12 Onion Varieties (The Most Common Varieties of Onions)

Chopped white and red onions, close up shot.

How many different varieties of onions can you name? What are the different sorts of onions? Is it four or six? What about twenty-one?

Some onions are preferable for soups, such as French onion soup, while others with a higher sugar content can be eaten raw, and there’s even an onion that won’t make you cry.

We’re sure you included red onions, yellow onions, Spanish onions, and possibly even pearl onions in your list, but we’re confident you left some off. Onions are a member of the allium family, which also includes garlic and chives. They are versatile and offer the foundation for thousands of various meals, and there are numerous varieties. Even though they’re used in various dishes and cuisines, they’re still one of the most underappreciated ingredients on the grocery list, constantly present but sometimes forgotten.

Onions have vital therapeutic and nutritional properties, and they were even utilized in ancient times to combat cholera and the plague. Folic acid, dietary fiber, iron, potassium, sodium Vitamins A, B6, C, and E, and natural sugar are all found in onions. However, heat destroys some of these health benefits, so if you want to get the most out of your onion, you’ll have to consume it raw.

The main differences between onions are determined by the time of year and the location in which they are grown, which might affect their flavor. Spring onions, for example, are grown in warmer areas and have a sweeter, milder flavor.

Onions, garlic, leeks, and scallions are alliums that should be in every home cook’s pantry. Different types of onions can contribute great flavor to any recipe, whether they’re tucked into a quiche or caramelized and incorporated into Mac & cheese. Choosing the proper one for the job will help you obtain the best (and most delectable) outcomes. Here’s a quick guide to figuring out what each onion type has to offer.

Yellow Onions

Yellow onions on a bamboo basket.

If a recipe doesn’t mention the type of onion to use, a yellow onion is your best chance. A yellow onion is a common culinary onion. Unless I have a reason to reach for something else, I always reach for a yellow onion. Because it’s a long, steady heat, the yellows hold up incredibly well during the caramelizing process.

This is the onion I use the most, and for good reason: they’re not only the cheapest when purchased in bulk, but they’re also the most potent. When you bite into a raw yellow onion, the wasabi-like spice travels up your throat and out your nose, making your eyes water. If you like the discomfort, keep tasting until you detect a faintly sweet yogurt aroma.

After a long, steady sweat, their spice changes into syrupy sweetness, making them ideal for caramelized onions. They’re delicious baked into blooming’ onions, blended into fried rice, slow-cooked into a beef stew, or melted into chicken curry: they’re a true allium workhorse.

Sweet Onions

Vidalias, Walla Wallas, and Mauis are all popular sweet onions. The skin of these well-known types is pale yellow. They may appear white on the inside, but they are yellow. Sweet onions are a great choice if you want an onion that tastes great raw in salads, relishes, or cut as a garnish. They have a light onion flavor with a hint of sweetness that may be used in a variety of dishes. Our tried-and-true sweet onion recipes are sure to please.

Despite making your eyes tear up like no other, the sweet yellow onion is crunchy and gentle. Vidalia onions, for example, are delicious raw, cut up in tomato salads, or sliced on top of a burger in rings. Caramelize them if you want to add sweetness to a dish. These bad boys are also fantastic for onion rings.

The most popular sweet onion cultivars farmed in the United States are Vidalia from Georgia, Walla Walla from Washington, and Maui from Hawaii, which is only available seasonally. These kinds’ characteristic sweetness and near-zero spiciness are due to their high water content paired with minimal sulfur concentration.

These are meant to be eaten raw, like a fresh farmer’s market apple: crisp, juicy, and sweet as pure spring water; they’re as friendly and pleasant as they come. Slice them up for a watermelon salad, toss them in a cucumber salad with yogurt vinaigrette, or just cut them into wedges and dip each petal into creamy garlic hummus instead of pita chips.

Red Onions

Red onions on a rustic wooden background.

Because of their enticing deep-purple color, red onions are commonly used in salads, sandwiches, and other raw foods. Red onions, in particular, may have a pretty peppery, fiery flavor to them. From March through September, this variety is at its best. Red onions go nicely with greens like kale or arugula, which have similar strong flavors. Red onions are also good for pickling, grilling, and roasting.

When uncooked, these deep pinkish purple onions are aromatic, crisp, and peppery. They’re best diced and served raw in salads or as a burger garnish. If you like your red onions prepared, they absorb the taste of the balsamic vinegar well and are commonly used as a side dish or in soups. They’re also a key element in Chipotle’s famous guacamole, which is a little more flavorful than guacamole made with white onions.

Red onions are the most vibrant of the group, and they’re fantastic for adding visual interest to your meal. They’re delicious in ceviche and salads, as a crispy dressing over chili cheese dip or papdi chaat, pickled in a simple vinegar solution or lightly grilled for a veggie kebab. Their beautiful regal lavender hues become very subdued once cooked, so if color is important to you, stay away from the heat.

In terms of flavor, red onions are juicy but not as flavorful as you might expect, especially given their color. When eaten raw, there is a delayed spicy feeling in the mouth that occurs only after the mouthful has been swallowed.

White Onions

White onions, close up shot on a wooden background.

Grilling and Mexican meals are two things that come to mind when thinking of this ingredient. White onions are commonly found in prepared salads (potato and macaroni salads, for example) and are traditionally used in Mexican cuisine. White onions can be pungent, but they have a shorter aftertaste. Fresh salsas, guacamole, ceviche, and tacos benefit from their somewhat sweet flavor. They’re also typically offered with a platter of meat, pickle, and sides in barbecue restaurants. Try our easy caramelized onion technique.

White onions are crisp and light, with a strong flavor that can be eaten fresh. They’re a great addition to sandwiches and salads, as well as Mexican recipes like huevos rancheros. White onions provide flavor to guacamole, chutney, and salsa when minced up.

The exterior surface of the white onion has been coated with a clean smudge of green as you peel back the ethereally ghostly white papery skin. White onions have a nice flavor arc, with a fruity and sweet start that gives way to a somewhat astringent and bitter sense of spiciness when eaten raw, despite being far milder in terms of punchy spice factor than yellow onions. They have a similar crunch to red onions but are less crisp and have a rougher, more fibrous texture.

Their mild yet nuanced flavor works well in burger sauces uncooked or concentrated and cooked down in a classic French onion soup. This variety of onions can also be found in huevos, salsa, and guacamole, among other Mexican cuisines.

If the taste of any uncooked onion is too tough for you, slice or dice the onion before soaking it in a bowl of cold water for 15 to 30 minutes to remove some of the sulfur compounds.

Shallots

The flavor of shallots is mildly onion-like. This particular type is mostly used for salad dressings and sauces. These bulb-shaped alliums have a garlic-onion flavor to them. Shallots are used in vinaigrettes and sauces in French cooking, as well as on top of a steak. If you don’t have a shallot and need to make a substitution, another sort of onion should suffice. Some of our savory shallot dishes are worth a try.

Okay, we’re cheating a little because shallots aren’t truly onions, despite belonging to the allium family. Consider them to be onion cousins! These little, pale-purple veggies have a somewhat garlicky flavor and go nicely in vinaigrettes, dressings, and sauces, as well as curries and noodle dishes in Asian cuisine. Roasting whole birds or hunks of meat with shallots is also a good option.

Did you know that until 2010, shallots were classed as a separate species from the rest of the Allium cepa family? (It begs the question: who determines all these regulations? What distinguishes an onion from other vegetables?

Shallots are smaller than even the tiniest onion, with a golden-brown satiny exterior and cool purplish flesh. When eaten raw, they have a spicy caramel curve with a sweet and tangy taste, and when cooked, they’re incredibly aromatic. They’re delicious when minced and combined into vinaigrette sauce, thinly sliced in a pea and bacon salad, roasted with garlic and ginger, and fried into fragrant shallot chips, or cooked in coconut curry chicken to use as a garnish for anything.

Scallions

Scallions are ideal for cooking and garnishes in Asian and Mexican cuisines. Cooked or raw, these two-tone onions are delicious. Chinese and Mexican cuisines both use scallions. Scallions are used in stir-fries, soups, stews, and braised dishes in Chinese cuisine. Green onions, often known as scallions, have a milder flavor than ordinary onions. One of these scallion dishes will help you use up your scallions.

These tall, thin vegetables, often known as green onions, are sold in bunches. They are sweet and mild and can be eaten raw or cooked depending on the use. When diced, they can also be used as a garnish. They’re great in Asian meals like stir-fries, grilled teriyaki meats, ramen, or any savory or braised dish that could use a little more freshness. Scallion pancakes are a delectable dish from the Chinese culinary tradition!

Leeks

Although leeks resemble overgrown onions, they are very different plants. Another difference from scallions is that you don’t want to eat them uncooked. Rather, slice them into thin rings, cook them in soups or stir-fries, grill them, and serve them with pasta or grains. Leeks can be prepared in a variety of ways.

Onions from Maui

This sweet cultivar is related to Vidalias and is named after the Hawaiian island of Maui. These are juicy and watery, with a flavor that comes from Maui’s red volcanic soil. Raw in salads, relishes, or caramelized, they’re delicious. They’re also fantastic with poke and can be used like onion rings, marinated or grilled.

Pearl Onions

This sweet, mellow onion is ideal for pickling. Put them in your martini or Gibson drink (a savory variant of a martini) after they’ve been pickled for a special treat. Pearl onions can also be roasted or cooked whole in a stew, casserole, or gravy.

Ramps

Ramps are wild onions that have a short harvest season and are therefore more expensive than regular onions. They’re one of the first spring veggies to appear, and aficionados are rumored to have a “Gold Rush mindset” about snatching them up before they sell out. Ramps, which have a garlicky flavor, are popular in pesto and soups, but they’re also wonderful when simply grilled.

Onions Cipollini

Cipollini onions are small and disk-shaped, with a sweet flavor that makes them ideal for caramelizing. They can be roasted or sautéed with other vegetables like green beans for a delicious side dish.

Onions from Spain

Apart from their bigger size, Spanish onions seem exactly like yellow ones, with thick, golden yellow skins giving way to a green blush and creamy white flesh. They have a softer flavor than white onions, with no discernible spice, no true sweetness, and only a little bitterness to accompany the crunch.

Now that you’ve become an onion expert, the great news for the rest of us is that most of them are inexpensive and widely available. I challenge you to name a dish that does not use at least one of these!

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