If you find yourself confused with all of the onion options when you’re at the grocery store, you’re not alone.
There are many varieties available, but not all onions are the same. They have different flavors and uses, depending on the recipe you’re cooking.
Understanding the differences in onions goes a long way with helping you make the best choice about which type to buy. The following provides some basic information about types of onions, flavors, uses, and storage.
Yellow onions are also called “Spanish onions” and are flavorful and easily used in most recipes, including roasting, caramelizing and, of course, in French onion soup. These come in a brown skin or yellow skin variety.
Red onions are a solid choice when you’re looking for a fresh or uncooked application, such as topping a burger or sandwich, or as part of a salad. This type of onion has less sugar then a yellow onion, as well as healthy antioxidants.
White onions are crunchy and flavorful, contain anti-inflammatory properties, and are wonderful for pizza or Mexican dishes. When sautéed, they turn a golden color and develop a nice sweetness.
Sweet onions are also commonly called Vidalia onions or Walla Walla and are, as the name implies, sweeter than other varieties. They are flatter than other onions, and typically, the flatter the onion, the sweeter the flavor.
Boiler or pickling onions are much smaller in size because they’re harvested and picked at a younger age. As their name states, they’re the perfect size for boiling or pickling. Similarly, pearl onions are smaller yet, and used in many recipes.
Green onions or scallions are different in appearance than most other onions, as they’re tall and green, with white ends. They’re more mild in flavor and work well in guacamole or Chinese dishes, as well as in salads. They’re also 100% edible.
Shallots are another smaller onion that are sweet and mild and are perfect when diced and added to salads, dressings, and other dishes.
In terms of picking out the best onions in the supermarket, a bulb onion should be firm when squeezed, solid, and heavy in weight, indicating it hasn’t dried out. The skin should be free from cuts, bruises or mold. With green onions, make sure the rubber band holding them together is clean and free of debris with the tips white and the green end looking fresh, free of yellowing or slime.
In terms of storage, SeriousEats.com recommends a cool and dark area to extend the life of onions, noting: “If you plan on using your bulb onions within a few weeks, they can be stored at cool room temperatures in a dark place: an open basket or a bamboo steamer in a cooler part of the kitchen works. If you plan on storing them longer, wrap them individually in paper towels or place them in a breathable vegetable storage bag and keep them in the refrigerator. Cut or peeled onions can be stored, wrapped in plastic, in the refrigerator for only a few days before they go mushy.”