Every item on this page was chosen by The Pioneer Woman team. The site may earn a commission on some products.
You'll never be stumped in the supermarket again!
The humble onion is the backbone of so many dishes—and it can take on many forms, shape-shifting from sharp and crunchy to sweet and silky. When cooked low and slow, yellow onions will almost "melt" (Ree Drummond’s French Onion Soup is an excellent example of exactly that). Fried onions, meanwhile, have a sweet crunch. No wonder Ree thinks those ought to be placed on a list of "Culinary Triumphs of All Time"! Then there are sautéed onions: the behind-the-scenes base of savory dishes all over the world. (By the way, we've got a great recipe for making slow-cooker caramelized onions—don't miss it.)
But the difference in flavor and texture doesn't just depend on how you cook your onions—it also depends on what types of onions you use. While many types of onions are interchangeable, some are better than others raw, fried, braised, roasted, grilled, sautéed, caramelized, or pickled. Each onion has a slightly different flavor, too: Some are extra sharp, some are a bit sweeter, and others are almost peppery. Read on to learn about nine of the most common kinds of onions, then check out our guides on how to store onions and how to chop an onion.
No doubt about it: This is the MVP of the onion family! Yellow onions are the type you'll want to keep stocked in your pantry at all times. If a recipe just calls for "onions," this is a good default option. Yellow onions are best for cooking (the longer they cook, the sweeter they become). They are not great, however, for eating raw, because they’re intense in both scent and flavor with that unmistakable eye-watering onion punch.
The most vibrant of the bunch, red onions are a favorite for eating raw in salads and on sandwiches. They're mild and sweet with a sharp, crunchy bite, and their bright hue tends to mellow once cooked. When steeped in an acid like lemon juice or vinegar for a quick pickle, however, they bloom into a magnificent magenta color. They're also excellent for grilling. Pro tip: Let red onions sit in ice water for a few minutes after slicing in order to soften their bite!
The name gives it away: These extra-large onions are the sweetest in the family! They're certainly less pungent and less sulfuric than other onions. Some of the more popular varieties include Bermuda, Maui, Vidalia, and Walla Walla. Sweet onions are also juicier than other onions, which means they aren’t ideal for long-term storage and need to be refrigerated. Toss them in salads or use as a topping for burgers, pizzas, and sandwiches—and note that they’re also perfect for making onion rings!
These pristine onions can be enjoyed raw, and they deliver big, tangy onion flavor with less of a bite than yellow onions. They’re often used to make salsa and guacamole, and they're popular as a topping for hot dogs (in fact, Ladd’s favorite hot dog isn’t complete without them).
A staple on the holiday table, these tiny, inch-long onions are mild in flavor, which makes them great for braising and roasting. Though white pearl onions are the most readily available, they can also be found in red and yellow. Whatever color you choose, though, you'll need to peel them before cooking: Blanch them in boiling water for about 2 minutes, then drain and plunge them into an ice bath. The skins will slip right off! You can also buy frozen pearl onions, which come pre-peeled.
Essentially the "pearl onions of Italy," cipollinis are popular in the United States, too, thanks to their sweet, mild flavor. Small in stature and somewhat more squat than pearl onions, cipollinis become slightly creamy when cooked. They are easy to braise, grill, and pickle, and they're are also an ideal substitute for shallots and pearl onions.
These long shoots pack a peppery punch! The narrow white bulbs at the ends are often sliced and cooked, while the top green parts are great for garnish (but mind you, any part of the scallion can be eaten raw as a garnish). Scallions are also delicious when grilled or roasted whole.
Shallots are onion-like in appearance and taste, but they grow in clusters like garlic. Though pungent in flavor, they are phenomenal finely diced and added to vinaigrettes, and they are a stalwart in French cuisine, where they are used in classic sauces. Their small size also makes them ideal for braising and roasting, which concentrates and highlights their natural sweetness.
Not to be confused with scallions or green onions, spring onions are essentially young vegetables with round bulbs located at the end of their green shoots. These seasonal onions are known for their mild flavor and can be roasted, braised, or grilled whole. They are also delicious raw—try them in your next salad, or add some to your favorite salsa!