Onion Facts & Tips
Here are some simple tips for buying and storing "sweets."
The bigger and firmer the onion, the easier it will be to cut.
Always start with a sharp knife—a dull knife can slip and will mash rather than slice through the onion.
Use a chef’s knife, if you have one, rather than a serrated knife, for cleaner cuts.
Be sure your cutting board is positioned securely on the counter. If necessary, place a damp kitchen towel underneath to keep the board from sliding around.
If cutting onions ahead of time, pack them in a plastic zipper-lock freezer bag, squeezing all the air out, then enclose in a second plastic zipper-lock freezer bag, and refrigerate, to keep everything in your fridge from tasting like onions.
Use pre-cut onions within 2 days.
Save onion trimmings, including the papery brown skin—for golden color, store in a well-sealed plastic zipper-lock freezer bag in your freezer and add to soup stock.
Look for sweet onions that are light golden-brown in color, with a shiny tissue-thin skin and firm, tight, dry necks. (Ordinary storage onions are darker and have a thicker skin.) When cut into, sweet onions should have a creamy white interior. Avoid onions that have soft spots or surface bruises.
Because sweet onions are high in water and sugar content they require more care when storing, so treat them gently to avoid bruising. Store away from potatoes because they'll absorb water. Generally, sweet onions will keep for 4-6 weeks or longer. Cut onions should be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerated. Favorite ways to store "sweets":
In the refrigerator: Store in a single layer in the vegetable bin on paper towels. Or, for longer storage, wrap in foil.
In pantyhose: Take a leg from a pair of clean, sheer pantyhose, drop an onion into the foot, tie a knot and repeat as necessary. Hang in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area. Cut above the knot when ready to use.
On racks or screens: Place on elevated racks or screens, not touching, in a cool area.
In the freezer: For long-term storage, sweet onions can be frozen, but their texture changes so they should be used only for cooking. Chop and place on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer. When frozen, store in freezer containers or bags. To store whole onions, peel, wash, core and freeze in a freezer-proof container or bag.
Drying: Chop and dry in the oven, using the lowest setting. Remove when thoroughly dry but not brown. Store at room temperature in airtight containers.
Baby Onion -See Pearl Onion.
Bermuda Onion -A big onion with a mild flavor and white flesh. Bermuda onions are believed to be of Italian origin.
Boiling Onion -A small thin-skinned onion that is good for stew recipes.
Brown Onion -The British name for a yellow onion.
Button Onion -See Pearl Onion.
Cipollini -A rich, sweet, flying saucer shaped onion from Italy.
Cocktail Onion -The smallest onion variety available. These little onions are sold pickled in vinegar and they have a sweet, white flesh.
Egyptian Onion -Also known as top onions, tree onions, walking onions or winter onions, these onions are very strong flavored. Their green stalks are also edible.
Fresh Onion -Also known as spring or summer onions, these onions come in yellow, white or red varieties. They are available between March and August and have thin, light colored skin. They are sweet and mild because of their high water content. This high water content also makes them susceptible to bruising. Fresh onions have a delicate flavor, which is suited to salads and lightly cooked recipes.
Green Onion -These small, young onions are harvested when their shoots are still green. They can be chopped and used as a topping or an ingredient. Green onions are used interchangeably with scallions, which are another variety of green onion.
Leeks -The leek is a mild flavored, pale green and white member of the onion family. The edible part of the leek, also known as the stalk or stem, is a bundle of leaf sheaths. Leek should be fried, because boiling makes them mushy. They can also be eaten raw or used to make leek soup. Their flavor can be compared to a cross between onion and cucumber. Wild leeks are very different and their pungent taste is like onions and garlic together. You can use wild leeks in the place of onion and garlic in a recipe.
Maui Onion -These sweet, juicy onions have a golden yellow skin. They are grown on the Island of Maui, Hawaii, and have a high water content. Maui onions can weigh between ½ lb and ¾ lb and they are shaped like flattened globes. They are available from April to June, making them the earliest sweet onions available. Maui onions make great onion rings.
Pearl Onion -Also known as baby onions or button onions, pearl onions are a variety of tree onion, often used for pickling as cocktail onions. Pearl onions are also used in recipes like succotash and onion relish because of their sweet, mild flavor and their attractive, diminutive size.
Pickling Onion -Main crop onions that are picked when they are still young. Pickling onions have a pungent, strong flavor and are only available in the fall. They are pickled in malt vinegar.
Purple Onion -See Red Onion.
Red Onion -Also known as purple onions, this variety has a purplish red skin and white flesh tinged with purple. Red onions are mild to sweet in flavor and grow quite big. They are often eaten raw in salads but they can be cooked and added to other recipes. The flesh loses its purplish color when the onion is cooked.
Redwing Onion -A tasty variety of red onion.
Salad Onion -See Scallion.
Scallion -Also known as, spring onion, salad onion, or green onion, scallions are milder than other onions and are often used in Asian recipes and salad recipes amongst others. Diced scallions are often used in seafood dishes, noodle dishes, and soup recipes. They are also used in Eastern sauces.
Shallot -A sweeter, milder relative of the onion. Shallots have a delicate, mild flavor and grow in the same way as garlic, in that you might find two or three held together at the root when you peel one. Because shallots are much milder than onions, if a recipe calls for shallots that is what you should use.
Silverskin Onion -A very small variety of white onion, which is pickled in malt vinegar.
Southport Red Globe -A sweet red onion with a purple tinted flesh.
Spanish Onion -These come in yellow, white, and red. Yellow onions are renowned for giving French onion soup its distinctive sweet and tangy flavor. Red onions are good for char-grilling. White onion are used in Mexican cookery and they become very sweet when sautéed.
Spring Onion -See Scallion.
Storage Onion -Also known as fall or winter onions, storage onions are available between August and April. They come in red, white, and yellow and have dark, papery skin in multiple layers. Storage onions have a low water content and an intense flavor. They are a good choice for savory dishes requiring a strong flavor and recipes with long cooking times.
Super Sweet Onion -Very mild onions from Texas, which are crunchy and delicately flavored. Super sweet onions, also known as Supasweet onions, are famous for being "tear-free" and are eaten raw in salsas, sandwiches, and salads. They are available from March to August.
Sweet Onion -A sweet onion is any onion that is not pungent. There are different sweet onion varieties and sweet onions have a higher water content and a much lower sulfur content than other onion types, which is what makes them sweet.
Top Onion -See Egyptian Onion.
Tree Onion -See Egyptian Onion.
Vidalia Onion -Also known as Yellow Granax, this onion is named for its growing location in Georgia. Other notable sweet onions include the Walla Walla, the Sweet Imperial, and the Spring Sweet. Vidalia onions are often used in salads, in onion soup and in any dish where a sweet onion flavor is preferred over a pungent taste.
Walking Onion - See Egyptian Onion.
Walla Walla Sweet -A sweet flavored onion with a white flesh, named for its growing location in Washington.
Welsh Onion -This onion, which tastes like a yellow onion, is not actually native to Wales. Welsh onions are especially popular in Asian, Russian, and Vietnamese cuisine. Welsh onions are often grown as ornamental plant. Small ones resemble chives and big ones resemble leeks.
White Onion -An onion with a white skin and a strong tasting white flesh. White onions feature frequently in Mexican recipes. They can be sautéed to a deep brown color, making them ideal for French onion soup, and they are great for giving a sweet and sour flavor to other ingredients.
Wild Onion -Any species of onion growing wild rather than cultivated.
Winter Onion -See Egyptian Onion.
Yellow Onion -The most common type of onion, yellow onions have a brown skin and white flesh. Often known as brown onions in Britain, yellow onions have a pungent flavor and are suitable for many different recipes.
Yellow Granax -See Vidalia Onion.
If you are making a salad recipe, try white onions for flavor, red onions for appearance, or green onions. If you are making something, which would be better with sweet onions, Vidalia onions, Super Sweet onions, or Maui onions are good options. For French onion soup, you can either choose your favorite onion to use or combine two varieties for a tasty result. Recipes, which just say "onions" usually, mean the brown-skinned, rich flavored yellow onions, which are the most common variety. If you are making beef broth or a beef stew, yellow onions are strong enough to hold their own, when mixed with the other ingredients. Organic onions have an especially strong flavor so if you are using those, you might need less.
Vidalia onions are sweet and flavorful. You can use them to make French onion soup if you want a sweeter flavor, rather than a strong one. Caramelizing onions makes them even sweeter so, if you are following a French onion soup recipe which does not expressly call for sweet onions, don't add any sugar or sweet wine to the soup, else it might come out too sweet. Vidalia onions can also be used in salads, sandwiches or in Asian dishes where a sweet flavor is desirable.
Green onions are more versatile than you might think and they are more than a simple salad garnish. Finely sliced, green onions are often used in Chinese and Japanese soup recipes. They have a similar flavor to yellow onions but their small shape makes them attractive in clear dishes like consommé. Both the bulb and green stem of the green onion can be used in recipes and you can even add a few chopped green onions to French onion soup, for an unusual flavor.
Red onions are not as common as yellow onions but you can substitute them in a lot of onion recipes. There are lots of onion soup recipes where you can use red onions. The red color usually disappears when these onions are cooked. Red onions are popular in salad dishes because of their attractive color. They can also be used to make salsas and chutneys. Combining red onions and yellow onions in a French onion soup recipe gives a pleasing flavor. Combining red onions and white onions tastes good too.
White onions go mahogany brown when you sauté them, which makes them really good for recipes like French onion soup. There are plenty of easy French onion soup recipes you can make with white onions. They have a strong flavor and are often used in Mexican dishes. White onions make really tasty onion rings and they have a natural sweet and sour flavor, making them a favorite in Asian dishes. You can also use them in salad recipes and sandwiches. White onions are completely white, including the skin.
Yellow onions, which are sometimes referred to as brown onions in the UK, can be used in pretty much any dish, which calls for onions. If you are following a recipe and it simply says onions instead of a specific type, use yellow onions. Yellow onions are frequently used to make French onion soup because they caramelize well and have a rich, strong, and delicious flavor. Yellow onions can be stored for longer than red or white onions too, making them a great vegetable to grow or to buy in bulk.