Different Types of Onions and How to Use Them
Onions are one of the most versatile vegetables on the planet. A close relative of the garlic, this veggie can be eaten fresh, turned into a delicious snack, made into a salsa, and be an important part of a succulent, delectable dish. But did you know that there are many different types of onions? Join us on this journey as we learn more about some of the more common types of onions and in which dishes we can use such onions.
These onions are also referred to as Spanish onions or cooking onions. This is one of the most versatile onions. They can be used in almost any dish be it cooked or raw. It has a mildly sweet taste, but not as sweet as those categorized as sweet onions, making it a favorite among chefs and home cooks alike. From stews, barbecues, sauces, soups, and even roasts, yellow or Spanish onions are a great veggie to add. It is the quintessential ingredient in the French Onion Soup, giving this soul-warmer its sweet tangy flavor. It can also be eaten raw, that is if you can take its rather strong flavor. They are called yellow onions because of the color of the skin which typically ranges from light yellow to deep gold to light brown.
This is the type of onion that people all around the world know, with its characteristic dark maroon skin encasing that beautiful flesh in equally stunning purple color. When eaten raw it can provide a bold and really spicy taste that people say will ‘bite’ the tongue. Yet, when cooked to perfection, the red onion turns into a sinfully sweet veggie. This type of onion is perfect for pizzas and tacos, although they can be used in pickling as well. Individuals who love a more flavorful salsa will always go for a red onion instead of the sweeter white or yellow onion. It’s ideal for chopped salads, too. In many parts of the globe, red onions are used in roasting, charbroiling, and even grilling. Some folks consider the red onion as having the sharpest flavor and as such they are never eaten raw. However, for those who can appreciate the beauty of the red, this is best eaten raw.
Many folks confuse white onions as a type of Spanish onion with a very pale skin color. But the thing is that white onions are different from yellow or Spanish onions, not only in terms of the color of their skin but more so in their flavor. If Spanish onions are a bit sweet, white onions are sweeter but definitely not enough for it to be categorized as a sweet onion. They are slightly bigger than yellow onions, too and can have white papery skin and white flesh. White onions turn light golden when sautéed and can impart a stronger-than-yellow sweet flavor, making them the perfect addition to white sauces. White Onions are a mainstay in classic Mexican dishes. This type of onion is also a staple in a number of versions of prepared salads, wraps, and sandwiches.
There a lot of people who love sweet onions. Some can even turn them into a ripe fruit, biting into its flesh as they would a ripe and juicy apple. It still has the same onion taste, but in a very mild form. Sweet onions may look like white or yellow onions except that they don’t have a round top or bottom. Instead, it is usually flat. As sweet as they are, sweet onions are highly perishable. They don’t last as long as other onion types. As such, they should be consumed as soon as they are prepped. They can nevertheless be stored in the fridge, but even this has a shorter shelf life than other types. Sweet onions are perfect for sandwiches and salads. When caramelized, they can be added into mashed potatoes and other recipes that call for a mild and sweet oniony taste. These are also perfect for your classic crispy onion rings. Here are some examples of sweet onions.
- Maui Onions
When it comes to crispy onion rings, chefs always go for the Maui. It’s sweet and juicy and can impart that delicious taste that one craves for in batter-covered onion ring. It’s perfect for marinating as its natural sweetness can be imparted into the marinade. Mauis are perfect for grilling, salads, and sandwiches, too.
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- Vidalia Onions
Considered by many as the sweetest of all the sweet onions, Vidalias are best eaten raw as you get to enjoy the gamut of flavors without ever stinging your palate. These are best used in juicy burgers as well as salads, roughly chopped or sliced into rings. They are also a go-to for onion rings, dressings, relishes, dips, and even quick pickles.
- Bermuda Onions
Ideal for baking and stuffing, Bermuda onions are large sweet onions that are best used in stuffing. Typically, they are stuffed and then baked. They are best known for their delicate sweetness, allowing them to be used in almost any dish that requires just a hint of onion. These are excellent substitutes for Spanish onions and shallots as well.
- Walla Walla Onions
When it comes to quiches, folks always reach for Walla Wallas. It has a very different taste compared to other types of sweet onions. It is still sweet, but the flavors are more complex. It’s like having a number of tastes exploding in your palate. It’s ideal for salads, sandwiches, pastas, and pizzas. It is best eaten raw, however. And if you don’t like the taste, you can have it partially grilled so you’ll experience its explosive sweetness.
- Texas Supasweet Onions
If you’re not really into onions, but are ready to embark on your onion journey, the Texas Supasweet is for you. It’s unlike any other onion. Sure, it does look like any onion, but its taste is so mild that you’ll think you’re chowing on a fruit. It is sweet; otherwise, they won’t call it the Supasweet. But its sweetness is something very delicate, making it great for salads, salsas, and sandwiches.
- Cipollini Onions
Rich and sweet, Cipollini onions are best used in salads as it can impart a really rich taste without the strong onion flavor. It’s the kind of onion that chefs use in making tarts, roasts, and dishes that call for onion caramelization. When sautéed together with green beans or other veggies, your palate will be in for an onion caramel surprise.
These are also called baby onions or even button onions because of their small size. They look like shallots, except that pearly onions are true onions while shallots are somewhat a relative of onions. They’re small, too. Pearls have mild yet sweet flavors, except that it isn’t classified as a sweet onion. They are perfect for pickling, although folks love to use pearl onions in roasting their favorite slabs of meat or even whole chicken or turkey. The sweet juices that are left on the roasting pan can then be turned into a gravy to die for. The best part of pearl onions is that they’re so small, there’s no more need to have them chopped. They’re best used whole; just remember to peel them, of course.
These are not really onions, although a lot of folks call them as such. They are like cousins to the onions, usually smaller and with a slightly elongated body. Shallots are just like red onions, only smaller and their color is lighter than the maroon color of reds. The flesh is also lighter or paler than the purple flesh of red onions. Its taste is a lot closer to that of garlic than onion. Shallots are, thus, used in sauces, dressings, and even vinaigrettes. And if you’re into Asian cuisine, this relative of the onion family is a must-have, especially when preparing noodle dishes and curries. In the West, shallots are typically used as bedding for meat and poultry that are roasted in the oven, imparting its part-garlic, part-onion flavor into the meat.
These are otherwise known as green onions. Scallions have mild and sweet taste. They are a mainstay in many Asian dishes especially stir fries, ramen preparations, and even in grilled teriyaki meats. Scallions are also used to impart a different kind of freshness to braised or savory dishes, although it is best known as a garnish.
Some don’t consider leeks as a member of the onion family, but they are. In fact, it’s one of the most versatile onions available. It’s perfect for soups and stews. They are best known in combination with bacon. There is another onion that looks like a leek, but is more closely related to the scallion – the Welsh onion. It’s bigger than the scallion, but definitely looks like the leek.
There are other onion types you can find in the grocer. So far, these onions we shared here are what would be commonly used in many of the dishes we prepare in our kitchens and feast on in restaurants.