The Best Types Of Onions To Cook With (And The Ones That Taste Great Raw)

What’s the difference between green onions and scallions (hint: nothing), plus everything you need to know about cooking with onions.

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Types of onions: pile of yellow onions

Yellow onions. Photo, iStock.

Onions are an essential, flavour-building ingredient in many dishes. They can add sweetness, bite, texture and aroma. With dozens of different onion varieties available — each with their own unique qualities — it can be difficult to know which ones to choose for a specific dish. This handy onion guide should change that.

Yellow onions

What are yellow onions?

Yellow onions (also known as cooking or Spanish onions) are one of the most popular choices for cooking thanks to their strong, sweet flavour. They have light-yellow flesh with golden skin, and can range in size from 5-to-10 centimetres in diameter.

How to store yellow onions

Keep yellow onions stored in a cool, dark place. Cut onions should be stored in an air-tight container or wrapped in plastic and kept in the fridge.

How to cook with yellow onions

Yellow onions are perfect for stews, soups, barbecues, roasts and sauces. Avoid eating them raw as they have a strong flavour. Try our slow-cooker French onion soup recipe for a delicious onion-filled dish.

Bowl of French onion soup

Slow-cooker French onion soup. Photo, Roberto Caruso.

White onions

What are white onions?

Often confused with yellow onions, white onions are a tad sweeter and milder in flavour. They have white flesh and white papery skin, and are slightly bigger than yellow onions.

How to store white onions

Store them the same way you’d store yellow onions — in a cool, dark place.

How to cook with white onions

Their mild flavour means you can eat them raw in salads, sandwiches, and wraps.

Red onions

What are red onions?

With a beautiful purple flesh encased in dark maroon skin, red onions have a bold and spicy taste when raw, and a sweet flavour when cooked.

How to store red onions

In a cool, dark place.

How to cook with red onions

They’re commonly used for pickling, in tacos, on pizza or in a chopped salad or salsa. Our quick-pickled red onion recipe lets them shine.

Quick-pickled red onions in tacos.

Quick pickled red onions. Photo, Sian Richards.

Sweet onions

What are sweet onions

They look similar to yellow and white onions, but slightly flatter. They lack the signature onion bite and taste much sweeter than other varieties. There are many different types of sweet onions, but the Vidalia is the most common.

How to store sweet onions

Sweet onions are more perishable than other onions and should be stored in the refrigerator right away. Wrap each separately in a paper towel to lengthen their lifespan.

How to cook with sweet onions

They’re great raw in salads or on sandwiches. Caramelize them for a rich and sweet taste, which makes them perfect for adding to dishes like mashed potatoes.

Pearl onions

What are pearl onions?

Pearl onions can be yellow, red or white, with white being the most common variety. They look just like regular cooking onions, except smaller, about the size of a gumball. Find them sold in bags in your grocery store.

How to store pearl onions

In a cool, dark place.

How to cook with pearl onions

These are a great option for pickling due to their size and flavour. Or, step up your roasted potatoes by adding in pearl onions.

Bunch of green onions

Green onions. Photo, iStock.

Green Onions

What are green onions?

Green onions (also known as scallions) are long and thin, typically no wider than a finger, and are bright white at the bottom with dark green tops. They taste different than most onions as they’re mild, and not very pungent. One of their stand-out features is their crunchy texture.

How to store green onions

Place green onions in a jar with water just covering the roots and store on the counter. Not only will they stay fresh, but they’ll continue to grow.

How to cook with green onions

Eat them raw and let their mild flavour and crunchy texture take your dishes to new heights. They’re perfect for stir fries or on nachos, and even grilled in our halloumi and sweet potato skewers recipe.

Shallots

What are shallots?

Shallots have slightly less bite than yellow onions, with a hint of garlic flavour. They’re available in a range of shapes and sizes, but the most common are small, slender, and lighter in colour. You may also be able to find red shallots.

How to store shallots

Store them in a cool, dark place to last for up to a month.

How to cook with shallots

Shallots work raw and cooked. Try replacing white or yellow onions with shallots in any recipe for a new flavour. This Thai chicken salad recipe topped with crispy fried shallots is perfect for dinner.

Caramelized onion dip with crispy shallots.

Caramelized onion dip with sweet onions and crispy shallots. Photo, Roberto Caruso.

 

 

Spring onions

What are spring onions?

Spring onions are actually just yellow, red and white onions that are picked earlier in the growing season, which gives them a milder flavour. They look similar to green onions, with white bottoms and dark green tops, but with a bulb at the bottom.

How to store spring onions

Keep spring onions sealed in a plastic bag in your fridge to stay fresh for a couple of weeks.

How to cook with spring onions

They work raw and in cooked meals. For an easy, seasonal side, try lightly drizzling your spring onions with oil and grill them until slightly charred.

Leeks

What are leeks?

Leeks look like large, thick green onions. The white portion is sweet, while the upper green portion is used for flavouring stocks and soups and is best not eaten.

How to store leeks?

Wrap leeks in a damp paper towel and keep them in your fridge.

How to cook with leeks?

They are tough to eat raw, but when cooked, they offer an amazing flavour and texture. Use the white portion when roasting vegetables, in quiche, soups and stews. The green portion is best used to flavour broths and stocks. They’re yummy in this chicken and leek pie recipe.

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