Onions are one of the most popular and widely used ingredients in cooking and with so many varieties available at the supermarket it can be confusing to know which kind to choose. Yellow onions are generally the most commonly used in cooking but knowing what else is available will certainly elevate many dishes. Take note that garlic is actually considered part of the onion family even though it has a very different and distinct flavor.
When buying onions choose ones that have a dry, papery skin and are nice and firm. Avoid onions that have any soft spots or powdery surface mold. Always store onions and shallots at room temperature away from light, a dark pantry is a good place to keep them. Delicate scallions however, should be stored in the refrigerator. Place them standing up in a tall glass filled with 1″ of water and cover them loosely with a plastic bag. Lastly, store onions away from potatoes as they release gases which can hasten sprout growth in potatoes causing them to spoil more quickly.
- Yellow Onions – Strong flavored and maintain their potency when cooked. Also labeled as “Spanish Onions“. Most common onion used in cooking.
- White Onions – Pungent and strong much like a yellow onion however, their flavor is less complex. Most commonly used in Mexican or Latin American dishes.
- Red Onions – Crisp onion with a sweet, peppery flavor. Perfect for use in dishes where raw onion is needed. Most commonly used in salads.
- Sweet Onions – Sweet, mild flavor. Texture can become stringy when cooked so these are best to use raw. These don’t keep as well as other onions so use them up quickly. Most common varieties are Vidalia, Maui, Bermuda and Walla Walla.
- Pearl Onions – Crunchy and small with a sweet, delicate flavor. Most commonly used in soups and for roasting. Peeling these tiny onions can be arduous so it’s recommended to buy them pre-peeled in the frozen aisle.
- Cipolline – Sweet, Italian onion with a flat top and squat shape. Similar to a pearl onion. Ideal for creaming and roasting. Can be served whole.
- Shallots – Complex, subtly sweet flavor. When cooked they become very soft and almost melt away. Most commonly used in sauces.
- Ramps – Eaten raw it has a strong, almost garlic like flavor. When cooked it has a mildly, sweet flavor. The entire onion from top to bottom is edible and is often presented in dishes intact.
- Scallions – Earthy flavor with a delicate crunch. Used in dishes that involve little to no cooking. Can be used interchangeably with ramps. Most commonly used in Asian cooking.