When used properly, onions can add a depth and richness to many savory dishes. However, when used wrong (or too much) they can be overpowering and just downright gross. So, the first step to cooking with onions properly is understanding what the main types of onions are, and how to use them.
In this article, we’re going to go over the six basic kinds of onions: red, white, yellow, green, and vidalia. Shallots, leeks, and young onions are also commonly used in recipes, but they are usually a little harder to find in the United States, so we’re not going to really delve into that. Here is a brief overview of the 5 most common onions:
These purplish onions are the best onions to eat raw and are often seen in sandwiches and on burgers. They are crisp and a little sweet when cooked, but have an aftertaste and usually result in less onion breath.
These sweet onions are the mildest of the bulb onions and are usually eaten raw. They have a robust flavor and a surprising sweetness when cooked. They are often used for onion rings due to the sweetness.
Also called scallions, these mild onions are small and mild. Many people chop the green stalks and add them to dishes as a garnish. They are also good for flash cooking dishes, like stir fry. Mostly, they are eaten raw, and usually it’s only the green stalk, not the bulb, which is eaten.
Easily the most common onion in the United States, the yellow onion is hardier and better for slow cooking recipes and the like, although they also caramelize well. Yellow onions have a robust flavor and are a good middle ground if you don’t know what kind of onion to use. Unlike Vidalia, they are not really sweet and likely is the taste most people associate with onions.
Although you can substitute white onions for yellow in dishes, they don’t hold up quite as well. White onions have a very sharp flavor and are crispy when raw. It’s common to see them diced in dishes and also caramelized. White onions are some of the most likely to make you cry when you cut them.