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Onions: The Bare Essentials

Just the quick facts: which onions are best for which purposes; which onions don’t make you cry; how you store them; how you cut them; what’s a sunion?

Onions: The Bare Essentials

We’ve done the research. No, we didn’t read the 346,000,000 articles in a google search, but we hope we’ve captured the key practical facts and rules of thumb for cooking purposes in one short post. In general, there are no strict rules about onions. Much is about taste preference, tolerance and tips.

Which Onions are Used for Which Purposes

Yellow Onions: Cheap, go-to all round cooking onion. The default in most recipes. Very sweet when cooked. Best for roasted meats, pot roast, chicken, sauces, soups (including onion soup), stews, latkes. Can also be used for caramelized onions.

Sweet Onion: Sweet, less pungent and spicy, can be eaten raw. Shipped fresher to market so won’t keep as long as yellow onions.They don’t make you cry. Common brand is Vidalia. (This is actually my go-to as I love the no-tear, milder traits). Best for frying, onion rings, roasting, grilling, onion soup, caramelizing.

White Onions: Crunchy, pungent, sharp, strong flavour, but can be eaten raw. Often used in Mexican cooking. Best for saute, stir fries, salsa, chutney, quacamole.

Red Onions: Less overpowering, easiest to eat raw. Adds colour to a dish. Best for guacamole, pickling, salads, burgers, sandwiches.

Green Onions or Scallions: Baby onions with good crunch and colour. Need to be kept in fridge. Best for garnishes, omelets, tacos, salads, stir fries, grilling.

Shallots: Not really an onion. Mild and subtle with a slight garlic flavour. Best for salad dressings, sauces and garnish.

How Not To Cry When Cutting an Onion

There are some crazy methods out there to help prevent crying when cutting onions. Most simply don’t work.  The only ones with reasonable success seem to be: freezing or chilling the onion for 30 minutes; and, believe it or not, keeping bread in your mouth while cutting an onion (apparently it helps absorb the gas). Another suggestion is to leave the root on the onion while cutting, regardless of the method and onion you use.  I use sweet onions for most things and have no problems with tears.

How to Slice/Chop an Onion

Jamie Oliver has a good video on slicing and chopping onions here.

How to Store Onions

  • Whole onions are best stored in a cool dark place (50F or 10C) for up to 30 days. If you store them at room temperature in a pantry, they keep well up to 7 days. Do not store them in a bag or plastic.
  • Cut leftover raw onions or pre-cut onions should be stored in a sealed bag or container in the fridge for up to a week. Green onions/scallions should also be stored in the fridge.

What’s a Sunion?

A sunion is a completely tear-free onion with almost no aftertaste. It took 30 years to develop and was introduced in the US market in 2018. It’s not yet widely available and I can’t yet find any in Canada. The sunion is not genetically modified. It’s very sweet and can be eaten raw. The drawback? Some say it’s not very flavourful in cooking.

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