Choosing the Right Onion

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Onion Selection Guide

Often times when cooking, a recipe may call for an ingredient which has several different variations to choose from, such as onions for example which can lead to confusion and frustration at the supermarket. Fear no more as we are here to clear up the confusion.

The onion (Allium cepa L., from Latin cepa “onion”), also known as the bulb onion or common onion, is a vegetable which are usually served cooked or part of a prepared savory dish, but can also be eaten raw or used to make pickles or chutneys. They are pungent when chopped and contain certain chemical substances which irritate the eyes.

Common onions are normally available in three color varieties. Yellow or brown onions (called red in some European countries), are full-flavored and are the onions of choice for everyday use. Yellow onions turn a rich, dark brown when caramelized and give French onion soup its sweet flavor. The red onion (called purple in some European countries) is a good choice for fresh use when its color livens up the dish; it is also used in grilling. White onions are the traditional onions used in classic Mexican cuisine; they have a golden color when cooked and a particularly sweet flavor when sautéed.

While the large, mature onion bulb is most often eaten, onions can be eaten at immature stages. Young plants may be harvested before bulbing occurs and used whole as spring onions or scallions. When an onion is harvested after bulbing has begun, but the onion is not yet mature, the plants are sometimes referred to as “summer” onions.

Additionally, onions may be bred and grown to mature at smaller sizes. Depending on the mature size and the purpose for which the onion is used, these may be referred to as pearl, boiler, or pickler onions, but differ from true pearl onions which are a different species. Pearl and boiler onions may be cooked as a vegetable rather than as an ingredient and pickler onions are often preserved in vinegar as a long-lasting relish.

Onions are available in fresh, frozen, canned, caramelized, pickled, and chopped forms. The dehydrated product is available as kibbled, sliced, ring, minced, chopped, granulated, and powder forms.

Onion powder is a seasoning widely used when the fresh ingredient is not available. It is made from finely ground, dehydrated onions, mainly the pungent varieties of bulb onions, and has a strong odor. Being dehydrated, it has a long shelf life and is available in several varieties: yellow, red, and white.

And now that the history portion of our lecture is over, on to the practical use for each onion:

SWEET ONION:
Best  For Frying
Use For: 
Onion Rings, Gratins & Roasted Vegetables

RED ONION:
Best For Eating Raw
Use For: Guacamole, Pickled Onions, Salads & Sandwhiches

WHITE ONION:
Crunchiest and Sharpest Zing
Use For: 
Salsa, Chutneys & Stir-Fry

YELLOW ONION:
Best All-Around Cooking Onion
Use For: 
Meat Roasts, Braised Meat Dishes, Sauces, Soups & Stews

SHALLOT:
Milder and More Subtle
Use For: 
Vinaigrette, Egg Casseroles & Garnishes

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