By Kelly Vaughan
June 11, 2019
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From pickling to roasting to raw, find out the best ways to cook ten different varieties of onions.

While they’re all bound to make you shed a few tears, there are distinct differences between ten common varieties of onions. All of these onions are a part of the allium family, which also includes garlic and ramps. When shopping for onions, look for ones that have tight, slightly shiny skin and no odor; papery, flaky skin that falls apart when you pick up the onion is a sign that it’s past its prime. These 10 onions are the most common you’ll find in the produce department, but each offer a unique flavor and purpose.

White Onions

White onions have a mild, slightly tangy flavor when sliced raw, which is why they’re the common choice for freshly made guacamole and pico de gallo recipes. They can be substituted for yellow onions, but they don’t get as sweet or golden brown when caramelized. When shopping for white onions, be wary of a potent onion smell or slightly firm flesh; both are a sign the onions are past their peak.

Red Onions

The bright color of raw red onions is one of the reason why they’re great to put on full display atop burgers and in salads. Don’t grow too attached to their purple color as it tends to disappear when cooked. Grill them for Pineapple, Swordfish, and Red Onion Kebabs or sauté and toss in Orecchiette with Red Onions, Almonds, and Green Olives.

Vidalia Onions

Grown and exported in Georgia, Vidalia onions are a variety of yellow onions with a similarly sweet flavor. They have a low sulfur content, which means they’re less likely to make you teary eyed. They’re key in this Vegan Creamy Cauliflower Soup and Classic Chicken and Dumpling Soup.

Yellow Onions

Yellow onions have the highest sulfur content of any variety of onion, which is the stuff that makes you well up and wipe your eyes every time you slice or dice one of these veggies. They also have a more potent odor due to the sulfur. However, they become sweet and super flavorful when caramelized. Because they’re sweeter with a less punchy onion flavor when cooked, they’re usually the most popular choice for all-purpose cooking among chefs.

Pearl Onions

If you like to live like it’s 1920, then you’re probably familiar with the Gibson cocktail— a gin martini garnished with a pickled onion. The pickled onion is made with a pearl onion, which is the size of a small plant bulb. Pearl onions are also delicious roasted in the oven with olive oil, salt, and pepper then added to hearty comfort food dishes like Slow-Cooked Short Ribs with Rosemary Potatoes.

Leeks

Leeks are one of the key ingredients in vichyssoise soup, a classic French soup made with sautéed leeks and creamy potatoes. Leeks are made up of several fine layers that can trap dirt and sand between the layers, so always thoroughly soak them in water to wash before cooking with them. Their faint green color and mild onion flavor is also delicious when tossed into a bright pasta dish like Fettucine with Asparagus, Leeks, and Mint.

Shallots

Shallots are small, purple onions that are often no bigger than two inches in size. Their flavor is more mild than full-size onions, so the raw onion averse can often handle raw shallots. Be careful when caramelizing or sautéing shallots as they break down quickly and can easily burn if you’re not careful. In addition to red onions, they’re a common choice for pickling. Try them in Beets with Crème Fraîche, Shallots, and Pistachios.

Scallions

Ombré green scallions, aka green onions, turn into thin ribbons of flavor when chopped. The white part of the scallion has the most potent flavor, compared to the less firm, darker green part. The long, stringy vegetable are mild in flavor and popular in Asian cuisine like Brown Rice Congee with Kimchi, Scallions, and 7-Minute Eggs and New York-deli staple Scallion Cream Cheese.

Chives

Next time you want a little green garnish atop garlic mashed potatoes, onion soup, caramelized onion dip, choose chives. These long, thin herbs have a mild savory flavor that pairs well in garlicky dishes. Traditional French fines herbs is a blend of chopped fresh chives, chervil, parsley, and tarragon that gets sprinkled atop most French dishes.

Pickled Onions

Pickled onions are popular burger and grilled sausage toppings. Shallots and red onions are best to use for pickling because of their vibrant color. To preserve their bright purple-red color, pickle the sliced onions in red white vinegar, which shares the same hue.

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