Different Types of Onions: A Guide to Onion Varieties


Onions are one of the most popular and versatile vegetables in the culinary world. They come in various types and forms, each with its own unique taste and culinary uses. For instance, the yellow onion is the most common and mildest variety, perfect for forming the base of many recipes. On the other hand, the white onion has a delicate and sweeter flavor, making it a favorite for Italian-style dishes.

If you’re looking for a milder flavor, the spring onion or scallion is a great choice. This variety is harvested earlier in its life cycle and has a more delicate taste compared to larger bulb onions. Spring onions are often used in salads, soups, and stir-fries, adding a pop of oniony freshness.

For those who love a touch of heat and flavor, the purple onion and shallots are excellent options. The purple onion, also known as the red onion, has a slightly sweeter and spicier taste, making it a preferred choice for pickling. Shallots, on the other hand, have a milder and more subtle flavor, perfect for sauces and dressings.

Another popular variety is the leek, known for its long stalks and subtle onion flavor. Leeks are often used in French cuisine, adding a hint of sweetness to dishes like soups and quiches. They are also great for grilling or roasting.

One variety that has gained popularity in recent years is the ramp, also known as wild leek. Ramps have a strong onion and garlic flavor, and their leaves and bulbs are both used in cooking. They are highly seasonal and can be found in the spring, mostly in the northeastern regions of the United States.

Regardless of the variety you choose, onions are a versatile ingredient that adds depth and flavor to countless recipes. Whether you’re making a simple sandwich or a complex pie, there’s an onion variety that will suit your culinary needs. So next time you’re at the store, don’t overlook the humble onion – it has the power to elevate your dishes and satisfy your taste buds.

“The onion is the truffle of the poor.” – Alexandre Dumas

Onions are a versatile ingredient that adds flavor and depth to a wide variety of dishes. They come in various shapes, sizes, and colors, each with its own unique characteristics. Here, we will explore some of the most popular types of onions and explain their differences.

1. Yellow Onions

Yellow onions are the most common and widely used variety. They have a strong, pungent flavor and a rich, brownish-yellow skin. These onions are great for cooking and are often used as a base for soups, stews, and sauces. They are also the best choice for caramelizing, as their high sugar content lends a deep, sweet flavor to dishes.

2. Red Onions

Red onions have a vibrant, reddish-purple skin and a milder, sweeter flavor compared to yellow onions. They are often used raw in salads, sandwiches, and salsas, as their color adds a pop of brightness to dishes. Red onions are also a popular choice for grilling or roasting, as their delicate flavor holds up well to heat.

3. White Onions

White onions have a mild, slightly sweet flavor and a thin, papery white skin. They are commonly used in Mexican and Latin American cuisine, where their crisp texture and delicate flavor are appreciated. White onions are often added to salsas, guacamole, and other dishes that require a milder onion taste.

4. Shallots

Shallots are small, elongated onions that have a purple-brown skin and a mild, delicate flavor. They are a staple in French cooking and are often used in vinaigrettes, sauces, and soups. Shallots add a subtle sweetness and depth of flavor to dishes without overpowering other ingredients.

5. Sweet Onions

Sweet onions, such as Walla Walla or Vidalia onions, have a high water and sugar content, which gives them a mild, sweet flavor. These onions are perfect for eating raw in salads, on sandwiches, or simply sliced and enjoyed on their own. They can also be used in a variety of cooked dishes, including pies, quiches, and stir-fries.

These are just a few of the many onion varieties available. Each kind has something special to offer and can enhance the flavor of your favorite recipes. Whether you prefer the sharpness of a yellow onion, the mildness of a shallot, or the sweetness of a Walla Walla, onions are an essential ingredient in the kitchen. So go ahead and explore the different varieties, and immerse yourself in the wonderful world of onions!

Yellow onion

The yellow onion is an onion variety that is widely used in many dishes. It is named for its yellowish skin and flesh. Yellow onions are known for their strong and oniony flavor, which many people prefer.

Growing yellow onions

To grow yellow onions, you can either plant onion seeds or sets, which are small bulbs. Yellow onions are usually grown from sets because they are easier and more reliable. They can be planted in the spring or fall, depending on the climate and growing season. Yellow onions take about three to four months to mature and are ready to harvest when the tops start to dry out and turn yellow.

Uses in cooking

Yellow onions are a versatile vegetable that can be used in many recipes. They are often used as a base for soups, stews, and sauces. They can also be roasted, grilled, or caramelized to bring out their natural sweetness. Yellow onions add a delicious oniony flavor to dishes and are a staple in many cuisines around the world.

Yellow onions are also a great addition to salads, sandwiches, and stir-fries. Their mild and sweet flavor makes them an ideal choice for various culinary preparations. Whether raw or cooked, yellow onions add depth and complexity to any dish.

In some parts of the world, yellow onions may also be referred to as “Spanish onions” or “brown onions.” These regional names highlight the various types and varieties of yellow onions that are grown in different regions.

Yellow onions are often compared to red onions, which have a stronger and more pungent flavor. However, yellow onions are sweeter than red onions and have a milder taste. They also have a higher sugar content, making them perfect for caramelizing.

Yellow onions are also similar in shape and size to shallots, which are a smaller and more delicate onion variety. Shallots have a milder and sweeter flavor compared to yellow onions, but they can be used interchangeably in many recipes.

If you’re looking to add some oniony flavor to your dishes, yellow onions are a perfect choice. Their versatility and delicious taste make them a staple in many kitchens around the world.

Red onion

The red onion, named for its vibrant reddish-purple skin, is a variety of onion that matures in longer day climates. It is also called a long-day onion, as it needs around 14-16 hours of daylight to properly develop. Red onions are known for their slightly sweet and peppery flavor, making them a popular ingredient in many dishes.

This diminutive variety of onion forms smaller, flat bulbs compared to other types. They are ideal for adding a pop of color and flavor to salads, sandwiches, and other dishes. However, due to their high sugar content, red onions don’t store as long as other varieties. It’s best to use them within a few days of picking or purchase.

Here’s a guide to different varieties of red onions:

Variety Climes Appearance Usage
Redding Short-day Reddish-purple skin with white flesh Ideal for cooking
Pearl Long-day Small size with a reddish skin Great for pickling
Granex Short-day Large size with a mild flavor Perfect for salads and fresh dishes

Red onions are traditionally planted in the spring and harvested in the summer. They can be cooked or used raw in a variety of recipes. When cooked, red onions become mellow and sweet, adding depth of flavor to dishes. They’re also a popular choice for grilling or caramelizing.

In regions with milder climates, red onions can be grown year-round, while in colder regions, they’re a popular winter crop. Red onions have a higher sugar content compared to yellow or white onions, which gives them their characteristic sweetness.

Something to note is that red onions are not the same as shallots or cipollini onions, although they may look similar. Shallots are smaller, mild-flavored bulbs with a slightly garlicky taste, while cipollini onions are small, flat onions with a sweet, almost nutty flavor.

Whether you’re using red onions in a salad, as a topping for a burger, or in a cooked dish, they add a distinct oniony flavor. They’re a versatile vegetable that can be used in a variety of cuisines and dishes, from Mexican salsas to French onion soup.

So next time you’re in the produce aisle, consider picking up some red onions to add a pop of color and flavor to your meals!

White Onion

The white onion, a variety of onion, is a popular choice in many regions for its mild and savory taste. It is known for its white flesh and thin, papery skin. This onion variety is similar to the red and yellow onions in flavor, but it has a milder taste and a slightly different texture.

White onions are often used raw in salads, guacamole, and sandwiches. They can also be grilled or sautéed to bring out their natural sweetness. Because of their delicate flavor and texture, white onions are best enjoyed fresh.

One special type of white onion is the shallot, which is smaller and elongated in shape. Shallots have a more mild and sweet taste compared to other white onions. They are often used in gourmet cooking and can add a touch of elegance to any dish.

White onions are long-day onions and they thrive in cooler climates. This makes them a rarity in some warmer regions, where other varieties of onions are more commonly grown. They can be harvested throughout the spring and summer months.

When selecting white onions, choose ones that are firm and have a dry, papery skin. Avoid any onions that have soft spots or signs of mold. Store white onions in a cool, dry place with good air circulation, such as a pantry or a cellar. They can last up to a month when stored properly.

White onions are versatile and can be used in a variety of dishes. They add depth of flavor to soups, stews, stir-fries, and tacos. They can also be caramelized to bring out their natural sweetness. Whether you prefer them raw or cooked, white onions are a staple in many kitchens.

So next time you’re at the grocery store, pick up a pound of white onions and give them a try. Their mild flavor and delicate texture will add a delicious touch to your favorite recipes.

✿ Read More About Vegetables.

Dr Heidi Parkes

By Dr Heidi Parkes

Senior Information Extension Officer QLD Dept of Agriculture & Fisheries.