Dry Onions and Shallots

Dry Onions and Shallots

Dry onions (also called bulb onions or common onions or just plain onions) are often separated into two categories: storage onions and sweet onions. Storage onions are more pungent and flavorful than sweet onions, and they're best if cooked before eating. They also store well and so are available year-round. Sweet onions have a lower sulfur content are usually served raw or lightly cooked. They're easiest to find from April to August.


Shallots have a more delicate, less pungent flavor, and are often diced into dressings and sauces, or sautéed or roasted.


Onions and shallots should be firm and heavy for their size. Avoid onions that have sprouted or that have an odor, or that have green or moldy blemishes.


If you're prone to crying while cutting onions, try chilling them first, then peeling them under running water. Always cook onions over low or medium heat, since they become bitter when cooked at high temperatures.


Store them in a cool, dry place (not in the refrigerator).


To find substitutions for onions in general, click here.


Varieties:

Bermuda onion
Bermuda onion
These bulb-shaped onions have a sweet mild flavor. They're available in the spring.
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boiling onion
boiling onion
These are small versions of yellow, white, or red onions. They're up to two inches in diameter, and usually cooked whole.
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cipollini onion
cipollini onion
These round, flat Italian onions are about one to two inches in diameter. They're available in the fall.
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onion flakes
onion flakes
These are onions that have been chopped and then dehydrated. They lack much of the pungency of fresh onions, but they're convenient and great for backpacking.
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onion powder
onion powder
Onion powder isn't as pungent as fresh onions, but it's a great time-saver.
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pearl onion
pearl onion
These tiny onions are sweet and mild. About one inch in diameter, they're often pickled or creamed.
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red onion
red onion
These are sweet enough to eat raw, and they're often used to add color to salads. They're also excellent grilled or lightly cooked. Varieties include the sweet red Italian onion, Italian red onion, creole onion, and red torpedo onion.
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shallot
shallot
Australians use the term shallots to describe green onions, but to Americans, shallots are shaped like small brown onions with papery brown skins. They have a more delicate, garlicky flavor than other cooking onions, and are a common ingredient in French sauces. Many people find them too hot to eat raw. They're available year-round.
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Spanish onion
Spanish onion
These are similar to yellow onions, only larger and a bit sweeter.
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storage onion
storage onion
These onions are available year-round, since their low water content prevents molding during storage. Since storage makes onions more pungent, these onions are usually cooked before eating. This category includes the yellow onion, white onion, red onion, Spanish onion, and Bermuda onion.
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sweet onion
sweet onion
These onions are mild and crisp, so they're the onions of choice for slicing raw on burgers and sandwiches. They can be lightly cooked, too, though they're not as pungent and flavorful as storage onions. There are several different varieties, often named after the region in which they're grown. The most popular include Vidalia, Walla Walla, Sweet Imperial, Texas Spring Sweet, Texas 1015Y, Carzalia Sweet, Oso Sweet, Arizona, Granex, and Maui. They're usually available from March through August, though some producers extend the season by storing them in a low-oxygen environment. Sweet onions are usually larger than storage onions. They also have a higher water content, so they don't keep as well.
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white onion
white onion
These popular cooking onions are often called for in Hispanic dishes, since they have a cleaner, more tangy flavor than yellow onions. They're slightly more prone to mold than yellow onions, so store them in a dry, well-ventilated place.
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yellow onion
yellow onion
This is what most cooks reach for when a recipe simply calls for "onion." It's higher in sulfur than the white onion, so it has a more complex flavor. The sulfur, unfortunately, is also what makes you cry when you cut into it. Yellow onions turn a rich brown and become sweeter and milder when cooked. Many people find them too pungent to eat raw.
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