Allium Intolerance

The allium family – which includes onions, garlic, leeks, chives and spring onions – is a popular one in cuisines across the world. From onion rings to garlic bread, alliums are the star of many of the nation’s top dishes – in fact, the average Briton uses over 200 cloves of garlic per year!

Because they’re so common, pinpointing an allium intolerance can be tricky. Here’s everything you need to know about being intolerant to alliums…

What is allium intolerance?

Defined by YorkTest as a food-specific IgG reaction, an intolerance is characterised by a difficulty digesting certain foods, or having an unpleasant physical reaction to them. In the case of allium intolerance, the sufferer will experience symptoms after consuming any of the following:

  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Spring onions
  • Shallots
  • Leeks
  • Chives

So the answer to ‘can you be intolerant to onions?’ is – unfortunately – yes. While it can make shopping a bit tricky, and rules out favourites like garlic bread, onion rings and leek & potato soup, with the right diet and health choices you can work around an allium intolerance.

What are the most common allium intolerance symptoms?

Allium intolerance symptoms and their severity can differ from person to person. You might find symptoms appear shortly after consuming onions or garlic, or you might find the signs of your intolerance don’t show for a few hours. Some of the most common allium intolerance symptoms are:

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Stomach ache

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Swelling of the tongue/lips/throat
Itchy mouth or lips
Nasal congestion

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Nausea and vomiting

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A rash or hives

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Difficulty breathing

What’s the difference between an allium intolerance and an allium allergy?

Typically, people with food intolerances* have less severe symptoms and reactions than those with an allergy. For example, someone with an allium intolerance may suffer from cramping or diarrhoea after eating garlic or leeks, while for someone with a diagnosed onion allergy, symptoms could include difficulty breathing and even anaphylaxis.

If you’ve noticed stomach problems or itchiness after eating allium-rich foods – which can include sauces and seasonings – you may be suffering from an intolerance*.

You should always visit your GP as a first step if you suspect you are suffering from a particular reaction to food – particularly if you think you may have an allergy. Once your doctor has ruled out any major underlying health conditions, you can then continue with at-home health tests and elimination diets to get to the bottom of any intolerances you may have.

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Easy to use home-to-laboratory test kit

Take our most comprehensive food and drink intolerance* test to find out whether you have an intolerance to over 200 food and drink ingredients. Simply take a finger-prick blood sample and return by post for testing. Receive your results within 7 days! No social interaction required.

Optimise your lifestyle with our support, knowing which foods you’re reacting to.

  • Discuss your results with a nutritional therapist. One 30-minute consultation included
  • Measures all four subtypes of food-specific IgG
  • Simple finger-prick blood test
  • Receive expert, accurate analysis from our fully-accredited laboratory technicians
  • Results listed in easy-to-read traffic light values: high, borderline, and normal reactivity
  • Track your progress with a food and drinks diary
  • This test is not available to customers who are pregnant or breastfeeding

Foods to avoid with an allium intolerance

The bad news is that most cuisines typically use plants from the allium family – intolerance sufferers likely know this already, having felt symptoms eating everything from curries to casseroles, seasoned steak to sushi. Onions and garlic are often used as a base, which means you’ll need to check the ingredients list of sauces, seasonings and other pre-prepared food products to avoid a reaction.

As well as the obvious offenders – like leek & potato soup, cheese & chive scones or anything garlic – there are other dishes that might not come to mind when you draw up your list of suspicious foods. Seasoning blends may use onion or garlic, and things like salad dressings or side dishes should be checked for alliums too.

What to eat if you have an allium intolerance

The good news is that there are lots of ways to get the kick, flavour and complexity provided by alliums in traditional recipes, without having to deal with the unpleasant symptoms that come with eating shallots or garlic.

In dishes where onions and garlic are used for spice at the end of cooking, you could try using chilli, horseradish or lemon. To replicate the depth of flavour that comes from browning onions as a base, try some ginger or cumin. For the sweetness of caramelised onion or softened garlic, experiment with adding pepper, celery or even a sprinkle of sugar. Some of the flavour and umami tastes that come with allium can also be achieved by using things like soy sauce, fish sauce or finely grated ginger.

Some ingredients to experiment with if you’re intolerant to allium:

  • Ginger
  • Cumin
  • Asafoetida
  • Coriander
  • Chilli
  • Lemon zest
  • Soy sauce
  • Celery
  • Fennel
  • Celeriac
  • Miso
  • Fish sauce

Is there an allium intolerance test?

If you suspect you may have a food intolerance*, one of the options for getting to the bottom of your symptoms is an elimination diet. After ruling out any health conditions with your doctor, an elimination diet is one way of identifying potential trigger foods. To complete the elimination process properly can take several months, so many people turn to a food intolerance* test to identify problem ingredients quicker.

YorkTest’s Premium Food Intolerance Test measures IgG reactions to over 200 ingredients, including onion and garlic.