What's the Difference Between White, Yellow, and Red Onions?

When your recipe calls for onions, which color of onion is best? And does it matter which type of onion you choose?

Onions are the humble workhorse of the kitchen pantry, adding savory flavor to so many dishes — lunch, breakfast, and dinner. But which onion is best for your recipe? Here's what you need to know about these incredibly versatile vegetables.

White vs. Yellow vs. Red Onions: What's the Difference?

Onions of all different types and sizes on countertop
Blaine Moats/Meredith

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.

.... And 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.

The Bottom Line: 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.


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. However, some varieties of sweet onion are more seasonal.


How to Pick and Store Onions

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.

How Do You 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.

Check out our complete collection of Onion Recipes.


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