Onions are essential to delicious-tasting food. They add incredible flavor, and can either be sweet or savory. Grilled, caramelized, deep-fried or thinly sliced, the onion is an extremely versatile allium. (This family also includes garlic and chives!)
The problem for many home cooks? There are so many different types of onions that deciding which one is best to use can be tricky. Which onions are the spiciest? Which are the best raw? Which are the kinds you put in martinis?
These are all excellent questions that we’re going to finally put to rest! Here are 10 different types of onions and how best to use them in your cooking:
Shallots are not actually onions, although they are from the allium family. Think of them like onion cousins! These small, pale-purple vegetables offer a slightly garlicky flavor and are used vinaigrettes, dressings and sauces, as well as in Asian dishes such as curries and noodle dishes. Shallots are also ideal when roasted under whole chickens or hunks of meat.
Also known as green onions, these long, thin veggies are sold in bunches. Sweet and mild, they can be left raw or cooked, depending on the usage, and can also be used as a garnish when chopped. They are best used in Asian dishes, such as stir fries, grilled teriyaki meats, ramen or any savory or braised dish that needs a hint of freshness to it. Scallion pancakes are also a tasty meal!
The sweet onion is crispy and mild, despite making your eyes tear up like none other. Vidalia onions, for example, are great raw, chopped up in tomato salads or in rings on your burger. If you’re looking to add sweetness to a dish, caramelize them. These bad boys are also ideal for making onion rings.
Leeks may look like overgrown scallions, but they’re totally different plants. Another way they’re unlike scallions: you don’t want eat them raw. Rather, cook them down in soups or in a stir fry, or grill them, or sautee them and add them to pasta or grains. There are a lot of ways to cook with leeks!
This sweet variety is similar to Vidalias and hails from the Hawaiian island of Maui — hence the name. They are water-filled and juicy, garnering their flavor from Maui’s red volcanic soil. They taste great raw in salads, relishes or caramelized. They can also be used as onion rings, marinated or grilled, and they’re great with poké.
This mild, sweet onion is excellent for pickling. After they’re pickled, place them in your martini or Gibson cocktail (a more savory version of a martini) for a treat. Pearl onions also good for roasting or added whole to a stew, casserole or gravy as it cooks.
Ramps are wild onions with a very short harvest season, making them more costly than other onions. They are one of the earliest vegetables to pop up at the beginning of spring and fans have “a Gold Rush mentality” about scooping them up before they sell out. With a garlicky taste, ramps are popular choices for pesto and soups, but are also delicious when simply grilled.
Crisp, mild white onions have a sharp taste, but can be eaten raw. They’re a solid choice to top your sandwich or salads, or to garnish Mexican dishes, such as huevos rancheros. White onions are also flavorful when chopped up in guacamole, chutney or salsa.
These deep magenta-colored onions are pungent, crunchy and deliver a spicy kick when raw. They’re best when chopped and added raw to salads or garnishing burgers. If you would prefer your red onions cooked, they pick up balsamic flavor well and are popular as a side dish or in soups.
Now that you’re an expert on onion varieties, the good news for us all is that most are cheap and ubiquitous. I dare you to find a cuisine that doesn’t use them!