From pickling to roasting to raw, find out the best ways to cook all 10 varieties.
Advertisement

While they're all bound to make you shed a few tears, there are distinct differences between 10 common varieties of onions. They're all part of the allium family, which also includes garlic and ramps. When shopping for onions, look for ones that have tight, slightly shiny skin and no odor. Papery, flaky skin that falls apart when you pick up the onion signals that it's past its prime. These are the 10 most common onions in the produce department, but each offers a unique flavor and purpose.

White Onions

White onions have a mild, slightly tangy flavor when sliced raw, making them the popular choice for freshly made guacamole and pico de gallo recipes. They can be substituted for yellow onions but don't get as sweet or golden brown when caramelized. When shopping for white onions, be wary of a potent onion smell or slightly firm flesh; both are a sign of being past their peak.

Red Onions

With their bright color, raw red onions are often displayed atop burgers and in salads—though their purple color tends to disappear when cooked. Grill them for Pineapple, swordfish, and red onion kebabs or sauté and toss them in Oecchiette with red onions, almonds, and green olives.

Vidalia Onions

Grown and exported in Georgia, Vidalia onions are a variety of yellow onions with a somewhat sweet flavor. They have a low sulfur content, which means they're less likely to make you teary-eyed. They're a key ingredient in this Vegan creamy cauliflower soup and in a classic Chicken and dumpling soup.

Yellow Onions

Yellow onions have the highest sulfur content, which is the stuff that makes you well up and wipe your eyes every time you slice into them. The sulfur also gives them a more potent odor. However, they become sweet and flavorful when caramelized. Because they're sweeter with a less punchy onion flavor when cooked, they're a  popular choice among chefs for all-purpose cooking.

Pearl Onions

If you know anything about the 1920s, you're probably familiar with the Gibson cocktail—a gin martini garnished with a pickled onion. A pickled pearl onion, to be exact. Pearl onions are the size of a small plant bulb, and they're also delicious roasted in the oven with olive oil, salt, and pepper, then added to hearty comfort food dishes like Slow-cooked short ribs with rosemary potatoes.

Leeks

Leeks are one of the key ingredients in vichyssoise soup, a classic French soup made with sautéed leeks and creamy potatoes. Leeks are made up of several fine layers that can trap dirt and sand, so always thoroughly soak them in water before cooking with them. Their faint green color and mild onion flavor are an excellent addition to a bright pasta dish like Fettucine with asparagus, leeks, and mint.

Shallots

Shallots are small, purple onions that are often no bigger than two inches in size. Those averse to the sharpness of raw onions can often handle this milder variety. Be careful when caramelizing or sautéing shallots as they break down quickly and can easily burn. As with red onions, they're a common choice for pickling. Try them in Beets with crème fraîche, shallots, and pistachios.

Scallions

Ombré green scallions, aka green onions, turn into thin ribbons of flavor when chopped. The white end of the scallion has the most potent flavor, compared to the less firm, darker green part. This long, stringy vegetable is mild in flavor and popular in Asian cuisines like Brown rice congee with kimchi, scallions, and 7-minute eggs, and New York-deli staple Scallion cream cheese.

Chives

Next time you want a little green garnish atop Garlic mashed potatoes, Onion soup, or Caramelized onion dip, choose chives. These long, thin herbs have a mild savory flavor that pairs well in garlicky dishes. Traditional French fine herbs are a blend of chopped fresh chives, chervil, parsley, and tarragon that get sprinkled atop most French dishes.

Pickled Onions

Pickled onions are a popular burger and grilled sausage topping. Shallots and red onions are best to use for pickling because of their vibrant, purple-red color. To preserve their bright color, pickle the sliced onions in red wine vinegar, which shares the same hue.