Article by Dana Beninati for Food Network Kitchen
Dana is a host, chef and sommelier.
Undoubtedly the most commonly used vegetable, the humble onion is easy to cook and has a strong flavor that works both raw and cooked. For many recipes, the type of onion doesn’t matter, as evidenced by our favorite French Onion Soup. But sometimes, onions make all the difference. Here’s our rule of thumb: Use raw white onions, yellow onions for cooking, and red onions for pickling or grilling. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Before we get into the many layers of the onion family, we have to peel back their papery outer skin, which is what differentiates most categories. Read on to learn the differences and how to best use each onion.
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What are white onions?and how to use them
White onions are our favorite raw food because they have a pleasant, but less stringent taste than yellow onions. They can be identified by their papery white skin that peels off easily.
Uses: If you’re making salads, mixing salsa, or topping burgers, white onions are perfect because they have a shorter aftertaste. In other words, their flavor doesn’t linger on your palate like other onions. If you want to tame their flavor, you can slice them and soak them in cold water for an hour before using them.
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What are yellow onions?and how to use them
Yellow onions are the most widely sold category of onions in the United States. Their pungent layer is covered with a brownish-yellow skin thicker than that of white onions.
Uses: They are our go-to choice for cooking dishes because their flavor and texture hold up well to heat. In fact, their sweetness intensifies with longer cooking time, making them ideal for classic dishes like French onion dip or caramelized onions. We avoid yellow onions in lettuce as their natural flavor can be pungent and overwhelming.
What are Spanish Onions?
It’s easy to be an old faithful to the onion family, Spanish onions can be yellow or white.
Uses: They are large and firm enough for cooking. When a recipe calls for Spanish onions, either white or yellow onions will work.
What are red onions?and how to use them
The pungent red onions are known for their intense flavor and intense color.
Uses: Their characteristic color darkens once cooked and may discolor other ingredients, which is why we like to use them for marinades. But red onions do deserve attention when grilled, with their charred exterior and creamy interior. White and yellow onions pale in comparison on the grill, where they often burn on the outside and become mushy on the inside.
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What are sweet onions?and how to use them
Sweet onions, also known for their growing regions, Vidalia, Georgia, and Walla Walla, Washington, are the state vegetables of their respective states. And with good reason—their reputation makes them a go-to source for onion flavor without any intense rigor. They have a flattened shape and a shorter growing season, or only April to August, so enjoy them while they are available.
Uses: While they are similar in texture to stored onions, they have a noticeably sweeter flavor, making them a great addition to neutral ingredients like eggs. Try them in a Southern favorite, the Vidalia Onion Pie, and avoid them when caramelizing, as they can become overly sweet.
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What are shallots?and how to use them
Shallots, often mistaken for scallions, are small onions that are picked before the bulbs are fully formed or swollen. As the name suggests, these onions are highly seasonal and easy to find between March and August.
Uses: When you get some, just rub with olive oil, salt and pepper and bake at 400 degrees until caramelized.
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What are scallions?and how to use them
Green onions, also known as scallions, have an herbaceous flavor. They have a milder flavor and softer texture than their larger cousins above. So much so that they can be easily sliced with a pair of kitchen shears.
Uses: Served raw as a garnish, chopped scallions are an easy way to brighten up any savory dish. We also like to chop them into chunks for a quick stir-fry, or throw them whole on the grill for a summer grilling treat.
How to Store Onions
All stored onions (white, yellow and red) are dried before being sold. This is why they can last for a long time at home if stored properly. Store them in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place, such as a pantry, basement, or even garage. Avoid storing onions with potatoes as they will spoil faster. Did you know pantyhose can be used to store onions? Put the onion in the pantyhose and knot before adding another. Repeat before hanging the onion “string”. Stored this way, onions will last for over a month.
Store sweet onions in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator, individually wrapped in paper towels. When stored this way, they keep for several months.
Green onions must be stored in the refrigerator, preferably in a perforated bag. They should be used within 4 days.
Green onions are softer than white, yellow and red ones. Store them in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 weeks.
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