Onions vs. Onion powder – Why can’t we all be friends?

The importance of onions to the culinary world cannot be overstated. Honestly, it’s a bigger topic than I’m willing to tackle this early in my blogging career, so lets step away from the global cooking arena and bringing it back to personal experience. When I’m looking through my fridge trying to figure out what I can throw together, rarely do I come up with something that does not involve an onion. Sauteed, it brings sweetness and carries the flavor of other ingredients in the dish. Raw, it gives a fresh, sharp bite to a salad or sandwich. Caramelized onions are so flavorful they need little else to make a whole meal (see: French onion soup).

In today’s world, almost any potent or flavorful ingredient you can think of eventually gets dehydrated and ground into a powder. Some examples:

By comparison, powdered onion seems kind of tame… But there are many out there who find the idea objectionable or even offensive. These elitists sit in their ivory towers, chopping onions all day, conjuring images of lazy or unskilled chefs shirking their culinary duties. “Ha ha!” they imagine the heathens saying, “I’ve gamed the system! No matter my inferior kitchen know-how and questionable work ethic, my food will taste just the same as that of my superiors. No onion tears for me!” And then they spit in God’s face.

I’m not going to say the onion powder heathens don’t exist. After all, there are several articles online outlining the fresh onion to powdered onion substitute ratios. Those ingredient substitute websites are dubious are best, and this is a good example as to why they are not to be trusted.

Instead, I want to make an appeal to the onion bourgeois to stop focusing on the spice as a replacement, and start thinking of it as a completely different ingredient altogether. There are dishes I’ve made where I wouldn’t add onion to it for textural reasons, but onion powder adds a great flavor. The opposite is also true – sometimes the extra umami can overwhelm a dish. The most successful use of onion powder, though, has been in concert with the fresh onions.

“But the flavors are not the same!,” cry the crusty, culinary conservatives between stomping of feet and gnashing of teeth “Powdered onion doesn’t taste like fresh onion!”

Exactly. The power of the powder doesn’t come from it’s exact likeness that of its fully-constituted cousin, but from its differences. The flavors are, at the very least, similar and compliment each other quite well. The combination powerful and distinct, and I promise it will instantly make your cooking at least 2.5% better. That’s not a lot, but it’s a pretty good bump from one little thing. So I invite you – Please. Please try this out in the next thing you make.

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