Sweet Onions: Varieties and Cooking How-To

One variety of onions is the sweet variety.  True sweet onions are usually larger than dry storage onions with thin light colored skin that is more susceptible to bruising. Several varieties of sweet onions are named for the region of the US in which they are grown: Vidalia (Georgia), Walla Walla (Washington State), Texas 1015Y Supersweets (Texas), Rio Sweet (Texas), Maui (Hawaii), or Grand Canyon Sweet Onions (Arizona).

Sweet onions have a delicate flavor and are a good choice for salads and other fresh and lightly cooked dishes. These onions are usually available March-August. Oso Sweet onions grow in South America but have a short season, from January through March.

Types of Sweet Onions and Uses

1. Shallots: Shallots are small with papery brown skins and are formed more like garlic with multiple cloves. Shallots have a more delicate, garlicky flavor than cooking (storage) onions. Shallots are often too spicy to eat raw, although they are quite good in cooked dishes. Dry shallots are available year round in the produce department.

2. Onion Salt: Onion Salt is just that, onion powder and salt.

3. Onion Seeds: Onion Seeds are black in color and called Nigella Seeds.  Onion seeds are commonly used as a seasoning in Indian and Middle Eastern foods, including vegetables, legumes and breads.  These seeds are very small, angular and have a nutty, peppery flavor.  Do not confuse onion seeds with black cumin seeds.

4. Pearl Onions: Pearl onions are sold fresh, canned or pickled.  Pearl onions are tiny, mild-flavored onions typically used in Beef Bourguignon, creamed or in cocktails.

5. Boiling Onions: Boiling onions are larger than pearl onions, about 1 inch in size. These mild-flavored onions are also sold fresh or pickled and are used in stews.

6. Dehydrated Onion Flakes: Dehydrated minced onion flakes, chives, and onion powders aren’t as pungent as fresh onions but can be a convenient time saver to add a mild onion flavor to dishes. 1 small onion equals 1/3-cup onion flakes.

What to Look For When Buying Sweet Onions

When buying onions, look for onions without soft spots that feel full or heavy for their size.  Store in a cool, dry place for up to about 2 months.  I do not store my onions in the refrigerator, unless I have a portion of one left over.  In that case, put in an airtight bag so the odors will not be picked up by other foods, and use the onion within 4 days.

Most people cry when they cut into onions and it's the sulfuric compounds that cause this.  People who wear contact lenses or safety goggles can avoid the tears.

Onions can be served as onion soup, creamed, in the form of rings, escalloped, stuffed baked, fried, sautéed, French fried, or glazed.

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