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Understanding the Different Types of Onions

By Ms. Mary Michaela Parker, MSU Extension Service


Have you ever visited the grocery store to buy onions for a recipe, only to realize you don’t know which type of onion to buy? We’ve all been there! Not all onions are the same, and certain recipes benefit from using a specific onion variety.

  • Yellow onions – Yellow onions are a go-to onion. They are versatile and can be used in many dishes. If you don’t know what type of onion to use, yellow onions are a safe option. They are great when used in soups, stews, sauces, and roasts.

  • Red onions – Also known as purple onions, red onions have a very sharp and pungent flavor. These onions are best eaten raw. If you’re making salads, sandwiches, burgers, or guacamole, you should include a red onion. They’re also perfect for pickling and grilling!

  • White onions – The crunchiest of them all, white onions have a sharp, mild flavor. They are commonly used in Mexican and stir-fry dishes. They’re put to best use when used in fresh salsa and guacamole.

  • Sweet onions – Just as the name suggests, sweet onions have a very sweet taste. The sweetness of the onion is perfect when roasted with other vegetables. They’re also particularly great for onion rings!

Pro tip: Onions are notorious for making people tear up when cutting them. A chilled onion reduces the chance of tears, so stick the onion in the fridge before cutting!


Our friends at Penn State Extension have a great article on how to preserve onions by freezing and drying them. If you want to learn how to caramelize onions, check out this Food Factor video!



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