When you first get started on a low FODMAP diet, it looks like all of the most flavoursome foods aren’t allowed and that you’re going to be stuck eating bland and boring foods. But that’s not the case at all. While you will need to limit onion and garlic, plus a few other ingredients, there’s still plenty of ways to boost the flavour of your meals. This is fantastic because it will help you to eat more normally and feel less restricted on a low FODMAP diet.
So here’s 4 tips to help you add flavour to a low FODMAP diet.
1. Take advantage of herbs and spices that are naturally low in FODMAPs
Herbs and spices have always been the way that cooks add flavour to meals. They’re also what makes most bottled sauces and condiments taste delicious. Thankfully, all of the pure herbs and spices that have been tested for FODMAPs so far are low in FODMAPs. That means you can keep using herbs and spices in your cooking to add flavour, whether they’re fresh or dried.
A word of warning though… seasoning mixes that use a combination of herbs and spices often contain garlic or onion, so make sure you carefully read the ingredient list of any mixes to make sure they aren’t present.
So what’s the best options? Honestly, whatever herbs and spices you prefer.
I’m quite partial to Mediterranean flavours and so use lots of basil, oregano, parsley, thyme and sage. I also like to use deeper and richer spices for slow-cooking, such as cumin, coriander and paprika. But I also like adding fresh twists with fresh coriander (cilantro) or mint, or with a sprinkling of sumac or fennel.
Don’t forget you can also use herbs and spices to flavour sweet dishes. For me, cinnamon, mixed spice, vanilla, ginger, cloves and nutmeg and the most commonly used spices. But I also like adding fresh mint or basil to chopped fruit.
The trick here is to learn which flavours of herbs and spices you like the best and then find ways to use them in your cooking. If you’re not sure how to use herbs and spices, have a look in recipe books and see which ones are used to give the dominant flavours in your favourite meals. Then try those recipes to help you get the hang of using them when you cook.
2. Add anchovies or capers to enhance the savoury flavour of a low FODMAP meal
Another trick used by cooks to enhance the flavour of savoury dishes is to add tinned anchovies. Yes, anchovies are fish, but when used in dishes like casseroles or pasta sauces, they disintegrate and add a ‘savouriness’. Normally you’d use 2-3 anchovy fillets for a full recipe (i.e. for 4 servings). Simply chop them finely, add them to the pan, stir until they break down, then continue with the recipe. These are best for recipes that have sauces.
Capers work in a similar way to anchovies in terms of boosting flavour, except they don’t disintegrate. That’s okay though… all you need to do is chop them up finely before you add them to your meal. Capers are particularly good when added to sauces such as mayonnaise, like I’ve done in this Dill and Caper Sauce. I also like to add capers to eggs or sandwiches.
A word of warning though… both anchovies and capers are normally preserved with salt, so they’ll increase the saltiness of the dish. That’s not normally a problem, but you may want to avoid adding extra salt until just before serving to see if it’s actually needed. Capers can also be washed before use to remove salt from the surface, but you can’t do that with anchovies.
The trick here is to experiment by adding a small amount to a dish to see how you like it. If you’re unsure of anchovies – I certainly was before I tried cooking with them – then add only 1 or 2 to a big pot of pasta sauce or a casserole. Same goes with using capers. Start small and then add more as you get more used to them and understand how the flavour works.
3. Use low FODMAP garlic or onion substitutes to replace the flavours you’re used to
Garlic and onion are the biggest flavour issues for a low FODMAP diet because they seem to be in almost everything. Most bottled sauces and condiments contain garlic, sometimes hidden under the term ‘spices’ or ‘flavours’. Onion can also hide on labels as ‘vegetables’. But if you’re cooking from scratch, it’s much easier to avoid these two FODMAP sources.
There are however ways to add garlic and onion flavour without adding FODMAPs…
The best way to add garlic flavour is to use a garlic-infused oil. This works because FODMAPs are soluble in water but not in oil. So when you infuse garlic flavour into an oil, the FODMAPs can’t leach out into the oil and it stays safe.
You can make your own garlic-infused oil by gently heating some oil in a pan and then tossing in a clove of garlic that’s been halved or quartered. After it’s cooked for a few minutes, remove the garlic from the infused oil and continue cooking your meal. A word of warning though… you have to be certain that all of the garlic is removed from the oil and there aren’t any little pieces remaining, otherwise you’ll be adding FODMAPs to your meal.
The safest way to prevent this problem is to buy premade garlic-infused olive oil, such as the one made by Cobram Estate. This is what I use in all of my recipes. I use 1 teaspoon of garlic-infused oil to replace 1 clove of garlic.
Here are some examples of how I use garlic-infused olive oil in recipes:
Onions are interesting in terms of FODMAPs because you don’t have to avoid the entire onion, just the bulb where the fructans accumulate. So you won’t be able to eat onions that are only a bulb, such as white, brown or red onions. But for ‘onions’ that have a bulb and a green stalk attached, i.e. spring onions and leeks, while you have to avoid the bulb, you can still eat the green tops of those onions.
I normally use the green tops of the spring onions (also called green onions or scallions) since they still have loads of onion flavour. You can also use them raw or cook them into a dish. I normally use about 1 cup of chopped green onion tops to replace 1 onion. But don’t throw away the white bulbs that you can’t use… put them into a glass with a dash of water and the green parts will regrow.
You can do the same thing with the green tops of leeks, which are also low in FODMAPs, but are tougher and need longer cooking times. They can also be very gritty and need a good wash before use. Admittedly though, I haven’t actually tried cooking with the green bits of leeks yet because I find the green onions much handier for how I like to cook.
Chives are another good alternative, whether fresh or dried, since while they’re part of the onion family, they don’t form a bulb and so only contain the ‘green tops’. I use chives a lot and keep a packet of dried chives on my kitchen counter to add to meals for a quick onion flavour. I also like adding fresh chives to roasted veggies or meats, or to salads.
You can also buy onion-infused olive oil, which is low in FODMAPs because they can’t infuse into the oil. Like the garlic-infused oil, I also buy this one from Cobram Estate. But I don’t use it as often as the garlic-infused oil because I like using the green onion tops in my cooking since it adds some vegetable bulk to the recipe. Mostly I use the onion-infused oil when I’m completely out of fresh onion alternatives but still want onion flavour.
Another option for replacing onion is asafoetida powder, which a spice used in Indian cooking. It’s not from the onion family, but it apparently adds a similar flavour that’s useful for onion-free cooking. I’ve never tried it though because I’m happy with the other onion alternatives.
Here are some examples of how I use onion alternatives in recipes:
The trick here is to try some of the alternatives for garlic and onion and work out how you prefer to cook with them. Then it’s simply a matter of keeping them in the kitchen for whenever you need them.
4. Make use of condiments and sauces known to be low in FODMAPs
Many condiments and sauces do contain FODMAPs, mostly from onion and/or garlic, but there’s still a surprising number of options that are low FODMAP. Some though are only low FODMAP in small portions, but become high FODMAP when used in larger portions, so it’s important to know what a safe portion is before you start splashing them around.
I won’t provide an endless list of sauces and condiments here, or their safe portion sizes, but will instead refer you to the Monash University Low FODMAP Diet app and the FODMAP Friendly Food Program. That’s because more sauces are being tested all the time so it’s good to keep checking for the most up to date information.
These are some of the sauces and condiments known to be low FODMAP:
- Balsamic vinegar
- Fish sauce
- Mint sauce or jelly
- Miso paste
- Oyster sauce
- Rice wine vinegar
- Soy sauce
- Tomato paste
- Worcestershire sauce – although this contains high FODMAP ingredients, the fermentation process used to make the sauce breaks down the FODMAPs and makes it safe.
These sauces and condiments may be low FODMAP, provided that they’re free from onion, garlic and other high FODMAP ingredients:
- BBQ sauce
- Tomato sauce
There are also some simmer sauces certified as low FODMAP, such as the range made by SOME foods. These types of sauces can be very helpful to have on hand to make the low FODMAP diet easier to follow, especially on days that you really don’t feel like cooking.
The trick here is to make sure you have some of these sauces and condiments available, making sure that you know how much is safe to use. Then, you can mix and match them with herbs and spices or the garlic or onion alternatives to add a range of flavours to your meals.