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types-of-onions-whats-the-differenceOnion, from the French word "oignon," is the rounded, pungent bulb of a plant if the lily family, made up of concentric layers. Onions have a strong, sharp smell and taste, and they are ususally used as a vegetable. But should onions be grouped by color, as in yellow, white, red or green or by shape, as in oval, round or slender or by personality traits, as in sweet, assertive, or tear-jerker? Read more about the types of onions for details.

While you may think an onion is just an onion, there are subtle differences between the two different onion categories of dry storage onions and fresh spring onions and even summer sweet varieties.

Dry Storage Onions

Dry storage onions have multiple layers of thick flesh and papery skin. These mature onions have intense flavors and are the best choices for dishes that require long cooking times.

Yellow Onions

Yellow onions are the “go to” variety when a recipe just calls for “onion.” It has a higher sulfuric compound (the substance that makes your eyes water) so is more strongly flavored than the other colored onions. Usually too pungent to eat raw, yellow onions become milder and sweeter when you cook them.

Red Onions

Red or Italian onions have a sweeter flavor than yellow or whites. These are a good choice to use raw atop sandwiches or in salads. They are also good lightly cooked or grilled.

White Onions

White onions have a tangier flavor than yellow. This is the onion used in traditional Mexican cuisines.

Fresh Spring Onions

Green Onions

Green onions, leeks and chives are examples of fresh spring/summer sweet onions. Green onions have a small white bulb and green stalks that are long and straight. Both parts of these onions are edible. Often referred to as scallions, but true scallions generally have a straight rather than bulbous base and a milder flavor. Although these onions are usually eaten raw, they can also be grilled or sautéed. Green onions are available year round, but are at their peak in spring and summer.


Leeks look like giant green onions and are also available year round. Leeks are related to both garlic and onions, but with milder and more complex flavors and fragrances. Leeks can be cooked whole as a vegetable or chopped and used in salads, soups, and other dishes.


Chives, available year round, are from the same family of bulb plants that produces beautiful, exotic lilies. Chives are slender and have hollow leaves which are used in dips or tossed in salads, soups, and omelets.  Chives can be stored in the refrigerator for about a week.

For more on onions, and if you have any food questions in general, please visit Sally's Place.

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