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How do you choose which onion to use?

I tend to gravitate toward buying sweet onions like vidalias or walla wallas, but I think I remember reading that they have more water than yellow onions. I don't know what's right.

I use red onions to pickle or in salads.

I use white onions when I'm cooking Mexican because that's what Mexican recipes usually call for.

Looking for guidance here from my more knowledgable friends.

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  1. I use sweet onions as my all purpose cooking onion. They seem to work for me. I like shallots too, but I hate messing with the skins; they are more work than the larger sweet onions.

    And for salads, I strongly prefer the sweets.

    1. It depends on the use, what's available, what looks good. I find that yellow onions keep longer, are cheaper; that's what I usually buy. I keep them in my fridge.
      It all depends on what you want to use them for.
      I'm not sure what type of guidance you are looking for.
      Here is a google search: https://www.google.com/search?q=yello...

      1. So, I choose onions based on what they will be used for. Onion is not even one of my preferred foods, unless it is cooked. I find it to be too hot for most raw applications. If you are going to use onions raw, then yes sweet onions are the way to go. The red onion is the most common of the sweet, but also the least sweet. Vidalia, Maui (if you can get them) and chipolini are the sweetest that I have tried. For cooked applications the sweet onions tend to break down quickly and so a more solid and less sweet onion is better. Most of the "heat" of the onion is from sulfur compounds and most of the compounds are broken down from sulfates to sulfites. The sulfates are obnoxious but the sulfites we taste as sweet. The main thing is that they retain texture during longer cooking methods (i.e. braising, roasting, stewing etc.) Try wrapping your favorite sweet onion in aluminum foil after removing the core, pack it with a mixture of beef bullion paste, pepper, and butter. Parsley, thyme or other herbs can also be added. Close foil tightly. Bake on high or grill until soft. Yummy!

        2 Replies
        1. re: BrainFoodie

          That bouillon/butter-roasted onion sounds damn lovely, brainfoodie. I'm roasting a bunch of garlic in the crockpot tomorrow and might just have to make space for that onion.

          Oh, and to answer the thread: shallots and yellow onions are my go-tos. Shallots for flavor, color, texture and versatility; yellows for storage tolerance and because that's what mom used. I know the Duke loves reds but they just don't keep as well for me.

          1. re: BrainFoodie

            To build upon what BrainFoodie said, "sweet" onions are sweet both because of their variety and because they are grown in lower sulfur soils, and therefore contain less sulfur. They also contain more water, and they won't last as long as other onions. They should be used in raw applications.

            Other onions, known as storage onions, have more sulfonic compounds in them (that's what makes your eyes water when you cut them), but that's actually a good thing, because there was a German study that showed that the "gravy" aroma in meat stews comes most from onions and leeks, not the meat http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/09/din... . Storage onions last longer.

          2. I don't know how knowledgeable I am, but I usually stick to yellow onions unless the recipe calls for otherwise. I keep in the pantry (which is dark and cool) and they last for a very long time.

            9 Replies
            1. re: juliejulez

              do you keep them in a paper bag? a plastic bag? plastic in paper? lol

              what about storing them with potatoes?

              1. re: smilingal

                They just sit in uncovered in a plastic bowl I got at the dollar store along with garlic, and the occasional other non-refrigerated vegetable, on a shelf in a corner of my pantry. I do keep potatoes in a box down on the floor but I think they're far enough apart that the onions don't affect them... the shelf the onions are on is about 5 feet or so off the ground.

                I do live in a very dry climate so that helps things immensely.

                1. re: juliejulez

                  i have been storing them (potatoes and Onions) together in a paper bag in the bottom of a storage closet with other bags and stuff. I have been finding both onions and potatoes going bad quicker than I remember. I am wondering how to change things up.

                  1. re: smilingal

                    I keep them in the vegetable drawer in the fridge. Is that bad or wrong? They seem to keep just fine.

                    1. re: smilingal

                      Onions and potatoes should not be stored together. Keep them in separate cabinets or cupboards. Onions emit a gas (ethylene?) that hastens the decay of potatoes.

                        1. re: janniecooks

                          i was starting to realize that it must be something like that - but I thought I had always stored them together. Also, I was under the impression that it was not optimum to store onions in the fridge.

                          1. re: smilingal

                            Well, you don't store the onions longterm in the fridge. You can just put them in to chill them a little before you cut them, so as to reduce the tearing, or any leftover onion after you're finished, so it doesn't go bad. Once you cut into an onion, leaving it out isn't going to do good things to it.

                            1. re: ePressureCooker

                              Storage onions (that is, onions that have been prepared for dry storage) don't get refrigerated long term. Sweet onions (like Vidalias), however, can be kept well for a few months in the crisper if you wrap them separately in paper towels.

                2. Walla Walla, or other sweet onion, when used raw in a sandwich. Ordinary yellow onions when they are to be cooked down for a sauce. Red onions in a salad. White onions in a dip. The last can be used raw, or sautéd lightly to reduce the sharpness.

                  1 Reply
                  1. I usually buy yellow onions, but often they feel too soft or just don't look good enough at my local market, in which case I'll buy white. Red onions for salad or if something I'm cooking specifies red onion.

                    I hardly ever use sweet onions because they tend to have little flavor after cooking. Most recipes specify the appropriate type of onion, and if not specified, white or yellow would be the norm.

                    1. For eating raw, as in garden salads or in cucumber/onion salad, my preference is sweet onions, Vidalia, Maui or others. For cooking, I use yellow onions, which are usually less expensive. For Asian cooking, I use scallions.

                        1. I grew up with yellow onions. Always. For everything. (Scallions excepted.)

                          The only time I use sweet white onions is for raw consumption, like salads or on burgers. (I think the variety our farmer grows is called "Candy".) I used to use reds, but the ones I've gotten recently have had much more kick to them than I like.

                          I buy 3 lb bags of yellow onions to use as my go-to onion. I almost always have scallions on hand for Asian or Mexican meals. Reds only come home one or two at a time, when I want to make something look pretty.

                          **And to answer your question, sweet onions do have a higher water content. Most people keep them in the fridge, as they will last longer there. Your non-sweet varieties are usually winter onions (aka storage onions). They keep much longer, partially due to less water, and don't need to be refrigerated.

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: Kontxesi

                            I find that I have fewer tears while slicing when I refrigerate my yellow onions.

                            1. re: wyogal

                              I was going to mention that, but it didn't get past a self-edit. Not NEEDING to refrigerate doesn't mean CAN'T refrigerate. I stick mine in the crisper when there is room. I'm a big baby about cutting onions! My fiance often walks in to find me with my head in the freezer....

                              1. re: Kontxesi

                                Yep. I just don't have storage room in the pantry for onions, otherwise, I'd buy more, then put them in the fridge for a cool down prior to cutting them.

                                1. re: Kontxesi

                                  How sharp are you knives? I'm not sensitive to onions at all... largely I think because my knives are very sharp...

                                  Tell your SO to get your knives sharpened and see if that doesn't improve things for you.

                                  1. re: sparky403

                                    They're KINDA sharp.... >.> They are hand-me-downs from my dad. I think the were probably a wedding present? So that's 1987. He used a honing steel on them sometimes, but I know my mom didn't take care of them.

                                    I might go get them sharpened, but I'm getting married in April and have a nice new set on my registry. :p I might just hold out for those.

                                    1. re: sparky403

                                      just curious sparky - do you keep your onions refrigerated? I don't and also am not susceptible to tearing.

                                    2. re: Kontxesi

                                      Aside from refrigerating onions and using a freshly sharpened knife, one of the best ways of avoiding tearing up because of onions is to give them a few minutes' soak in cold water. (I've also heard a rinse in vinegar does the same thing)

                                  2. I love onions, as does my boyfriend. I'd love to buy all the different varieties if I could, but cost and storage space are definitely an issue since we live in NYC.

                                    I usually just wind up buying regular yellow cooking onions. I go through onions like crazy...I find that onions are a very important flavor base for many dishes, even if you can't tell in the final product that they are there since they've been cooked down or finely chopped.

                                    Also, strangely enough, the sweet onion varieties at any of the local grocers always seem to be bad. I often go to the store planning on buying some red onions for raw applications, but always change my mind when I see what's available. Usually they are soft, or already on their way to rotting with that very particular onions-going-bad odor. It's unfortunate.

                                    Since the boyfriend and I are quite fond of onions, however, and we definitely like their strong taste, if I want onion in salad but don't have any sweet ones, I finely chop some yellow onion, then soak it in ice water for 15 minutes to half an hour, changing the water a few times. Rinse it off and I've found that the harshest bite is tempered, and they are much more palatable raw.

                                    1. My goto's for cooking are vidalia or any other sweet onion, for salads, I use red.

                                      1. I mostly use sweet yellow onions. White for Mexican (soaked in cold water after chopping). Scallions and shallots and leeks as needed. Can't remember ever buying red onions; we don't eat raw ones beyond Mexican and sometimes scallions.

                                        1. In Singapore, I've only seen red and yellow both for onions and shallots. The red onions I've seen rot faster than yellow (almost ll food is imported, so possibly it's already old when it arrives), so I tend to go with yellow, even for Asian dishes.

                                          In Sri Lanka, only red are available for onion and shallots. So, you guessed it, there I buy and use only red.

                                          1. For using raw, use sweet onions. (If you use red/white/yellow storage onions raw, they should be rinsed a few times in cold water and dried before serving.)

                                            For long cooking, yellow storage onions are the best: they have a much richer palette of flavor than sweet onions when cooked for a long time. Red onions can work well cooked long, but the color can be odd.

                                            1. Soups, stir fry, roasting: Spanish onion
                                              Stews: cippolinis
                                              Sautee: Shallots or Spanish

                                              I can't eat onions raw, so above is about all I use onion for

                                              1. Red for salads, sometimes
                                                Sweet ones for most everything else
                                                Scallions for chinese and other uses (seldom cooked except in Chinese steam buns
                                                Shallots.....cause I love them, expensive and difficult as they are

                                                1. I usually get yellows for everything, reds when I want a more assertive flavor or just for the color. As for taming the "bite," a good trick I've learned is to put the sliced onions into a bowl, salt lightly and then cover with cold water for 30 minutes or more. This gives a nice onion flavor without any harshness.

                                                  I learned a long time ago about keeping onions and potatoes separate … and then when we were in France, we stayed with Mrs. O's French relatives at their "summer house," a smallish chateau (as chateaux go) in Burgundy. We did a tour of the place one day, starting in the wine cellar, and I noticed that the first row of shelves nearest the door was occupied by potatoes. After covering the next couple of floors we climbed into the huge attic, where I noticed that maybe twenty square feet of floor space had been cleared for onions! Now, THAT'S separation!

                                                  1. Does anyone know - which between potatoes and onions can stand more heat in storage places? I now plan on separating them - having stored them in the same closet - sometimes in the same bag - and now realize why they both have gone bad too quickly. But if I keep one of them in said closet, I am thinking of putting the other out in the garage (hoping that no critters get them - but I think they will be safe). Garage will be warmer - especially in the summer. Also - are paper bags to store them in?

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: smilingal

                                                      I don't know the answer for sure, but given those options, I'd put the potatoes in the closet and the onions in the garage. We have them both out at room temperature in our house, and the potatoes always seem to sprout first, the onions take much longer, so I'm extrapolating. Also, Will Owen's story above says the potatoes were in the cellar, the onions in the attic, since heat rises, I'm going to assume those French relatives knew from experience those onions could resist the heat better. ;D

                                                      1. re: ePressureCooker

                                                        thanks for the suggestions! now --- paper or plastic bags to store each in?

                                                        1. re: smilingal

                                                          I'd definitely store them in paper. You'd want something that "breathes" so any water that gets in there will evaporate...