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9 Different Types of Onions To Cook With

Learn how to cook with different kinds of onions.

Onions, unsurprisingly one of the most commonly consumed vegetables in the US, are the epitome of juxtaposition.

An assortment of various types of onions

They can make you smile when used in a delicious dish, and they can make you cry while cutting them open. 

You can use them in healthy diet dishes or savory, fatty dishes. They can add great flavor to your dinners and spruce up your egg-based breakfast as well.

Ultimately, onions are versatile in both use and flavor pairings, making them a prevalent cooking ingredient.

But there are several different types of onions, and it’s crucial to know which one to use for each dish. Otherwise, you might not take appropriate advantage of all they have to offer.

I personally love all types of onions because regardless of the specific kind, they all work to heighten and deepen the flavor of your overall meal.

Types of Onions

If you enjoy bolder flavors and want to know which type of onions to use for different styles of dishes, keep reading!

Yellow Onions

Yellow onions are arguably the most frequently used onions in cooking, and for a good reason.

They have a sharp and robust flavor, making them ideal for adding depth to rich and savory dishes. They are a great choice for slow-cooked stews, hearty soups, and flavorful sauces.

That said, if you know very little about onions and want to choose the safest option, yellow onions are your best bet.

Yellow onions are also the best type of onion for caramelizing. 

Caramelizing is when you cook the onions over low heat until they turn a deep golden brown.

This caramelizing process brings out the natural sugars in the onion, making them taste sweeter and less pungent.


Red Onions

Like yellow onions, red onions also have a strong and sharp flavor. However, unlike yellow onions, red onions are slightly sweeter and slightly milder in taste.

This is what makes them delicious to eat, even when raw. However, red onions still aren’t entirely mild and even have a bit of a spicier kick to them, so you should be in favor of strong flavors to truly enjoy them.

Red onions are excellent for adding a pop of color and vibrant flavor to lighter salads, veggie burgers, and pizzas.

Red onions are also excellent for pickling, as they tend to hold their shape and form better than other onion varieties.


White Onions

The mildest-tasting of all the different types of onions, white onions are great for adding a subtle flavor to almost any dish.

They’re also the best type of onion to use if you’re cooking for people who don’t enjoy the strong flavor of onions.

White onions are excellent in dishes like quiches, frittatas, and eggs; in stews, soups, and sauces; and in curries, stir-fries, or anything else that requires a mild and versatile onion.

I love chopping up white onions and combining them with tomatoes to make a simple salsa for tacos, quesadillas, and other Mexican dishes.


Sweet Onions

Sweet onions are milder in flavor than yellow or red onions but have a more complex and sweeter taste.

People often mistake sweet onions for white or yellow ones, but they are slightly more yellow than white ones and marginally paler than yellow ones.

They work well in savory dishes like stews, curries, stir-fries, and sweeter dishes like teriyaki chicken and sweet onion creamed corn.

I also like to use them in relishes, garnishes, and other fixings that could use a sweet touch.

So, if you appreciate experimenting with different flavor combinations, sweet onions are a must-try.


Green Onions

Green onions, which are also known as scallions or spring onions, are incredibly versatile and can be used in various dishes.

They typically have a milder flavor compared to standard onions but are still sharp enough to add depth to dishes. 

Green onions are commonly used in Mexican and Chinese meals, perhaps given their slightly peppery tastes that go so well with these cuisines.

They’re also often used as a garnish or topping, given their attractive long green stalks. But don’t let that fool you – the white part of the onion is just as edible and flavorful as the green.

Some people might even prefer the white part of the onion as it has a sharper taste, more similar to white onions.


Shallots

Shallots are a type of onion often mistaken for garlic, given their small cloves.

However, shallots have a much more complex and layered flavor, with hints of both garlic and onion coming through.

Shallots are often used in French cooking, given their refined and delicate flavor.

They’re also a popular choice for pickling, as their small size makes them perfect for making pickled onions and other small-scale brined dishes.

I like to use shallots in several savory dishes, such as stews, sauces, and soups.

They’re also lovely when roasted and make a great addition to salads and other light dishes.


Leeks

Leeks are related to garlic, shallots, and scallions.

They have a milder flavor than standard onions and are often used in soups and stews to add flavor without overwhelming the other ingredients.

People often overlook leeks due to their milder taste, which is a shame.

When used correctly and stewed slowly, leeks can contribute a deeper flavor profile to your stews, especially those containing meat.

I also like to use leeks to thicken or add a savory base to my sauces, such as hollandaise sauce.


Cipollini Onions

Cipollini onions are my favorite onions to use for baking. They have a rich and sweet flavor, which comes through beautifully when baked.

Cipollini onions are also fantastic for roasting. When you roast them, they get wonderfully caramelized on the outside while remaining soft and sweet on the inside.

I often use them in tarts, gratins, and other baked dishes. I also like to roast them and serve them as a side dish.

Finally, cipollini onions are small and round, making them perfect for attractive individual dishes.


Pearl Onions

Pearl onions are a delicious type of onion that people often use in pickling.

This is because they have a delicate and slightly sweet flavor, which pairs well when pickling spices and brines.

I enjoy pearl onions after sautéing them with roasted meat, as their sweetness really comes out and complements the savory flavors of the meat.

I also like to use them in dishes where I want just a hint of sweetness, such as chicken pot pies and savory tarts.


Types of Onions

  1. Yellow Onions
  2. Red Onions
  3. White Onions
  4. Sweet Onions
  5. Green Onions
  6. Shallots
  7. Leeks
  8. Cipollini Onions
  9. Pearl Onions

Final Thoughts

Many people assume that there is just one type of onion and imagine something similar to a white or yellow onion.

But there are indeed many different onion types, even more than we’ve included on this list (e.g., Bermuda, chives, cocktail, red wing, etc.).

These nine are the most commonly used types of onions in dishes you know and love. 

So, if you’re looking to start preparing more dishes with onions, we hope this list has helped you understand what makes each of these onions unique and what kinds of meals they work best in.

And remember, don’t be afraid to experiment. You might just find your new favorite onion – or dish!

Want to learn more about food and cooking? Learn about different types of mushrooms to pair with your onions, or find a healthier cooking oil to saute them with!

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Written by Rocco Smith

Rocco is a recent graduate of Florida State University with a Bachelor’s in Editing, Writing, and Media. With seven years’ experience in the restaurant industry as a cook, server, bartender, and more, he is deeply passionate about intertwining his fondness for food with his love of language.