All About Onions

Have you ever been to the supermarket and stood there wondering which onion to buy? … or maybe they’re out of exactly what your recipe calls for… and you stood there wondering what a good substitution would be?

Nowadays supermarkets do not employ knowledgeable staff like the green grocers of the past…. and you are left on your own to figure it all out.

Sometimes the differences between varieties can make a huge difference in the flavors of the foods you cook… and sometimes not… this post will provide you with the information to answer that question.

I hope you find this helpful.

Onions come in three colors…yellow, red and white. Most of the crops are devoted to growing the yellow onion… so naturally they are the most readily available.

I also included in this onion information shallots, green onions and chives… while technically not included in this group… for cooking purposes they are certainly related.

Onions come in a wide range of sizes, from less than one inch in diameter to more than four and a half inches in diameter. The most commonly sold size in the United States is the medium sized onion which is about 2-3 inches in diameter.

Yellow onions are full-flavored and are a reliable standby for cooking almost anything. Yellow onions turn a rich, dark brown when cooked. This type includes the sweet onion varieties and the “regular” yellow storage onions.

Sweet Onions are grown in a number of places … and are available year round. The varieties include Vidalia, Texas Sweet, Sweet Imperial, Walla Walla, Maui and OSO Sweet. Sweet onions have a thinner, lighter color skin than yellow storage onions and they tend to bruise easier.

Red onions are a good choice for fresh uses or in grilling and char-broiling.

White onions are the traditional onion used in classic Mexican Cuisine. When sautéed, the white onion becomes golden in color and has a sweet flavor. They have a milder, sweeter flavor than yellow storage onions.

The small white onions are known as creamers or boilers, as they are usually used in making creamed onions and are also frequently boiled and served by themselves or with other foods such as another vegetable (for example peas).

Shallots are really a relative of the onion, it tastes like an onion but has a milder, sweeter flavor. They’re used in many recipes, particularly French recipes and are favored by chefs for their sweet but strong flavor.

Chives are part of the onion family and are native to Europe, Asia and North America. They appear as thin green straws and impart a wonderfully light onion flavor. Chives are currently featured under our Herb Garden section in the right column, go there for more information about them.

Scallions are also known as spring onions, green onions and salad onions. Diced scallions are often used in soup, noodle and seafood dishes…. They are found in Asian dishes and western cookery.


Store onions in a cool, dry, ventilated place (not the refrigerator). Do not store whole onions in plastic bags, the lack of air movement reduces the storage life. Chopped or sliced onions can be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 7 days.

Little Handy Bits of Information

To remove the smell of onions from your hands, rub them with lemon juice.

High heat makes onions taste bitter. When sautéing onions, use low or medium heat.

One medium onion yields about one cup chopped onion.

Nifty Onion Trivia
Ancient Egyptian leaders took an oath of office with their right hand on an onion.

Onions grew in Chinese gardens as early as 5,000 years ago and they are referred to in some of the oldest writings from India.

In America, the first Pilgrims brought onions with them on the Mayflower, and onions were part of the first Thanksgiving dinner.

The National Onion Association

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