The Nine Types of Onions


Onions can be categorized in several ways.  It can be classified according to their color (green and dried that turns red, white or yellow), according to when they are harvested (spring/summer, fall/winter), or their pungency (mild or pungent).

And because they are diverse, onions can also be classified according to how they are used.  With over 400 varieties of onions available, it can be confusing to choose which particular onion to use for a particular dish.

Red or Purple Onions

This onion cultivar has a mild and sweet flavor which is why they are most often used in salads, raw fish and hamburgers.  They are flavor and color to otherwise “pale” foods because of its color.  You can tell a red onion by the looking at the edge of the onion’s scale which has a tinge of red.

Green Onions

Also known as scallions, green onions have a very mild taste – milder in fact, as compared to “true” onions.

They are used in different ways in different countries.  In the US for instance, they are commonly used as a minor ingredient in dishes, soups, added raw in salads, fried, baked or grilled on its own.  They are also sometimes used in pancakes.

In Korea, green onions are used in a dish called paijoi, a salad whose main ingredient is green onions.  In Spain, they are used in roasted calcots and served with a dip while in Bosnia, scallions are combined with cottage cheese in a dish called mladi luk.

Green onions are extensively used as a garnish all throughout South East Asia but they are not often seen in the UK.

White Onions

Sometimes called pearl onions, white onions are sweeter and less pungent compared to other varieties especially when sautéed.  Because of its sweetness, they can be caramelized.  White onions are often used in raw salads, beef stews and Mexican cuisine.

Pickling Onions

Like the name suggests, this type of pickle, because of its strong flavor, is great for pickling, in stews and salads, too.

A few of the best pickling onions include Barletta Silverskin, Small Paris Silverskin and Covent Garden Pearl.



Although shallots are not a variety of onions but a species of its own, it is often thought and used as one.  They have a mild taste that is a cross between garlic and sweet onions.  Shallots are often used in Persian, Indian and South East Asian cooking as a spice in yohgurt, mixed in fried rice and in curries.

Mild Onions

For some people, mild onions are subtle and have a sweeter taste compared to cooking onions.  They can be used almost in any dish you can think of but they are best eaten raw or cooked lightly.  Mild onions are also a great accompaniment in grilled foods.

Salad Onions

Also called spring onions, onion sticks, or scallions, salad onions have a very mild taste.  They are most often glazed and served as an appetizer.  The green tops are used to add flavor to chicken stock and vegetable dishes.  They can also be caramelized and pureed to be used in creamy bisque.

Supa sweet Onions

A mild white onion, the supa sweet onion variety has been tagged as the “ultimate fresh use onion.” It lacks the pungency of the typical onion, is tear-free and very ideal for being consumed raw.  They are best in adding flavor to sandwiches, salsas and salads.

It does not have a lingering taste and won’t leave you with a bad breath after eating it.

Cooking Onions

The most widely used of all onions is the cooking onion or otherwise known as brown onions.  They are included in a wide array of dishes:  in casseroles, pies, pizzas, curries, gravies and soups.  This is on account of their distinct flavor which is very strong and pungent.