I love cooking and if you follow my blog you get that right away. As I grow wiser in my cooking skills (have more time to cook) I am learning the subtilties of flavor. Why use an onion when you could use a leek. Why shallots and not onions. Why a yellow onion instead of a sweet Walla Walla onion. It is important to know the differences and why you use one in one place and another in another dish. What onions taste good raw and which ones may not so much. So I started doing a little onion research, or why do some make you cry and others do not.
Yellow onions, the most popular cooking onions add excellent flavor to most stews, soups, and meat dishes. In fact, typically when a cooked recipe calls for onion, yellow onion is a safe way to go. Yellow onions have a yellow-brown papery skin on the outside and a white flesh.
It is to know if someone is cooking with yellow onion because my eyes start to water due to effect of higher sulfur content. The yellow onion has a high sulfur content, so it has a more pungent flavor and smell, which typically makes it too strong to eat raw unless there are other ingredients to counter-balance the flavor. I use yellow onions in stews, soups, sautéed dishes, and shish kabobs. They have excellent flavor when cooked, and I rarely cook without them.
White onions have an all-white skin and an all-white flesh. They have a slightly milder flavor than the yellow onion and are a great substitute if you’re in need of an onion flavor, but don’t want it to be too powerful. White onions are commonly used in Mexican cuisines. I don’t know if I have ever used them and I finally now know when to substitute.
Red onions are used more in non-cooked dishes, such as salads and sandwiches. Of the different colored onions, the red onion is the most mild, sweet onion. Red onions have the purplish-red skin which color is layered though it’s white flesh. I personally don’t like to cook heated dishes with red onion because it doesn’t produce enough onion flavor to enhance my meal. Keep in mind that cooking an onion diminishes its flavor, but increases the flavor of the food around it. I love cooked red onions caramelized for hamburgers.
Sweet onions, sometimes referred to as “short day” onions, because their growing season occurs during the fall and winter with harvest usually in spring /summer, are fresh onions, picked and cured for a short time, then rushed to market. Storage onions, or regular globe onions, are harvested in late summer and fall, stored in warehouses and delivered to markets throughout most of the year.
Although there is no official industry standard, it is generally accepted that an onion should contain at least 6% sugar to be in the “sweet” category. Some sweet onions, like the OsoSweet, have recorded sugar levels of up to 15%. Storage onions usually range from 3%-5% in sugar content.
Unlike sweet onions, regular onions have high levels of sulfur compounds. It’s the pyruvic acid in the sulfur that causes tears, harshness, and indigestion. That’s why great sweet onions are always grown in soil with low amounts of sulfur. Typically, sweet onions have pyruvic acid levels that measure below 5%; storage onions usually run 10%-13%. Because a sweet onion is also a fresh onion it is very high in water content, which further dilutes the effect of the sulfur and increases mildness.
The best sweet onions deliver a burst of sweetness when bitten into, are incredibly mild, with very little if any sharpness, and have a subtle, fruity flavor. They should still taste like an onion, but be much sweeter and milder.
Sweet onions have a thinner, lighter color skin than storage onions and tend to be more fragile. Signs in produce sections usually differentiate between sweet onions and storage onions. Most producers also put stickers on each individual onion, such as “Texas 1015 SuperSweet,” “Sweet Imperials,” etc. Another indication is price – sweet onions are a premium product that can range anywhere from 79 cents a pound and up.
Although it seems like sweet onions are a relatively new item, they were first introduced to America around the turn of the century when a retired French soldier brought some onion seeds from Corsica to the Walla Walla region of the Pacific Northwest. But it wasn’t until the savvy farmers in Georgia realized what a special thing they had in the Vidalia onion and began spreading the news far and wide that the sweet onion finally got the attention it deserves.
Once considered just a spring/summer treat, these sweet orbs are now available year-round. Vidalias, a springtime delight, now show up in markets until late fall, thanks to controlled-atmosphere storage. And now with the development of the OsoSweet onion, we can enjoy mild, sweet onions all winter long.
Onion vs Shallot
In the culinary world, you may come across two ingredients that may somehow confuse you, the onion and the shallot. Some people may consider them very similar as they often substitute one with the other. However, established culinary experts know the distinct tastes and texture they provide in every cuisine. So, how different are they from each other? Let’s break it down.
Onion is a general term used to refer plants in the genus Allium. However onions, as a common name, usually refers to specific specie, the “garden or bulb onion” (Allium cepa).
The bulb onion is a popular kitchen ingredient that is used worldwide. As the name implies, it is bulb shaped but sometimes flat almost disc shaped. Its skin colors are white, yellow or red. The taste depends entirely on the variety. It can sharp, spicy, tangy and pungent or mild and sweet.
Onions are grown from seed or commonly, from sets. They eventually grow into a large single bulb per plant. Onions are rather difficult to propagate since there are special processes involved to produce a durable bulb.
A shallot, on the other hand, is referred to two different Allium species the Allium oschaninii and the Allium cepa var. aggregatum or Allium ascalonicum.
The Allium oschaninii is the French grey challot or griselle. This specie is considered as the “true shallot” but still cannot beat the Allium cepa variety in terms of global popularity. The latter is widely accepted as the shallot.
Shallots, the Allium ascalonicum variety — grow in clusters, just like those of garlic, where separate bulbs are attached at the base. However, unlike garlic, the individual bulbs are not encircled together by a common membrane. They are closely related to multiplier onions and are rather easy to grow as they require little soil preparation. The plants seldom form seed, so they’re usually grown from cloves Ã± they are vegetatively multiplied.
They look like elongated onions and the skin is colored copper, reddish, or gray. Shallots have a mild taste which is a mix of sweet onion flavor and a touch of garlic.
1. Shallots grow as a cluster of bulbs from a single planted bulb similar to garlic while onions grow as a single big bulb per plant.
2. Shallots are a lot smaller compared to onions.
3. The common onion is Allium cepa while the commonly accepted shallot is Allium ascalonicum.
4. The shallot may resemble the taste of onion but milder and sweeter in flavor. Distinctively from onions, shallot may taste with a hint of garlic.
5. Onions are more difficult to grow than shallots.
6. Onions are seed-propagated, whereas shallots are vegetatively multiplied.
7. Onions are almost disc-shaped bulbs while shallots can appear like elongated onions.
How to Pick a Good Onion
In general, when you’re choosing onions in the store, the best ones will be firm, have a crackly outer skin, and have a mild scent. If their scent is overwhelming it’s a good sign the onion is starting to spoil. Avoid onions with dark spots or mold as well, though every once in a while I’ll still purchase those if I’m going to use them right away (I guess that’s my altruistic side coming out–take one for the team, you know). On another note, onions tend to store better in a slightly cooler, darker area, although the fridge is not recommended. The onion smell has a tendency to spoil the flavor of other foods in the fridge.
Here is a great chart to help you decide what to use. Oh wait, where do Leeks fit in?
Leeks vs Green Onions
Onion is one vegetable that is an integral part of kitchens around the world. It is used both as a vegetable and also eaten raw in the form of salad. It has a pungent smell but used in cooking, to add to the flavor and aroma of many different types of food recipes. There are many different types of onions with green onions being very popular in European and Chinese cuisine. There is another variety called leek that confuses many because of its similarities with green onions. However, despite similarities, there are subtle differences also that prevent leeks being substituted with onions in many recipes.
Onion is a flowering plant belonging to the genus Allium that also contains garlic and leek. It is the edible bulb of onion plant that is used universally in cooking or as raw vegetable. Even the stem and the leaves of onion plant are used in cooking in many parts of the world. The most common and popular type of onion around the world is the red onion that is also called common onion. Onion bulb is known for its health benefits to human beings. It is anti-inflammatory, reduces cholesterol levels, and also has antioxidant properties. However, most people love it to consume onion bulb because of its taste and aroma. The paste of onion bulbs is used to thicken curries and to add to the flavor. The characteristic feature of red onion is its multilayered structure. It has a pungent smell and brings tears to the eyes of a person who cuts it into pieces.
One of the varieties of onions is green onion or scallion that is known by different names such as spring onions, baby onions, salad onions, gibbons, etc. These varieties have smaller bulbs that are not fully developed. The leaves are hollow from inside and are edible. These varieties are milder than red onions and used cooked as well as raw.
Leek is a plant that belongs to the family of genus Allium. It is a symbol of Wales and Welsh leeks are very popular all over Europe for their taste and aroma. Leek is a plant that does not produce a strong bulb and has long leaves that are cylindrical and crunchy to eat. People mistakenly refer to the heath of leaves as the stem of this plant. The part of these leaves that is just above the root or the bulb and is light green in color is edible though people also consume the hard and dark green part of the leaves of leeks too.
Leeks vs Green Onions
• Both green onions, as well as leeks, are part of the same onion family, but leeks are larger and are milder in taste and aroma than green onions.
• It is harder to cook the leaves of leeks while green onion leaves can be easily cooked.
• Leeks look like oversized green onions.
• Green onion leaves can be eaten raw, but leeks require to be cooked before consumption.
• One has to blanch the leaves of leeks as mud and dirt hides in between its leaves.
• It is the light green part of the leaves of leeks that are edible.
• Welsh leeks are very popular, and the vegetable is a national symbol of the country.