Everything You Need to Know About Onions
While onions may have a reputation for their pungent aroma, they certainly pack a punch when it comes to flavour – raw or cooked.
They are among the most common staples found in kitchens across the globe. Why? Because they are an essential base for so many great, flavourful meals from Indian classics to Canadian cuisine, and are incredibly diverse in their use.
Onions are a key ingredient in everything from soup to Greek salad and can even bring sweetness to a decadent chip dip. The limit for their use is your own gastronomic imagination.
There is an abundance of onions currently available, but the most common are: yellow cooking onions, large red and white onions, green onions or scallions, and Vidalia onions. Pearl, cipollini and shallots are smaller onion varieties that add a slightly sweet-smelling scent and flavour to many sauces and vinaigrettes.
- Yellow cooking onions are the most common in Canada. Most recipes that call for “onion” are generally referring to yellow onions because these are an excellent choice for cooking and caramelizing. Mild tasting and quite sweet in flavour (especially between March and August) these onions are available year round, however, those harvested between September through to February tend to be pungent and stronger in flavour. Their versatility means they can be enjoyed raw, lightly cooked, sautéed, grilled, baked and roasted.
- Red onions are a popular choice when raw onions are called for, thanks to their pretty colour and overall mild flavour. They also leave less of an after taste then yellow onions. They are best enjoyed raw or lightly cooked.
- These onions have a slightly different composition so they don’t store as well as their yellow cousins. They are commonly enjoyed in white sauces and in salads as they have a clean flavour. They are best consumed raw, or lightly cooked.
- When a less intense onion flavour is required, green onions are the answer. They can be eaten raw or cooked and the entire onion can be consumed, if desired. Available year round, be sure to look for brightly coloured, undamaged leaves with firm stem ends.
- People who like onions but dislike the potent taste will find sweet onions a happy alternative. These crisp onions are ideal for eating raw, but when caramelized can add a deep, rich sweetness to a variety of dishes. In season, between April and September, look for onions that are firm and free of bruises.
How to Select and Store Onions
Onions have dry, papery skin and vary in size, shape and colour. They should feel firm, and be void of any sprouts forming at the top, powdery patches, or black spots on the skins. Another way to test the freshness of an onion is to sniff it: if it doesn’t carry that typical ‘onion’ scent, you know your product is good.
All varieties of onions should be stored in a cool and dry space with plenty of ventilation. Although onions have a low rate of respiration, take care not to store them in plastic bags otherwise they will create a moist environment and breed mold.
Important to note: the urban myth that pre-cut onions will make you ill is just that – a myth! Tightly wrap leftover cut onions in plastic wrap, and keep them in your refrigerator. Be sure to use within the week.
How to Prepare Onions
To chop an onion like a pro, follow this simple guide:
- Cut both the top and root ends off the onion. Then, cut in half lengthwise and peel off the paper skin.
- Place the cut side of the onion half down on the cutting board and secure in a stable position using your fingers.
- Slice, dice, chop, quarter or mince as per your recipe directions. Chefs suggest that the finer the cut, the more flavour that will be released!
Here’s a clever tip: to reduce tearing, chill your onions in the refrigerator for up to 30 minutes before cutting into the onion.
Yield: one medium onion will give you approximately 1 cup of chopped onion.
- Onions are one of the most common base ingredients for stir-fries, soups, stews and sauces.
- If you find your cutting board smelling slightly like onion even after cleaning it, give it a good scrub with baking soda and water. Alternatively, you can rub it with the flesh of half a lemon.
- Eating parsley will help neutralize the smell of onion on your breath. However, cooked onion leave virtually no lingering odour.
- Try grating an onion into your hamburger meat. As the burgers cook, the onion will add moisture and flavour.
- To mellow the flavour of sliced raw onion, run it under cold running water. This is a great trick for salsa and salads.
- According to the National Onion Association, onions bring tears to your eyes due to sulfuric compounds when cut. They recommend that you chill your onions for about 30 minutes before slicing them and cut into the root end of the onion last to reduce this effect. To minimize their pungency, soak in ice water for up to an hour or run under cold water before for at least 1 minute.
Onions Go Well With
- Onions are an important aromatic and go well with almost everything.
- They taste great sautéed in butter, and also go well with bacon, bread, cheese, cream, milk, garlic, oil, pepper, and thyme.
- They also very complimentary to foods like mushrooms, beef, beets, cucumbers and herbs such as dill, sage, mint, parsley, rosemary, cilantro, oregano and basil.
- Onions are a great base for almost all soups and sauces.
Onion Serving Ideas
Caramelized onions take some time to cook but they have a multitude of applications. Spread them on sandwiches or flat bread, or add them to pizza or pasta for a hint of savoury sweetness.
Create a decadent side dish with just a few ingredients. This celery root and onion gratin will compliment a special meal or provide comfort during a cold evening.
Soup isn’t complete without onions. Check out our roasted pumpkin soup, tomato-basil soup or broccoli soup for seasonal and satisfying lunch and dinner inspiration.
Go beyond the classic baked potato and impress guests by creating a restaurant-worthy dish with simple ingredients that taste very gourmet. Everyone will love these chorizo, onion and cheese-stuffed potato boats.
This cheesy herbed potato bread with caramelized onions makes a wonderful side for dinner and the best vessel for your favourite sandwich fillings.
This recipe for sautéed mushrooms and onions is the perfect side to accompany a juicy steak. The mushrooms are well seasoned to stand up to the big robust flavours of the beef. You can use button mushrooms, cremini, or a combination of your favourite mushroom mix.
Onion Nutritional Information
According to the Canadian Nutrient file, 250 mL (1 cup) of raw onion contains 49 calories; 11.3 g of carbohydrate, 0 fat, and 1.3 g of protein, 2g of fibre and total natural sugars are 5.1 g. It provides 14% of your daily intake requirements of Vitamin C and 5% of your B6 requirement. 1 medium yellow onion (1 cup or 250 mL), sautéed, contains a great number of your daily-recommended intake of nutrients: 25% of Vitamin K, 6% of fibre (1.6 g), 3% of Vitamin C, 3% of magnesium, 3% of phosphorus, and 3% of potassium.