What can I Substitute for Caramelized Onions?

Have you recently discovered a fantastic recipe that contains caramelized onions, but don’t want to use this particular ingredient? This ingredient is quite common in a lot of recipes, but it isn’t for everyone. If you’re just not a fan of the onion taste or texture, or there is an allergy involved, we have you covered! Whatever your reason for wanting to swap out this particular ingredient is, we have plenty of alternatives to help you decide just what ingredient you want to swap in.

Best Caramelized Onions Substitutes

Balsamic Reduction

If you’re looking to completely remove the onions themselves, but still want the flavor of the caramelization, a balsamic reduction may be just what you’re looking for. It is super easy to make, all you need is balsamic vinegar. Seriously, that is it. All you have to do is place your desired amount in a pan and bring it to a boil, before lowering it to a low heat to let it reduce down to a thicker mixture. Make sure not to burn it at any point by stirring it with a wooden spoon regularly. Your balsamic reduction will reduce by up to a 1/3 or even a 1/2, so make sure not to put too little in the pan, or you will end up with very little sauce to work with within your recipe.

A dash of honey can also be added to this recipe, adding extra sweetness to this sauce. 

Below are some alternatives to onions that you can use with the above balsamic reduction to recreate that caramelized flavor, but with a completely different ingredient. All you have to do is cook the chosen ingredient as instructed and add to your reduction to finish off. Enjoy your experimentation!

Sweet Potato

This unlikely root vegetable is probably not what you had in mind as a substitute right? Well, we are glad for the surprise. Make sure to par boil this potato before using it in your recipe otherwise it may be just too tough to eat. Partly cooking the sweet potato beforehand will ensure that it will still have enough of a slight crunch, but not too overcooked so it becomes too soft and turns to complete mush. 


An interesting substitution for onions here, carrots will offer a very satisfying crunch when mixed in with your recipe. Carrots will be better left raw and then grated before it is added to the balsamic reduction. As you would with pretty much all root vegetables before using in a recipe, cut off the ends and peel before slicing into thin strips. Leaving this veg raw will not affect the taste in any way and is still quite fantastic left uncooked.


Also known as swede, this bulbous root will need to be prepared properly before being introduced to the balsamic reduction. With its root cut off and its outer layer peeled, then cut up into sizeable chunks, this root can be either boiled, steamed or roasted before being added to the balsamic reduction. Whatever takes your fancy with it being cooked prior, this root replacement will be a tasty substitution.


Another root vegetable here that is super versatile and will add some much-needed texture when you have removed onions. Parsnips, like rutabaga, will need to be prepped and partly cooked before adding to your balsamic reduction, to ensure that they are not too tough to eat. Cutting off the root and giving the vegetable a peel, this veg can either be steamed, boiled or roasted before adding to your pre-made sauce. Adding the balsamic reduction before they are roasted in the oven is another great way of serving these vegetables as a side dish.

Celery Root

Also known as celeriac, this perhaps not so well-known root is yet another useful substitution for onions. This rather odd-looking vegetable has an interesting nutty overtone to its taste, helping to add a similar sweetness flavor to that of an onion once it is cooked. Again with needing to be well prepared before using in a recipe, this vegetable can be eaten both raw and cooked, just make sure you CAREFULLY peel it beforehand. Great grated, similarly to carrots, it can also be roasted! Truly a very versatile and underrated root vegetable.

Orange Marmalade

Believe it or not, this bitter yet slightly sweet orange preserve is quite a handy replacement for caramelized onions. With it having a sweet twist, it will add a similar taste to the sweetness of the caramelized flavor in your recipe, and the oranges are quite a unique extra flavoring compared to onions. This is one replacement we really feel that will you will love more than you realise. 

In an extra twist, if you would still like to use onions, using marmalade is also a fantastic option for replacing the balsamic reduction part of your onions whilst cooking. Using this preserve will not only give you a different and unique flavor to your onions, but it will also add an extra interesting texture!


So we hope this gives you plenty of ideas to work with when it comes to replacing caramelized onions in your recipe. What would be the best substitute? Well, that comes down to which out of the alternatives above takes your preference. Do you just want the flavor of the caramelization added to your dish, or are happy to also have a different vegetable replace the onions as well? We think that these interesting and sometimes very unique twists to substituting caramelized onions will truly tantalize your tastebuds and make your recipe amazing. Who else will be trying out that marmalade substitute next time they’re cooking?

Kunal Sharma
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