Onions have flavors that range from pungent to sweet, and multiple steps in-between. By knowing the differences in common onions, you can better choose which onion to select for the dishes you are whipping up.
White: White onions are the most pungent of the onion varieties, producing that strong scent that makes you stand up and take notice. Raw, they have a powerful flavor that is usually essential to producing the desired effect. Consider the diced white onions on a hot dog or in fresh salsa. When cooked, they lose some of their pungency and their sweeter side tends to come out. Don’t be afraid to sauté them in olive oil or butter before adding to a dish to cut the pungency.
Yellow: Yellow onions are a staple in many people’s households due to their availability year-round, making them an affordable onion option. They are typically very firm, easy to chop, and a safe choice when a recipe calls for “onion” without specifying type.
Red or Purple Onions: Red or purple onions not only provide a great flavor, but they offer their wonderful color to the dishes they accompany. Doesn’t a hamburger look prettier with a red onion than a white onion? The color may seem like a great addition to a cooked dish, but note that red onions do lose their color as they cook. Save some raw red strands for garnish on dishes. Red onions tend to be milder than white onions, but can still be pungent. Here’s a great peach salsa recipe using red onion from Knead to Cook.
Scallions (aka Green Onions): These mild flavored young onions with very small or no bulb are a great ingredient and also a great garnish. Sprinkle some on top of your next clear broth-based soup for a refreshing crunch.
Sweet: My personal favorite is the Vidalia onion simply because of their sweet taste and reminder of Georgia, where I was born (and where these onions originate in Vidalia, GA). You could say I had a love of Vidalia’s from an early age. Story has it that I somehow got into the refrigerator and ate half of one like an apple until my mom found me. There are other varieties of sweet onions, including Walla Walla from Washington, Sweetie Sweets from Nevada, and Imperial Valley Sweets from California. Here’s a personal favorite combo: sweet & Sour Vidalia onions and cucumbers from the Vidalia Onion Committee.
What’s your favorite type of onion?