Know Your Onions: How To Pick, Prep, and Store Them
Onions are the humble workhorse of the kitchen pantry, adding savory flavor to so many dishes -- lunch, breakfast, and dinner. Here's what you need to know about this incredibly versatile veggie.
Types of Onions
Bermuda and Spanish: yellow or white; mild flavor
Red or Italian: red; mild flavor
Globe: yellow, white, or red: stronger flavor
Pearl: marble-size; white; mild
Maui, Vidalia, and Walla Walla: pale yellow or white; sweet and mild flavor
Green Onions or Scallions: immature onions with white bottoms and green tops; mild flavor
Most onions are available fresh year-round. Some varieties of sweet onion are more seasonal.
Choose firm onions with dry, papery skins. Avoid onions that have brown or soft spots or onions with any emerging sprouts.
Store whole onions in a cool, dry spot that's out of the sun. Onions can keep for months. For partially used onions, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap or in a sealed container, and refrigerate. The onions will keep for several days.
Why does chopping onions cause stinging tears? Slicing through an onion releases sulfuric compounds that sting the eyes. The root end contains the most sulfuric compounds, so chop it last. Here are two no-more-tears ways to cut an onion.
What's the Difference between White, Yellow, and Red Onions?
When your recipe calls for onions, which color of onion is best? Do you know? And does it matter which type of onion you choose? There are a few subtle difference between yellow, white, and red onions. But the bottom line, you'd be fine substituting one color for the other, no problem.
Yellow Onions. These are a good all-around onion, great for cooking and flavoring dishes. By far, they're the most popular onion sold in America and versatile enough for just about anything. Yellow onions are a smart choice for caramelizing, which draws out their natural sweetness.
White Onions. These onions are slightly sweeter, a bit milder in taste than yellow onions. They're a good choice for dicing and serving raw on sandwiches and salads or in fresh salsas.
Red Onions. These onions are colorful and spicy-to-mild flavor. Because of their bright color and crispy texture, they're great for salads, salsas, and other fresh recipes. They're also excellent sliced for sandwiches. With cooking, the color fades, but they're still delicious cooked.
Sweet Onions. Sweet onions get their own category. Vidalia onions are a particularly mild yellow onion grown around Vidalia, Georgia. Crunchy and sweet, they're excellent served raw in salads and salsas. Walla Walla sweet onions are another brand of sweet onions, grown in Walla Walla, Washington.
How to Cut an Onion
1) Slice the top part off the onion. Which end is the top? It's opposite the root end.
2) Cut the onion in half lengthwise from the root end to the top.
3) Fold back the skin over the root end to expose the onion.
4) Make horizontal cuts:
5) Make vertical cuts:
6) Chop by cutting across the top of the onion:
Now that you have chopped onions, turn them into a dice or mince if you like.
VIDEO: How To Cut Onions
VIDEO: How to Make French Onion Soup
Watch Chef John apply some American ingenuity to French onion soup -- he caramelizes the onions in the oven!
How to Grow Onions
Onions like cool weather, and can be planted and harvested earlier than most garden vegetables. They need sun and fertile, well-draining soil. There are two types of onions: long-day and short-day varieties. Ask the friendly folks at your local garden center which type grows best in your area.