Get to know the different types of onions that can be found all over the world and how these highly nutritious plants are used for various purposes aside from cooking.
Where would humanity be without the onion? We would have shed far fewer tears, we would have no appropriate analogy describing our protective personalities, and our soups and sauces would be far inferior than they are now.
Onions are vegetables that belong to the amaryllidaceae family and the genus allium. They originated from central Asia and were cultivated 7,000 years ago and have been cultivated for food harvest ever since. They are very close relatives of the Chinese onion, leek, scallion, and chive.
There are hundreds of onion species, and depending on the onion variety, they will vary in overall shape, size, color, growing region, and most importantly, flavor!
Did you ever wonder what it is that makes us cry when we cut open an onion? Well, onion juice contains sulphuric acid which causes our eyes to create moisture because of the stinging sensation.
Keep reading to discover all the different types of onions! We’ll also go over all of the beautiful ways that onions can be used; from growing onions to putting them in salad dressings or French onion soup. You can make caramelized onions, pickled onion, an onion ring, and there ain’t nothing wrong with a lovely raw onion!
Table of Contents
- Onion Nutrition Chart
- What is an Onion?
- 26 Different Onion Types
- 1. Bermuda Onion
- 2. Boiling Onion
- 3. Chive
- 4. Cipollini Onion
- 5. Cocktail Onion
- 6. Creole Onion
- 7. Egyptian Onion
- 8. Green Onion
- 9. Leek
- 10. Maui Onion
- 11. Mayan Sweet Onion
- 12. Pearl Onion
- 13. Pickling Onion
- 14. Red Onion
- 15. Red Wing Onion
- 16. Shallot
- 17. Spanish Onion
- 18. Texas Supa-Sweet Onion
- 19. Torpedo Onion
- 20. Tropea Lunga Onion
- 21. Vidalia Onion
- 22. Walla Walla Sweet Onion
- 23. Welsh Onion
- 24. White Onion
- 25. Yellow Onion
- 26. Brown Onion
Onion Nutrition Chart
Onions are one of those super vegetables. Not only are they good for you, but they provide so much robust onion flavour to our favorite dishes. Sometimes the most healthy vegetables can be a little bit on the bland side (ya, I’m talking to you, kale) but that is not the case with onions! We like something a little bit more of a pungent flavour around here.
What is an Onion?
Though most of us just call it an onion, it should more appropriately be called a bulb onion, bulbing onion, or common onion. They can be grown as a biennial (usually living 2 years) or a perennial plant, but when cultivated, they are mostly treated as an annual plant and harvested after their very first growing season.
Much like a root vegetable, we actually eat the bulb, or technically the root system of the onion plant. An onion bulb is an underground stem that is shortened and compressed. The bulb itself is comprised of scale-like leaves (this is the part we eat!)
The leaves emerge very fleshy and juicy, but as harvesting season approaches, the outer foliage dies and become dry and brittle. This acts as a natural preservation tool for the onion, and why most onions don’t need to be refrigerated!
Once an onion is harvested it is ready to go as a storage onion that can be used at any time, or you can process your onions! Try a pickled onion recipe, a fermented onion recipe, or even try your hand at dry onions for an awesome garnish.
26 Different Onion Types
1. Bermuda Onion
Bermuda onions are great for both stuffing and baking, mainly because of their large size. They have a slightly sweet flavor that won’t overpower the rest of the ingredients, and they are a favorite on certain holidays. If you need a replacement for either Spanish onions or shallots, the Bermuda onion is what you should choose.
Bermuda onions originated on the Bermuda islands, but are also popularly grown all over the United States, especially in Texas. The Bermuda onion is commonly used raw in salads and sandwiches, but they are great for cooking as well.
Their sweet and mild flavor makes them just as versatile as the common yellow onion. They come in a large bulbous shape and will usually be either white, yellow, or red.
2. Boiling Onion
The boiling onion is very similar to a pearl onion, though it is about twice as large. They are about an inch in diameter and round in shape. They are a great dry onion that can be kept for a long time in a pantry.
Boiling onions have a very mild flavor, though not mild enough to be used raw. They are commonly used as whole onions to be added to soups, stews, and braises.
Yes, chives are a type of onion, and they are perfect for making salads and soups with a little more kick. In fact, they provide a spiciness to any dish you include them in, so if you want some extra oomph for your next casserole or main dish, chives are the perfect ingredient. You can also use them in eggs and creamed soups for a little extra flavor.
Chives are most commonly used raw. Their fresh and mild spicy flavor is best depicted when they are used as a garnish, and will always ensure a necessary punch of freshness to any dish.
4. Cipollini Onion
Cipollini onions are usually a beige or brown color, and they have a rich, sweet taste. If you want the perfect onion to caramelize or roast, the Cipollini onion is the one to choose. They also taste great in salads. One variety of Cipollini onion is known as the Bianco di Maggio, which is white in color and has a sweet taste.
Cipollini onions are also an excellent choice for French onion soup. Used with other types of onion, the cipollini adds an incredibly sweet and robust dimension to the soup.
5. Cocktail Onion
Also called Silver Skin onions, cocktail onions are sweet and very small. If you see pickled onions in a store, it is likely going to be cocktail onion. They are often used to garnish cocktails and in recipes for various cheeses and bread.
The cocktail onion is actually an immature onion or a baby onion that is harvested before it is fully grown. The outer layer are peeled off before the onion is pickled. They’ve got a super pungent flavor!
The classic vesper martini is garnished with a cocktail onion. To be honest, they are more of an outdated garnish (we all remember what happened to the sun dried tomato) and they are not commonly used in cooking as much.
6. Creole Onion
Small and red, Creole onions are very spicy, and they are perfect for adding a little kick to your dish. They are mostly grown in southern climates and have been used in Creole cuisine for centuries.
They are short day onions that are a flattened bulb shape with spicy purple flesh. They are a special heirloom variety that has a very pungent smell. Though they have an intense flavor, they are most popularly used as raw garnishes for that extra oomph!
7. Egyptian Onion
The Egyptian onion is also known as the Egyptian walking onion. It gets this name because it’s odd growing pattern. Basically the plant produces bulblets where flowers would usually grow. Once they bulblets become too heavy, the stalks tip over and the bulblets plant themselves into the ground. This creates an interesting “walking” growth habit!
These Egyptian onion bulblets are edible and are said to taste very similar to shallots, only slightly more intense in flavor. They can be eaten both raw and used for various cooking recipes.
8. Green Onion
Also called a spring onion, green onions are great in dishes such as sandwiches, stir-fry dishes, and various types of dips. They have a mild, peppery taste, and they can easily be eaten raw. If you use them in a stir-fry dish, you can use both the white and the green parts, although you may want to use only one part for other recipes.
Green onions are interesting because their flavor changes the closer you get to the bulb. The very tips of the plant that are most dark green will have a more mild flavor and a more dried leaf, and the lower down you go the juicier and more flavorful the plant becomes.
Leeks are very versatile onions and they go great with meats, such as bacon. If you’re cooking something slowly from scratch – including stews and soups – they are the perfect ingredient to add. In fact, you can find many soup recipes that include leeks if you search the Internet.
Leeks are awesome because even though the tops of the leaves are exactly edible, they can still be steeped in a slow cooking broth, so that no part of the plant has to be wasted. The bottom half of the leeks are the parts that can be eaten cooked.
10. Maui Onion
With a sweet and juicy flavor, Maui onions are great when marinated, grilled, or caramelized. The taste of Maui onions really comes out when you use them in sandwiches, onion rings, and various salads.
The Maui onion grows only in Hawaii as it requires volcanic soil to grow. These onions are extremely sweet, and lack the sulphuric acid that other onions have that cause tears when they are cut. They are also very juicy due to their high water content.
Hawaiian islanders will traditionally eat the Maui onion raw because of its wonderful sweetness, though when cooked they become even sweeter.
11. Mayan Sweet Onion
The Mayan sweet onion can be found in the United States during the fall and winter months, and they are very juicy and mild, especially when eaten fresh. They become incredibly sweet when they are cooked, and their high sugar content makes them the perfect candidate for caramelized onions.
This sweet onion variety is quite a bit sweeter and less pungent than other onions. This makes them much easier to cut up as they have a lower sulphuric acid content.
12. Pearl Onion
Also called Button or Baby onions, Pearl onions are small and have a mild, sweet taste. In fact, they are so small that they can be used whole after they’re peeled, and they are perfect for pickling and for making your gravy taste even yummier.
Pearl onions have very thin skin and can be rather tedious to peel, so make sure to leave yourself plenty of extra prep time if you choose a recipe that contains pearl onions!
13. Pickling Onion
Pickling onions are very strong and pungent. They are great for casseroles and in fact, they can be used as a substitute for almost any other type of onion. They are also frequently pickled, hence their name.
Keep in mind that an onion is already intense enough in flavor, and pickling them makes them all the more intense. This onion type is only for those who aren’t afraid for a punch in the face of flavour.
14. Red Onion
Red onions have a sweet, but mild flavor and they are perfect when you’re roasting meats and wish to add a little more flavor. They are good when added to salads and sandwiches, and you often see red onions on antipasto trays as well.
Some may think of red onions as being spicy, but others find them having the perfect amount of kick. Completely delicious when roasted, they are also mild enough in flavor to be eaten raw — the perfect salad or sandwich garnish.
15. Red Wing Onion
Naturally red in color, hence their name, Red Wing onions are very mild and, therefore, they are great for adding to sandwiches and salads. You can also cook these types of onions, but they are usually tastier eaten raw.
These are very similar to the classic red onion, though are slightly less mild in taste. They also usually have less dry outer skin and more fleshy leaves.
Although not a true onion, shallots are usually considered a type of onion and look a lot like green onions or leeks. They are usually used in recipes for dips, sauces, and dressings, and they have a very delicate, mild flavor. There is also a Thai shallot, which is a little less pungent than the European varieties and they do well in spicy pastes.
Shallots are very commonly used in french cuisine, and truly can’t be beat when they are cooked in butter. Using shallots and cipollini onions in a French onion soup will knock the socks off of your dinner guests!
17. Spanish Onion
Great for stuffing and for making the perfect onion rings, Spanish onions look a lot like regular yellow onions and have a sweet taste. They also have a lower water content than many other types of onions, and they are perfect in a variety of dishes as well.
The Spanish onion is actually a type of yellow onion. In some supermarkets where they don’t have a great selection of onion type, they will market the Spanish onion as a simply yellow onion.
The Spanish onion is quite large and will range from yellow to red. They are quite juicy mild in flavor and have more of a sweet taste. These delectable bulbs are more often used as raw onion because of their delicate flavor and make for a great salad onion or sandwich onion.
18. Texas Supa-Sweet Onion
Also called the Supersweet onion, these onions actually have a mild, delicate taste. They are often used for sandwiches, salads, and even certain types of salsa.
In Texas they say that the Texas Super Sweet onion is so sweet that you could eat it like an apple! Talk about bad breath for days! These onions are jumbo sized and can grow to be about the size of a baseball. They have very sweet white flesh and think yellow skin.
19. Torpedo Onion
Torpedo onions have a lot of sweetness to them, and they are excellent when either pickled or grilled until they’re tender. These are a red Italian specialty onion.
Commonly growing to 8 inches in length and only 3 inches around, they have purple or red skins and pale red flesh. Their mild sweet flavor allows them to be eaten raw though they are just as pleasant cooked.
20. Tropea Lunga Onion
These are onions common and popular in Italy, and they are well known for their zesty taste. When they are grilled, they are even tastier, and they become more fragrant as well. They are an heirloom variety that originated in southern Italy.
These elongated bulbs have red skins and very crisp pink flesh. The mild flavor makes them perfect to eat raw, though they are great for pickling and roasting as well.
21. Vidalia Onion
Especially popular in the South, Vidalia onions are extremely sweet, making them the perfect onion for eating raw. Add them to your favorite hamburger or other sandwiches, and any other dish you wish to have a sweet taste because Vidalia onions will never let you down if a sweet taste is what you want.
Vidalia onions are one of the most well known of the sweet onion family. When you see them in the grocery store, make sure to snatch them up!
22. Walla Walla Sweet Onion
Walla Walla onions have a rather complex taste that is mostly sweet in nature. They are usually either eaten raw or cooked only slightly, and you can find them in recipes for quiche, pizza, pasta, and a variety of salads.
The Walla Walla onion is truly huge. They are also low in sulphuric acid, which means that they will be less spicy and won’t hurt as much when you are chopping them up.
23. Welsh Onion
With a look that is similar to green onions, these onions are used in a lot of Asian dishes and in fact, have nothing to do with Wales. Welsh onions are native to China, and they are slightly bigger than green onions. They are also perfect for a variety of stir-fry dishes.
They are also known under the names of bunching onion, long green onion, and they are actually a type of scallion rather than an onion. They do not produce bulbs, but instead produce long and hallow leaves and scapes.
24. White Onion
White onions have a very pungent, strong flavor and should only be used when a strong flavor is what you want. They can be used in a variety of dishes for certain salads and general cooking purposes, and their color can be white or slightly brown.
White onions are probably one of the more intense of the onion flavors, and can easily be identified by their white skins and white flesh. They taste far better when they are cooked, but be warned, these tend to sting the most when you are chopping them up!
25. Yellow Onion
Yellow onions have a pungent taste, although not nearly as pungent as the white onion. Sometimes confused with Spanish onions, yellow onions are used for numerous recipes, especially when you’re looking for a kick to your dish.
Yellow onions are one of the most common onion types that you’ll see in the grocery store. They are a staple item in any pantry.
26. Brown Onion
The brown onion is one of the most popular types of onions that are used for cooking in Australia! There are many types of onions that are marketed as brown onions, but the real brown onion has very crisp, white flesh enrobed by very papery brown skin.
The flavor of a brown onion is a bit too strong and spicy to be eaten raw, but they make for the perfect cooking onion. They are great as caramelized onions, onions for soups, and make for great dried onions too.