This onion guide takes the teary-eyed guesswork out of selecting the right onion for the job. We cover flavour profiles, how best to use various onions, and how to pick, store, and prep to get the most out of your alliums (the Latin word for onion).
No matter how you slice them, adding onions is an easy way to change up a dish. They add sharp, zingy flavours when raw, and more mellowed sweet notes when cooked.
Leeks have large woody green-and-white stems. The white parts have a delicate onion-like flavour when cooked. Before using, just make sure to wash the leeks well since sand and dirt like to nestle between the leaves.
How to use leeks
Bake, braise, roast, grill, or sauté.
Make into a soup with its natural partner, potatoes. This satisfying, warming Caramelized Leek & Potato Soup is a winner on any cold winter’s night.
Grill on the barbecue with other veggies for something different and delicious. Here’s a tasty recipe featuring grilled leeks to get you started.
Pearl onions can be white, yellow, or red and are also known as mini onions. They’re typically cooked whole and are mild in flavour, being sweeter than regular bulb onions.
How to use pearl onions
Roast, steam, or pan-fry, as in this Brussels Sprouts with Pearl Onions, Almonds & Currants recipe. Pan-searing the mini onions brings a nuanced sweetness to this wholesome side that’s perfect with poultry, beef, or lamb.
Braise mini onions for a satisfying side like this Braised Pearl Onions with Peas & Bacon.
Glaze with balsamic vinegar for a gourmet flourish.
Or sauté the pearl onions, cream and add a touch of fresh cream to your dish.
Red onions are one of the sweetest options in the onion world. Raw, they have a mild zing that can be tamed with pickling or cooking. Due to their dark-purple hue, they make an attractive addition to salads, salsas, and other dishes where you want a pop of colour.
How to use red onions
Caramelize slowly in a pan, grill, or slice to eat raw.
Dice or slice finely to use as a garnish or in a fresh salsa like this cherry tomato version.
Turn them into a luscious sweet-savoury jam or a quick pickle you can use on a charcuterie board, in tacos, or on a sandwich!
Shallots are mild and slightly sweet in flavour with garlic undertones. They tend to be less sharp than other onions and are widely used in French dishes. Tip: You can substitute shallots for regular onions in most any recipe; the trick is you need to use the same volume.
How to use shallots
Fry (they make an excellent crispy topping on casseroles, mashed potatoes, and rice dishes), roast, or sauté.
Try roasting them whole with other sturdy fall/winter vegetables and squashes, or give this Slow-Roasted Beets & Shallots with Strawberry Vinaigrette recipe a try.
Mince and add to a dressing like this classic French-Style Shallot Vinaigrette recipe. Tip: For a mellower shallot flavour, let the minced shallots soak in the recipe’s vinegar or lemon juice before adding the oil. They’ll release their flavour and add a delicious nuance to the dressing.
Stronger in flavour and aroma than other onions, Spanish onions are normally fist-size with a thick outer skin and substantial layers. These form part of the yellow onion family and tend to be slightly sweeter than their yellow cousins.
How to use Spanish onions
Caramelize, roast, or sauté in your favourite dishes.
Try cutting a substantial slice and using these for the best deep-fried or oven-baked onion rings!
Skewer and grill segments for a tasty kabob like these Chipotle Shrimp, Mango & Sweet Onion Kabobs.
Try them in these savoury Samosa Pancakes.
Flavourful, crunchy, and subtly sweet, green onions also go by the names scallions and spring onions. These make a good stand-in for sweet onions!
How to use green onions
Braise, roast, grill, or eat raw.
Chop and add to egg, tuna, or potato salad.
Create a flavourful sandwich spread or dip using mayo and green onions.
Stir-fry in fried rice.
Finely slice and use in compound butters or steak toppers like this Grilled Steak with Green Onion & Goat Cheese Topping recipe.
How to select, store and prep onions
- Choose firm unblemished onions with dry, paper-thin outer skins. For green onions and leeks, pick firm bulbs with vivid-green stems that aren’t wilted.
- To store, keep uncovered in a dry, cool place for up to a month or at room temperature for up to two weeks. Cover and refrigerate cut onions for up to four days. Keep green onions and leeks in the crisper.
- To prep, remove roots, any tough bits, and the papery outer skin. Use only white portions of leeks and rinse well to remove grit; use green stems in a homemade vegetable stock.