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Onions: Why They’re in Everything

Onions: Why They’re in Everything




They’re in darn near everything. Raw or cooked, these guys seem to make their way into almost any and every dish. But why? Why do these pungent bulbs stick their nose into nearly every dish?

Going into this post, I didn’t know the technical reasons for onions being in everything. I pretty much just knew hey needed to be. And I love onions so why do I really need to do the prying. Here’s what I know and what I’ve learned after a little bit of research.

Basically, if it wasn’t  for onions, you’d have no where to start. You’d be building your flavor on a foundation of an oily pan. They’re not always there to add onion flavor to a dish. More so to give you a platform to start your construction of flavor. Your seasoning needs something to hold on. Think soups and stews. Generally speaking, they all start with onion and sometime celery, carrot, garlic or even peppers. Sure you could take out the oven, but your final product would suffer. You need the sweetness the onions provide, but also need them to hold onto your flavors and enhance them instead of overpowering them. That’s why we choose the onion.

yellow onion with top cut off

Onions Have Ya Back

Onions don’t always like to be the star of the show. Quite literally, they perform better as a supporting role. Doing what the do best: support. Holding those flavors and accentuation opposing ones. Onions have a wide flavor range from sweet to salty  and tangy and musty almost spicy sometimes….shew. When you have these flavors in an onion and you sauté them and  add other ingredients to a dish, these flavors are going to make their counterparts in the other ingredients really pop.

Here’s a different example: if you eat a salted potato chip, then a piece of chocolate or other candy, that candy is going to taste was sweeter than normal because your taste buds were ready for sweet, and the saltiness came in unexpectedly and crashed the party. Now if you were to eat another chip, you’d get a boost of saltiness because of the sweet in your mouth.

This is why there is such an insurgence or salted caramel and salted chocolate everywhere these days.

Kinds of Onions

So obviously there are a ton of varieties of onion, just like any vegetable there is out there. If you’ve grown a garden or purchased seeds, you know what I’m talking about. There are really 3 main types of onions that are used regularly with a few additional you should be aware of at least.

The three big ones are yellow, white, and red. It’s not hard to spot the difference. The color do the work for you, but is more of a purple.


yellow onion
Ingredients for my pickled jalapenos.

Yellow seems to be there workhorse of the culinary world. It seems to be the most applicable to any style of dish. It’s most definitely sweet than the other too, but doesn’t have that “make you cry” pungency. They’re great for caramelizing because of their sugar content, and add a nice depth in soups and stews because of this. You don’t see these eaten in cold or raw applications, at least not nearly as much as white onions.


white onions diced for guacamole
White onions diced with jalapenos, garlic and cilantro for guacamole.

White onions are the least powerful of the three, seemingly, but are still onions and still hold a lot of cooking power. If you want onions to affect your dish in the least way, go with the white onion. It’s not nearly as sweet as the yellow, and still has a nice funkiness, but not as much as the red. If you want onion flavor from these guys, don’t cook them as long. For this reason, you see them a lot in cold, uncooked applications. I love them for chopped salads, pasta salads, dips and tuna or chicken salad.


veggie chili with cornbread waffles
Red onions as a garnish on my Veggie Chili.

And then came the red onion. Possible my personal favorite onion, and color to boot. A lot of people stray away from the red onion. To me, it seems to have the most flavor out of the three. It’s super pungent and almost spicy for it, however they can develop a sweetness similar to it’s yellow cousin. I personally use them in everything, because I love onions. You can taste these guys shining through until the end, even after giving them a beating of a sauté and filling your dish with other herbs and aromatics. They still compliment your flavors as a good onion should. I love them a lot for a garnish on a spicy dish or even pickled with some jalapeños.

Then, there are the onions you use for more specific reasons. Green onions have a great.

On top of picking the right flavor, you definitely want to chose the right way to cut your onions. These is entirely dependent on the application and how much (or little) you want to know the onions are there.


diced onions with jalapenos
Diced onions with jalapenos for my stove top baked beans.

The most general way you’ll see recipes tell you to cut your onions is “diced.” This basically means little squares. This can go from really small to rather large. Largely you’ll obviously notice more that the onions are there. However, the flavor from it will be less intense thorough the dish as a whole. When you chop them smaller you rupture more cells releasing more of the onions liquid.


Basically, really finely diced. I start by dicing the onion as small as possible, and then taking a couple chopping passes through the pile of onions. This cuts them into tiny pieces and really releases the juice and turns up the flavor.


sliced yellow onions

Start with your onion in half, from pole to pole, then slice on the short side opposite of the root end, making them as thin or thick as you like. You can also slice the onion in the same way, but instead, leave if whole. You get whole rings instead of the half slices. Use them from onions rings or maybe lining the bottom of a crock pot for a roast.

There are most certainly other ways to cut up an onion, but are the most versatile and most popular ways that you’ll need to master to become an efficient home cook.

Don’t be afraid of onions! I feel like they get a bad rap for being “stinky” or for making you cry or making your breath stink. These are all horrible reasons for not using onions! They can make almost any dish’s flavor more prevalent, or bring their own flavor and crunch in a uncooked application.

Give them a shot! Start with yellow if you’re nervous!