Know Your Onions: How To Pick, Prep, and Store Them

Onions are the humble workhorse of the kitchen pantry, adding savory flavor to so many dishes — lunch, breakfast, and dinner. Here’s what you need to know about this incredibly versatile veggie.

Onions in a Basket

Photo by Meredith

Types of Onions

Bermuda and Spanish: yellow or white; mild flavor
Red or Italian: red; mild flavor
Globe: yellow, white, or red: stronger flavor
Pearl: marble-size; white; mild
Maui, Vidalia, and Walla Walla: pale yellow or white; sweet and mild flavor
Green Onions or Scallions: immature onions with white bottoms and green tops; mild flavor

Most onions are available fresh year-round. Some varieties of sweet onion are more seasonal.

Collage of Onions and such

Pearl onions, yellow onion, green onions, red onions | Photo by Meredith

Choose firm onions with dry, papery skins. Avoid onions that have brown or soft spots or onions with any emerging sprouts.

Store whole onions in a cool, dry spot that’s out of the sun. Onions can keep for months. For partially used onions, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap or in a sealed container, and refrigerate. The onions will keep for several days.

Why does chopping onions cause stinging tears? Slicing through an onion releases sulfuric compounds that sting the eyes. The root end contains the most sulfuric compounds, so chop it last. Here are two no-more-tears ways to cut an onion.

How to Cut an Onion

1) Slice the top part off the onion. Which end is the top? It’s opposite the root end.

Yellow onion

Photo by Meredith

2) Cut the onion in half lengthwise from the root end to the top.

3) Fold back the skin over the root end to expose the onion.

4) Make horizontal cuts:

Slicing through onion before chop

Horizontal cuts | Photo by Meredith

5) Make vertical cuts:

Slicing through Onion before chop

Vertical cuts | Photo by Meredith

6) Chop by cutting across the top of the onion:

Chopping the Onion

Chopping the Onion | Photo by Meredith

Now that you have chopped onions, turn them into a dice or mince if you like.

Minced, Diced, Chopped Onion

Left to Right: Minced, diced, chopped onions | Photo by Meredith

Or slice them into thin strips and make caramelized onions! Here’s a step-by-step for making caramelized onions. No time to tend to the stove? Try caramelizing onions in the slow cooker.

VIDEO: How To Cut Onions


Onion Recipes

VIDEO: How to Make French Onion Soup

Watch Chef John apply some American ingenuity to French onion soup — he caramelizes the onions in the oven!


How to Grow Onions

Onions like cool weather, and can be planted and harvested earlier than most garden vegetables. They need sun and fertile, well-draining soil. There are two types of onions: long-day and short-day varieties. Ask the friendly folks at your local garden center which type grows best in your area.

Related: DIY An Endless Supply Of Fresh Green Onions

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