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Onions - The Top Three Varieties for Cooks Everywhere: Which Ones Do I Use?

Updated on December 25, 2017
Don Bobbitt profile image

Don and his wife love to cook. They enjoy new and different recipes and experimenting with interesting new combinations of ingredients.

Lets Talk Onions

Cooks, in every restaurant and home regularly use these three popular varieties of the Onion family.

Of course there are hundreds of other varieties of Onions used around the world and these are great special ingredients for many Chefs. But here, I'm talking about the lowly, common three onions that are a staple of kitchens everywhere.

I just want to discuss the plain but familiar onions; the Red, White and Yellow varieties.

We should all know the important differences in these Onions that we eat almost every day, and that most of us try to keep in our pantry, all of the time.

These basic Onion types has advantages and disadvantages when compared with it's counterparts.


A typical Yellow Onion

The popular Yellow Onion variety
The popular Yellow Onion variety | Source

Onions for everyday use.

As I said, the good old Red, Yellow and White Onions are what we will discuss here.

You know, the ones that you see listed in the ingredients list for most of your day-to-day dishes. In fact, these three varieties of Onions account for the vast majority of the total onion consumption in the US.

Oh sure, there are; Shallots, Chives, Scallions, Spring Onions, Leeks, Ramps, and many, many other exotic and fantastic varieties of onions.

Each of these, found around the world, also has amazing flavors of their own, but these three common varieties are by far the most commonly used.

Onion flavor Varies widely

The actual flavors you may get at any time with any of each of the onion varieties can range from sweet to very pungent, usually dependent on their age and freshness as well as the ground they were grown in.

Some Love Onions, Some Hate Onions

I talk to a lot of people who seem to have set opinions on even just these three staples of the Onion family.

Often, people will tell me things like;

I hate Red Onions, they are way too strong, or I just love sweet white onions, when I use them, it tastes like I don’t even have onions in the dish, or I think the Yellow Onion is far too harsh

I even hear questions like;

Which onion should I use when I make a vegetable salad and which should I use in my Chicken Salad recipe? Then there is the question; I have a recipe that used fried onions as a garnish on burgers. which onion should I use?

So, before I begin, if you are one of those people who turn their nose up at the mention of the word Onion, and refuse to even consider eating them, well, you should move on to an article thats more entertaining, and stop reading this one right now.

This information is for those people who enjoy the flavor, aroma, and health aspects of Onions, and just need a little basic information on these varieties to make better decisions on which one to use.

Be aware that the actual flavors you may get at any time with one of each of these onion varieties can range from sweet to very pungent, often dependent on their freshness, but the flavors mentioned is the predominate one that you will find when you use each.

It is always smart, when using onions, to make your first cut and then use your nose and then take a small bite of a piece of the onion to determine exactly what you are using.

Then you should adjust the quantity used according to what strength of flavors you have to work with.

You don't have to tie yourself down to a particular variety of onion that is called for in a recipe.

If your recipe calls for a Red onion, you should take a good look at the dish itself, and you will probably be able to safely change over to a Yellow or even White onion without doing any harm to the flavor of the dish.

Ask yourself things like;

  • is the dish supposed to be sweet or does it have strong flavors in the other ingredients,
  • will my choice make a major change in the flavor of the finished dish,
  • what herbs and spices are used in the dish and will the onion choice fight or accent these flavors,
  • what sauces or dressing will be used with the dish,
  • and will the onion choice enhance or clash with their flavors?

Just remember that Intelligent questions will lead to intelligent choices, every time.


The top three Onion Varieties

RED ONIONS:

The Red Onion provides a great color contrast to almost any dish it is used in.

And, it has a stronger and more pungent flavor than yellow onions. Red Onions are great when used raw, grilled or roasted and go well in fresh dishes such as vegetable Salads and on sandwiches.

And it is used often on and with foods that have strong flavors in the other ingredients of the dish, as a good contrast.

YELLOW ONIONS:

The Yellow Onion, which typically has a mellow sweet flavor with little aftertaste and is the most popularly used of the bulb onions, accounting for over 75% of the volume sold in the US.

They have a full flavor, and turn a dark brown in color when cooked.

They are often grilled, fried, caramelized, and are used in soups, etc.

WHITE ONIONS:

The White Onions can have crisper flavors varying from Mild to very Sweet, and with very little aftertaste, depending on the variety used.

Because of their sweet flavor, they are favored in many Mexican dishes, fresh salads, as well as potato and pasta salads.

And are used often in white sauces. Plus, they turn a nice golden color when sautéed.

A book on facts about Onions

The Onion Book of Known Knowledge: A Definitive Encyclopaedia Of Existing Information
The Onion Book of Known Knowledge: A Definitive Encyclopaedia Of Existing Information

I really enjoyed this book. After reading it, I am a better cook just from some of the tips I picked up from reading this book.

 

Notes for using Onions

PREPARATION NOTES:

Here are a couple of good tips to remember when you are preparing your Onions:

Onions can be grilled, roasted, sautéed or caramelized. But, the calorie conscious should be aware that when you caramelize an onion, you will increase the sugar content of the onion used.

Onions should be used as soon as possible after cutting due to the fact that they lose their flavor as they sit and using high heat when preparing onions can add a bitterness to their flavor, so when cooking, specifically sautéing, use a low or medium heat to avoid this.

SELECTION:

When selecting your onions for use, look for the following;

  • no discolorations of the onion body,
  • no blemishes or cuts in the onion.
  • no soft spots in the onion body,
  • no signs of roots appearing on the onion end.

When you inspect an onion, even with the outer paper-like outer layer, you should see that the outer layer, of the onion itself is not dry looking, but has good color and seems moist.

STORAGE:

Onions can be kept for a long time, if they are stored properly.

They need to be stored in a cool dry place where air can circulate around them.

Do Not store onions in bags, either paper or plastic.

This will contain the gases from the onion itself and will speed up the ripening process causing them to rot early.

Please note that White onions do not store as well as the Red and Yellow varieties.

Once you have cut an onion, it should be kept, in the fridge, in a sealed container. This will keep the odor from the onion contained and it will not not spread to your other refrigerated foods.

Hopefully the information is helpful to you.

The use of Onions enhances the smells and flavors of so many dishes that we eat, and nutritionally they are great for us.

HEALTH BENEFITS:

Onions are free of Fat, Cholesterol, and Sodium, while providing relatively high levels of Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Fiber and Manganese among other critical nutrients, while being low in calories.

Onions provide numerous health benefits, and historically, they have been used to help treat Colds, Coughs, Bronchitis, Asthma and other breathing problems.

They can be used to help suppress harmful bacteria in the Colon and reduce the instance of stomach cancer and can also aid as an anti-coagulant.

But remember, that the stronger and more pungent varieties of onions provide more aid in these areas than the milder and sweeter varieties.

On the other side of the coin is the fact that even though eating onions is good for your health, in the long term, be aware that eating large quantities of them can lead to stomach and intestinal distress resulting in nausea and diarrhea.

Use them wisely and Love them!

How to make Caramelized Onoins

How to Cut an Onion

© 2011 Don Bobbitt

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    • grayghost profile image

      grayghost 

      7 years ago

      I almost always go with the Vadalia or whites, but maybe I'll get a little whacky and go with the red! Thanks, very useful information and an enjoyable read.

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      7 years ago from Ruskin Florida

      Phil, I understand the problem with onion preparation causing tears. Some friends of mine will wear gloves when handling onions and one even swears that if he squeezes Lemon juice on his hands before cutting Onions and that one odor overrides the other. Me? I just dive in and complain later. Besides. my favorite prep dish is to; ALMOST caramelize some chopped onions in EVOO, add minced Garlic and may some chopped green (or hot) peppers, a little salt and fresh ground pepper. I work these together until the odors are released from the garlic. I pull this wonderful flavor medley from the stove and start on my main dish and then add my medley back when needed. By the time I finish cooking, Flies, Snakes and even my wife all stay away from me for several days. I LOVE ONIONS ........ and Garlic ........ and Hot Peppers .....and ...... FLAVOR!

    • Phil Plasma profile image

      Phil Plasma 

      7 years ago from Montreal, Quebec

      I love caramelized onions, I love reading The Onion, and my eyes tear up terribly whenever I am in the presence of onions being cut.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      7 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      My Mothers Father - did the exact same thing. He ate raw onion with every meal that he had a chance to eat one with - not a whole one, but you get the idea. He ate LARGE slices of onion all the time!

      Grandpa did lose all his teeth though - but I can't recall him ever having a cold. . .but I do admit that that would be a strange thing for me to keep up with.

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      7 years ago from Ruskin Florida

      Wes an, well, the Yellow is by far the most popular. My Dad had a habit that I have not seen in many others. He was a country boy, and he always ate a whole or at least a half of an onion a day, his whole life. He said that my Grandmother made him do it as a child for two reasons. First she said if he ate onions daily he would not catch colds. Second, she said that it would help keep his teeth strong. When he retired at 65, he had no cavities and had not been to a dentist except when he was in the Navy (WWII). And I can't remember him ever having a cold! Go Figure!

    • IdeaMorphist profile image

      IdeaMorphist 

      7 years ago from Chicagoland

      I adore the flavor for red onions and vidalias

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      7 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Great hub!

      I'm lame . . .I nearly always use the yellow. Maybe I'll step outside myself and go red next go round. . .

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