Onions-Different Types for Different Uses


So many different alliums! How are they different and how do you use them to their best advantage?

Let’s start with young onions, or what we at Red Wagon call ‘grilling onions’ vs the storing onions we are starting to see at the CSA pickup.

Grilling onions are just young thin-skinned onions. We harvest them while they are still developing so they are mild, sweet and tender. You can eat them raw and they will be mild and crisp. If you grill them they are not too bold in flavor. Grilling onions will only store for a week or two in the refrigerator. They are not storing onions.

Look at the stems of these three onions, the stem of an onion tells us their story.IMG_2905

The first onion is a Grilling/Young  Onion, Second a Storage Onion and third is a storage onions still curing. Look at the stem on the onion on the left. It is fat and the rings of the onion are exposed to air. This onion will not store for long but will be delicious for a week or two. The middle onion is a storage onion. This onion has been harvested and properly cured/dried so the stem dries and closes around the onion providing natural protection so this onion will store for months in a cool dry spot. The onion on the right is a storage onion still being cured.See how the onion skin is drying and closing around the stem? You can see how the papers of the onions’ job is to dry and shrink around the bulb of the onion to protect it for long storage. In a few more days this onions’ stem will be dry and shrink and close the stem around the bulb to protect it for long storage.

These three onions are pretty similar, right? Clearly meant to be storage onions.


Let’s cut them open and see what is going on.


Go back and look a the picture of the uncut onions again. Look how the onion stem on the left* is sort of flat and open, the middle is seemingly dry and closed, and the last is dried and shriveled up high, but firm against the top of the bulb of the onion. All of the skins look pretty good though.

When cut open, it is easy to see how, and why, middle onion and the onion on the right were cured properly and will store well. If I had these onions in my pantry I would obviously throw away the onion on the left and use the middle onion first, then the onion on the right last.

Phew. Was that too much info?

I’ll give my short answer when I’m asked ‘what is the difference between red, yellow and white storage onions’.


Yellow onions are an all purpose onion. They are great for cooking, not too pungent and are sweet enough to caramelize when cooked. Raw they have a more assertive/pungent onion flavor than white onions and they can be less crisp than white onions. I try to save yellow onions for cooking.

I like to use white onions if I am making something raw, like salsa, or a sandwich. You can cook with them, but they aren’t as sweet as yellow onions and many times if you are trying to ‘brown’ your onions you will burn a white onion because it doesn’t have the natural sugar that yellow or red onions have. If you need to brown an onion and only have white onions add a pinch of sugar and you should get it to brown OK, and not burn.

Red onions are obviously very pretty raw. They taste similar to yellow onions raw and cooked. They are pungent/assertive raw and have nice assertive but sweet ‘onion’ flavor cooked.The color gets a little washed out when you cook them, so I usually save my red onions for using in raw dishes.

We will talk about leeks and boiling onions in another blog post.

If you have any questions, email me or leave a comment below in the comment section.

Have a great week.


*It took me about 10 minutes to find an onion that wasn’t curing properly from literally TONS of onions we have harvested this year. 99% of our storing onions, the onions you will get, will be cured properly and will keep (if you store them in a cool dry place) for  months. I just wanted to get the concept across of how an onion cures and what it looks like when done properly. I hope these pictures do that.



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