If there’s one food that’s a staple in almost every cuisine, it’s onions. They can be grown almost anywhere, last a long time in storage, and are inexpensive, making onions a common pantry ingredient around the world.
Despite the ubiquity of onions, most people cook with just a single kind – yellow onions. However, if you count heirloom varieties, there’s dozens of different types, each with their own flavor, texture and best way of cooking. If you’re flummoxed with what type of onion to choose, check out this guide for how to cook every type of onion.
Leeks look like large scallions, but have a totally different taste and texture. Sweet with a mild onion flavor, fibrous leeks need to be cooked before eating. Sautéed over moderate heat with butter or olive oil, they almost melt in your mouth. Only use the white and pale green parts and compost the rest. Their flavor shines through in pureed soups, like this vegan asparagus, leek and hemp seed soup.
These miniature onions taste like milder, sweeter versions of regular onions. They can be a pain to peel, so look for frozen pearl onions. Show off their cuteness and use pearl onions in dishes where they’re left whole, like this vegan beet bourguignon.
If you live in an area where ramps grow wild, then you know everyone goes crazy for them each spring when they’re in season. Ramps look like scallions, but with broad, flat leaves. They taste like a cross between onions and garlic. Check out this post from Luvo’s archives for links to inspired recipes using ramps.
When raw, red onions have a spicier flavor than yellow onions, but they taste more mild and less sweet when cooked. I like to use red onions raw, where you can take advantage of their crunch and spice. Or make quick pickled red onions, which are delicious mixed into salads or in tacos.
Mild and juicy scallions have a great texture and can be used raw or cooked. If using scallions raw, they work best as a garnish or blended into salad dressing for a light, but not overpowering, onion flavor. To cook scallions, throw them on the grill or into an Asian stir fry.
Shallots are smaller than regular onions with a stronger, sweeter and more complex flavor with hints of garlic. They’re commonly used in French and Asian cuisine, especially Indian and Southeast Asian. In my opinion, shallots are the most versatile and delicious onion to cook with. Enjoy them raw, finely minced into a salad dressing or thinly sliced over avocado toast, or cook them. They’re delicious fried up and served as a garnish, or caramelized and used to flavor vegetable sides.
Sweet and mild Vidalia onions are named after the town of Vidalia, Georgia, where they’re grown. If you can’t cut onions without waterworks, try Vidalias, which contain smaller amounts of pyruvic acid, the substance that makes you cry. Vidalia’s are best enjoyed raw (perhaps a few slices on a tomato sandwich?), or caramelized, which brings out their natural sweetness. Try this recipe for grilled peach and Vidalia salsa.
Very similar in taste and appearance to the popular yellow onions, white onions are slightly crisper with a milder flavor. While white onions can be used in place of yellow onions in any recipe, they’re best enjoyed raw scattered over Latin American dishes – think finely chopped white onions in a pico de gallo, sprinkled over refried beans or thin slices folded into braised pork tacos.
The ubiquitous yellow onion has a sharp bite when raw, but cooking brings out it’s sweetness. Consider yellow onions your all purpose onion, as they can be used in almost every onion application!
What is your favorite onion to cook with? Let us know in the comments section!
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