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5 Types of Onions, and How to Use Them

Michele Debczak
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Alliums are present in some form in cuisines around the world. Several vegetables belong to this family of pungent, sweet-and-savory plants—including garlic, leeks, and chives—but onions may be the most diverse of the bunch. The layered bulbs come in different shapes, colors, and sizes, and they shouldn't always be used interchangeably. Before cooking dinner tonight, learn about the most popular types of onions and their uses below.

1. Yellow Onions

Yellow onion on burlap material.
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If your grocery store sells one type of onion, this is likely it. Yellow onions are the default onions used in many recipes. They're round with papery, brown skin and white flesh. Their versatility has helped make them the most popular onion grown in the U.S.; you can dice and sauté them to add flavor to soups, sauces, curries, and braises. The ingredient can also be cooked low and slow until it's caramelized, as it's used in French onion soup.

2. Red Onions

Red onion on white background.
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Red onions are prized for their appearance as well as their taste. After peeling back the reddish skin, you'll find an onion with a shiny purple exterior and layers of purple and white throughout the interior. Their sweet, relatively mild taste makes them the perfect allium to eat raw. You might see red onions cut into slivers and tossed with leafy greens, diced fine and mixed with tuna salad, or sliced into rings and served on burgers, and they're also great for grilling and pickling.

3. White Onions

Dice white onion in a bowl.
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White onion are distinguished by their white skin and flesh. They don't have the strong, pungent flavor of yellow onions, but they can be used as an alternate ingredient in a pinch. The mild taste also means they can be served raw. The diced, raw onions you see topping chili, hot dogs, and tacos are usually white onions.

4. Sweet Onions

Sweet onions on table.
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Sweet onions are slightly bigger than yellow onions and similar in color. With a sweet, mellow flavor, these onions also taste great raw. They're ideal for dipping in batter and frying into onion rings as well. Depending on where you live, you can find regional variations of sweet onions, including Walla Wallas from Washington, Vidalias from Georgia, and Mauis from Hawaii.

5. Cipollini Onions

Cipollini onions on cloth.
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Cipollini (literally "little onion" in Italian) onions are harder to find at the supermarket than the produce listed above. They look like yellow onions that have been shrunk down and squashed into a stout, UFO-like shape. Their small size and sweet flavor make them a popular option for roasting and eating whole.

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