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Types of Onions and How to Use Them

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We usually associate onions with the globe-shaped red, yellow, or white onions that are readily available in supermarkets. While standard onions are a welcome addition to many dishes, there are many types of onion varietals that all have unique flavors.

Onions are part of the allium family (‘cultivated garlic’ in Latin), which produces plants with a bulb and leaf. Within the onion family, there are many types of edible plants – including shallots, leeks, globe onions, spring onions, and wild onions.

We’ll cover all these types of onions and how to use them, including suggested recipes that show off their flavor!


White Onions

White onions generally have a sweeter, milder flavor. They are often used in Mexican dishes. White onions are mild enough to finely dice and use raw in dishes – like guacamole or salsa.

Here are a few of the best ways to use white onions:


Red or Purple Onions

Red onions have a deep purple or reddish flesh and a relatively mild flavor. They lose most of their color when cooked, so they are often used raw. They can be used in salsa, chutneys, and in salads.

Here are a few of our favorite ways to use red onions:


Yellow or Brown Onions

Yellow onions have a deeper and more complex flavor than white onions. They tend to be grown in sulfur-rich soil. They’re a great all-purpose, workhorse onion and can be used as the base of many dishes.

We highly recommend using yellow onions in these recipes:


Sweet Onions

Several types of sweet onion varietals exist, these three are the most popular in North America and all happen to be sweeter than other globe-shaped onions. They taste great in salads and can be served raw. Because they are more perishable, store them in the refrigerator.

  • Vidalia Onions are sweeter yellow onions, due to the lower sulfur in the soil where they’re grown. Georgia owns the trademark for Vidalia onions.
  • Walla Walla Onions are another type of sweet yellow onion. They’re grown in Washington state.
  • Bermuda Onions are flat-topped, sweet onions, and are a good substitute for shallots. They generally have to be homegrown as they are not available for purchase everywhere.

Sweet onions taste great in recipes like Sweet Vidalia Onion Salad and Vidalia Onions with Grape Tomatoes and Spaghetti.


Scallions (Green Onions)

Scallions and green onions are the same thing – let’s just get that out of the way! They are harvested when they’re very young before a bulb can form. You can use the entire scallion (green, light green, and white parts). The darker green part of the scallion is often used as a raw garnish, while the light green and white parts are cooked as they’re tougher.

Here are a few great ways to use scallions:


Spring Onions

Spring onions are a mature green onion. They’ve grown longer and been allowed to develop a small bulb at their base. They have a stronger flavor than scallions.

Here are some great recipes with spring onions:


Pearl Onions (Button Onions)

Pearl onions are small white onions harvested when they are very small – usually the size of a marble. They have a mild flavor and taste like a leek. They are often pickled.

Here are few ways to use pearl onions:


Shallots

Shallots grow in clusters, similar to garlic, and vary in color from green to dark red. They are usually smaller than globe onions and can be used in a variety of ways. They have a delicate, leek-like flavor.


Leeks

Leeks look like giant green onions – they have three distinct parts: a white base, a light green center section, and a dark green top. The dark green portion is usually discarded because of it’s tougher texture. Leeks have a subtle onion like flavor.

Here’s how to use leeks:


Onion FAQs

What’s the best way to store onions?

Whole onions and shallots are best stored in a cool, dry room. Peeled and cut onions should be stored in the refrigerator for up to 7 days.

Green onions, spring onions, and leeks should be stored in the refrigerator.

How to stop from tearing up when cutting onions?

We’ve found three ways to stop tearing up when slicing onions – use a sharp knife, keep a fan on or your kitchen door open to get some air flow, and don’t cut through the root end.

Can you use onions if they’re sprouted?

Onions that have sprouted aren’t bad for your or toxic – they may be mushy inside and if so you can discard them as they won’t taste as good. Otherwise pull the sprouted parts out and cut and use as normal.

If it has any black spots or mold, you should discard the onion.

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