is to run cold water over the onion for 30-60 seconds. This is the fastest method, but it also has the mildest impact. Only useful when you are rushed.

Soaking In Vinegar And Salt

Sprinkling the chopped onion in a pinch of salt and a few tablespoons of vinegar for an hour or more will remove a lot of the sharpness (the longer you let them soak, the sweeter they get). This is the start of pickling onions and can be delicious if you make a whole jar and leave it for even longer.

How To Spot A Sharp And Potent Onion Before Slicing?

Not all onions are created with the same strength. Some are sweet and mild and great in raw dishes. Others are intense and more overpowering if not used sparingly. Therefore it’s helpful to spot these sharp and potent vegetables ahead of time. 

Sharper Onions Are Bigger Than Others Of The Same Variety

A sharper onion will be on the larger end of the spectrum for its variety. These build up extra sulfur due to being picked later in the season, thus spending a longer time in the soil. These are difficult to avoid when bulk buying onions. But when purchasing loose onions, select the smaller ones for each variety. 

However, this does not mean you should always buy the most petite onions in the store. For example, sweet onions like Walla Walla are a large onion variety but have less sulfur than regular onions such as yellow, white, and red. Thus, size is only relative to members of its variety. 

Potent Onions Are Older, Drier, And Flakey

Another sign an onion has built up potency is its age. Older onions that have sat around will have dry, flakey skin. They are still edible and shouldn’t be thrown out, but you’ll want to tone them down before mixing them with other ingredients.

How To Counteract Too Much Onion In Salsa?

Counteracting onion in salsa is done either by distracting the palette or by bulking up the other ingredients. Try adding acids, such as lemon juice or lime juice, and adding a pinch or two of more salt. 

Add more of the other ingredients to your salsa, such as an additional handful of chopped plum tomatoes. Next, take the heat up a notch with extra chili, and toss in more cilantro. The idea is to dilute the onion, so it no longer stands out. 

Lastly, adding fruit to salsa will change the recipe but also sap the onion’s power. Mango and peaches are two traditional options. Chopped pineapple will give it a Hawaiian flair.

How To Counteract Too Much Onion In Soup?

Counteracting onion in soup typically requires diluting it or adding ingredients that can help absorb it. Potatoes are excellent absorbers of excess flavors as they have a neutral taste. All root vegetables will help and can be optionally blended until smooth. Additional water or broth will dilute the soup in flavor but also in thickness so be cautious.

Try removing any visible onion with a slotted spoon. You can hopefully reduce the strong onion but leave the rest of the soup intact.

In more tangy soups like the ones found in Asia, an acid will help reduce the onion intensity. Traditional favorites include various kinds of vinegar, lemon juice, and lime juice.

Lastly, adding additional butter or cream will also help reduce the potency of the onion in the dish. The fat helps absorb the sting.

How To Fix Too Much Onion In Spaghetti Sauce?

Try sauteeing some finely diced carrot for a few minutes and adding it to your sauce. Simmer it together for another 5-10 minutes and the carrot will have diluted the onion taste and added some sweetness from its natural sugars.

Adding more canned tomatoes and olive oil are obvious ingredients to counteract onion. This will dilute the onion and make an overall bigger batch of sauce that the onion will be lost in.

Cream can also be added to spaghetti sauce to add richness while absorbing the sharp tang of the onion. It will transform the sauce into a more orange, creamy sauce than a fresh tomato sauce.

Conclusion

Hopefully, now you know how to counteract too much onion in a recipe. It’s all about balancing and diluting the onion taste with other ingredients in the recipe or masking it with other strong flavors.

Onions are a food staple, but they are rarely meant to be the central ingredient. Spotting a sharp and potent onion early is your best defense, but often we figure out the problem after it has blended into the dish. Once this has happened, consider your options: dilute, distract, or consider a combination of both. In the end, you might enjoy the new twist to the recipe more than the original.

Tom

Hey, I'm Tom. I set up Boss The Kitchen to start answering the thousands of questions people have while cooking. For me, the kitchen is my happy place and I hope to help other people with the knowledge I've gained along the way.

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