There are many different varieties of onions but they are not all created equal. Some onions are better used for soups because of their higher sugar content while others can be eaten completely raw. Onions, alongside garlic and chives, are part of the allium family and they are the backbone of many recipes and dishes across different cuisines.
When added in their various quantities, onions can completely change the flavour of food for the better, making it come alive with aromatic hints. Although onions do not contribute a whole lot when it comes to nutrition, save for a few minerals and vitamins here and there, onions are the heroes that make food worth eating. The three most commonly used types of onions are white red and yellow onions but there are so many other varieties of onions that are often overlooked.
Varieties of onions
Scallions are some of the more versatile selections of onions. Scallions are sometimes referred to as green, Welsh, Chinese or bunching onions. They are typically long and thin and because of their flavor, they are used commonly in Asian style cooking. Scallions should be used soon after purchase as they do not keep or store well. The best scallions to use are those that have just been harvested during late spring to late summer. When shopping, you should avoid buying scallions that have wilted tops.
- Spanish Onions
Spanish onions are mild and sweet but not as sweet as sweet onions. Spanish onions have thin, brown and papery skin that makes them easy to confuse with yellow onions. Spanish onions have a low water content compared to many other varieties which makes them ideal for deep frying or when making onion rings.
- Pearl Onions
Pearl onions are also commonly referred to as baby onions. They come in different colors, including yellow, red and white, with yellow varieties being more popular than others. Baby onions are small and sweet and are ideal for pickling in jars. Because they are so small, they can be chopped up or prepared whole. If you intend on peeling them, which can be tiring and sometimes cumbersome, you can try blanching them in hot water to make it easier for the skins to slip off.
- Vidalia Onions
Vidalia onions are some of the sweetest onions that you can find. They can be eaten raw or cooked. Vidalia onions are usually grown in soil that contains low sulfur content, which is what helps them to be so sweet. Vidalias are usually available between late April and September. The best ones to purchase are those that are medium-sized without any bruising on the outside.
Leeks are another variety of onions that is often easily overlooked although it is one of the more versatile options available. Leeks are used most commonly in stews and soups. Leeks are also sometimes referred to as Tennessee truffles. All components are edible including the tops, leaves, stems, and bulbs. Leeks are designed to survive the long harsh winter period. Because they can be sandy, they should be washed completely before cooking.
- Redwing Onions
Redwing onions as the name suggests have a red exterior and have a mild flavor. They can be eaten raw or incorporated in sandwiches, burgers, and salads.
Chives are included as part of the onion family although it is not unusual for them to be referred to as herbs. Chives are used mainly for seasoning an array of dishes owing to their sharp and spicy kick.
Shallots can either be grey or red and they are small with dry copper brown skin. Although generally small, shallots come in an array of shapes and sizes depending on the region in which they were grown. Individual cloves of shallots look a lot like garlic except that shallots have a luminescent purple colour. Shallots have a flavour that is milder than onions but they have a sharp bite when eaten raw. Shallots are used commonly in French and Asian cooking. When shopping, you should be on the lookout for compact shallots that have shiny but unblemished skin.
- White Onions
White onions are named so because of the colour of their skin and flesh. White onions have a flavour that is tangy, which makes them an excellent choice for using in Latin and Mexican dishes. White onions are available easily all year round. The best ones to purchase are heaver for their size and should have unbruised skin.
- Red Onions
Red onions are also sometimes referred to as purple onions and they are the most common variety of onions available. Red onions are used commonly in salads. To many people, red onions can have a sharp taste that is hard to handle when raw so they must be thoroughly cleaned to make them easier to consume raw. Red onions are usually available all through the year and they taste sweeter when they have not been left in storage for extended periods. Look for firm red onions that appear heavier for their size. The surface should also be firm and unblemished.
Cipolline onions are also known as Italian pearl onions. Cipolline onions have a flat top and are some of the sweetest types of onions available, which makes them perfect for caramelizing. They produce a taste that is less harsh compared to red onions which is why they are ideal for use in glazes. Because they are small, they can be chopped up or cooked whole or grilled on skewers.
- Yellow Onions
Yellow onions are some of the most common types of onions because they are balanced in flavour, which means that they are not too sharp or sweet. Larger yellow onions are sometimes known as Spanish onions. Yellow onions can be lightly cooked, grilled or sautéed. Yellow onions are available all year round and they taste sweeter when they have not been stored for long periods. When shopping, you should be on the lookout for firm and unbruised onions that look to heavy for their size.