What Kind of Onion You Use Does Matter!

My Personal Guide of What Onion to Use When.

By Jimi James

So you’re creating a recipe, helping to make dinner, or following a recipe that calls for onions. But…it’s not very specific on what kind of onion should be used in your recipe. There are many types of onions in the produce area, and if you visit a store that specializes in food you may find multiple varieties of many common onions. So for today’s article, we are just going to cover the top 5 onions in cooking, what the differences are, and which situations they are best used in.

Now, get your notebook or save this article for reference. Be nice and pass it out to all your grill buddies, girlfriends, cooking show buffs and those who dream of being the next big star on Food Network.

When you go to the grocery and are staring at a mountain of varieties of onions, you’re not necessarily going to ruin lunch or dinner if you choose to use a yellow onion where your best choice should have been a red onion. Now, with that being said, here are the best onion practices.

Yellow Onions

The yellow onion is the most commonly used across the nation. This onion is best for just about everything major in cooking. Use a yellow onion in a recipe when you are making roasted meat dishes– yes, that includes a crock pot meal. Roasted meat dishes such as roasted chicken, pot roast (whether beef or pork) and rack of ribs or lamb in a Dutch oven or crock pot. You can also use a yellow onion for sauces, in stews, and also in a soup. Being the most common onion, this is the onion you should do most of your cooking with. These onions have a sharp, spicy flavor, and they also have a lot of sugar in them. When cooked, the yellow onion loses its spicy flavor and becomes super sweet.

Sweet Onion

Sweet onions are the second most common onions that are used in recipes across this nation. Best uses for a sweet onion are for frying.  You can also use them in baked gratins (like Au gratin potatoes) and in roasted vegetable dishes.

Sweet onions and Yellow onions are very similar; however, their sweet distinct flavor may be better suited for certain dishes. Sweet onions have thicker layers, which is why this onion is a great choice for making onion rings. Having a high content of sugar, it is very sweet without being spicy like other types of onions may be.  The sweetness makes them great for frying, like onion rings or a big bloomin’ onion. They are also a great choice to add some sweetness to a French Onion soup.  (You’re adding sweet with these onions; while Yellow onions are better for meat dishes, because they add a more savory flavor.)  Some common types of sweet onions are Walla Walla, from Washington state area, to the most familiar Vidalia onion.

White Onion

White Onions are the sharpest, spiciest and crunchiest onion you can use. These onions are best suited for use in salsa, to sautee, and in Asian stir-fry dishes for an extra crunchiness. You often see these onions used in Hispanic cooking. We find them in a lot of Mexican food we eat.  These onions are noticeably larger in size than other onion varieties, and they have a thinner skin. White onions are very sharp and have very little to no sweetness at all. They are super crispy due to their very high water content.

Red Onion

Red onions are the easiest and best to eat raw!!! The best uses for these onions are when pickling, salads, guacamole (although I prefer a white onion in guacamole), grilled by themselves, and of course, on burgers, sandwiches and subs. A red onion is milder than the other varieties listed, plus when eating, we have heard it a million times– “we eat with our eyes first”.  This onion adds beautiful color to your dishes.  The red onion also is crisp and sweet; although, you will find it also has a slightly bitter aftertaste than the other onions listed. You won’t need that breath spray or stick of gum after eating this onion, because it’s not a spicy or pungent as a yellow onion, and you won’t have to worry about so many tears while slicing and dicing this onion. With that said a Red onion still has a strong pleasant flavor.


The  Shallot is the MOST subtle of all the varieties. Keep in mind that a shallot is not technically an onion at all. However, they are best used in salad dressings, vinegary glazes and also as garnishes. Shallots have a similar flavor as onions, but are less overpowering. Unlike onions that grow individually, shallots grow in clusters, similar to garlic. The flavor of a shallot is similar to that of a mild red onion. It does have a hint of spiciness with some sweet. They are the best overall choice if you are making a vinaigrette, or a chunky style vinaigrette called a “mignonette”. The mignonette is eaten with oysters or other kinds of shellfish. You can use shallots in egg dishes such as quiche, especially since they are smaller and less chunky than regular onions. You can also use them for a simple garnish for a vegetable dish whether raw or fried.

Want more info, tricks, tips and ideas??? Subscribe to Libidacoria Magazine for my most recent posts.  You’ll be the talk of your cookouts, dinners and deserts.

Stay Hungry, my friends!!!!


Editor’s Note: Don’t forget that onions have many medical benefits.  Research has suggested that onions may help prevent most cancers; inhibit platelet-mediated thrombosis (a process leading to heart attacks and strokes); reduce levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, and thromboxanes (substances involved in the development of cardio-vascular disease) in the blood; and has been associated with a reduction in symptoms associated with osteoporosis.




  1. Nice write-up. I almost exclusively use White Onions . . . mostly because they are easy to work with, the roundness makes them easy for me to dice, and they usually don’t make me cry! Even though you term them spiciest, do they release less of that acid in the air that make your eyes water?

    Interesting point that those are used in hispanic cooking, Several years ago, a housekeeper at a suite hotel told me I must have learned my cooking skills from a Mexican woman. Now her comment makes a little more sense!

    1. Johnny they are spiciest in taste but you do not get the teary eyes associated with other onions because white onions have a very high water content which hold the acid from becoming airborn.

  2. I’m a huge lover of the red onion personally. You know, Jimi, as I think about it. What about green onions? They didn’t seem to make your list.

    1. Well K, Green onions are also called Scallions in the US. The reason I did not include them is the fact that most home cooks do not use them in every day cooking and they are primarily used as a garnish on top of soups and salads. Hope that helps.

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