Onions 101 – The Basics

If you do any cooking at all, you’re probably familiar with onions. We grill, roast, saute, and caramelize them, add them to soups, stews, casseroles, and sauces, eat them raw adding them to salsas, salads, sandwiches and more! In the 101 series video below, I go in-depth about the onion including nutrition tidbits, how to select, store, and preserve onions, cooking methods and what herbs, spices and foods go with onions, as well as providing many helpful links on the preparation and use of this pungent bulb, and much more! Watch the video below to learn many interesting facts about onions and how to use them!

My complete video notes are below the video link. Enjoy!

I hope this helps!

Onions 101 – The Basics

About Onions
What we call an “onion” is also called a “bulb onion” or “common onion.” It is a member of the Allium family, so it is closely related to garlic, leeks, and chives. Onions are grown around the world and are commonly used cooked, as a vegetable or part of a savory dish. It is also used raw to flavor sandwiches, salads, pickles, and chutneys. Onions provide flavor, color and texture to a wide array of foods.

There are many varieties of onions, including scallions, Spring onions, Vidalia onions, ramps, yellow, white and red onions, shallots, pearl onions, Cipollini onions, and leeks. They vary in flavor from sweet and mild (as in Vidalias and leeks) to strong (as in older yellow onions). This web page shows pictures of common (and some not-so-common) types of onions https://www.seriouseats.com/2014/06/differences-between-onions-yellow-red-vidalia-what-are-ramps-shallots-how-to-cook-with-onions-guide.html

This website shows yet more types of onions, some of which are not commonly found in most grocery stores https://www.finedininglovers.com/blog/food-drinks/types-of-onions/

The average American eats 20 pounds of onions each year! Try preparing some common dish that you like without the usual addition of onion, and you’ll have a new-found appreciation for this humble bulb!

Fun fact: According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest onion recorded weighed 10 pounds 14 ounces, and was grown in England.

Nutrition Tidbits
Onions are high in Vitamin C, are a good source of fiber and folic acid and contain an array of other nutrients as well. Onions also contain quercetin, an important antioxidant and anti-inflammatory flavonoid that helps to protect against heart disease and cancer. Onions have been found to help to control blood sugar, boost bone density, have antibacterial properties, and boost digestive health with their fiber content. So, in addition to the flavor they add to our food, onions also are providing many health benefits at the same time!

How to Select Onions
Bulb onions should be firm and dry with thin papery skins and little to no scent. Avoid those with cuts, bruises, blemishes, and soft or wet spots. The “necks” should be tight and dry.

How to Store Onions
Onions keep best when stored at room temperature in a single layer or hung in mesh bags in a cool, dry, dark, well-ventilated area. The colder the temperature, the better (as long as it is above 32F). Do not store them in plastic bags because the lack of air and accumulated moisture will cause them to spoil easily.

Onions can draw moisture from other vegetables that are stored nearby. Do not store them near potatoes, which release moisture and gases that cause onions to spoil quickly.

Freshly harvested onions taste sweeter. The flavor intensifies the longer they are stored through the winter months.

How to Preserve Onions
Freeze: Fresh onions can easily be frozen by simply peeling and cutting them into desired size pieces, then placing the pieces into freezer bags. They do not need to be blanched. For most cooked dishes, frozen onion pieces can be used with little to no thawing and are a great convenience when time for cooking is short.

Dehydrate: Onions may be dehydrated. Follow your dehydrator manufacturer’s instructions for the best temperature and length of time for your machine.

Raw vs Cooked
Onions can be eaten both raw and cooked.

Raw onions are used in sandwiches, salads, relishes, pickles, salsas, and more. There are some other medicinal and creative uses for raw onion including:

Repel insects by rubbing a raw onion on your skin.

Soothe insect bites and stings by rubbing raw onion on the area.

Soothe a sore throat by drinking onion tea. Bring to a boil 1 cup of water with the peel of half of an onion. Remove the onion and serve.

Soothe burn pains by rubbing the area with raw onion.

Remove a splinter by taping a piece of raw onion to the area. Leave there for about an hour before removing the onion.

Make your own dye by placing onion skins in nylon panty hose. Tie the top shut and boil in a pot for about 20 minutes.

Cooked onions are used in an almost endless array of dishes, ranging from soups to jams and even cakes. Cooking onions reduces the pungent flavor of raw onions. Depending on the type of onion and how it’s cooked, the flavor can turn from pungent to literally sweet, as when they are caramelized.

Fresh vs Frozen vs Canned
Fresh onions are the most versatile and can be used raw, cooked, pickled, or any way you need.

Frozen onions need to be used in cooked dishes, as their texture changes (becomes softer) after being frozen then thawed. Frozen onions would not be suitable in a dish calling for raw onions.

Canned or Jarred onions have been pickled, French fried, or packed in a salt-water brine. Those packed in the salt-water brine can be added to any dish calling for onions, although their flavor will be less intense than if raw onions were used. The other varieties were packaged for specific uses such as for pickles, alcoholic beverages, and casseroles.

How to Prepare Onions
Cutting fresh onions often causes a stinging sensation in the eyes, resulting in tears. When onions are cut, a series of reactions causes a gas to be released. The gas irritates eyes, which causes them to release tears. To avoid this reaction, cut onions under running water or in a bowl of water. Leaving the root end intact also helps to reduce the reaction because there is a higher concentration of sulfur compounds in that part of the bulb. Also, refrigerating an onion before cutting may also help to reduce that reaction.

The National Onion Association has a video showing how to dice an onion. Here’s the link https://www.onions-usa.org/all-about-onions/how-to-select-cut-prepare-store-onions

Here are detailed instructions on how to peel and chop an onion: https://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/cooking-tips-techniques/preparation/chop-peel-onion

Cooking/Serving Methods
Onions can be used with foods from savory to sweet. They can be grilled, sautéed, stir-fried, steamed, added to soups, stews, casseroles and sauces, roasted, caramelized, sweated, browned, battered and fried, pickled, added to salsas and relishes, added raw to salads and sandwiches, and more!

When prepared in certain ways, such as when roasted or caramelized, onions can be wonderful side dishes in themselves, served with many types of meals. More often, they are prepared in a variety of ways and used as flavoring in a whole host of foods.

Whether onions are to be combined with other foods or eaten alone, the following website gives simple details on how to fry, sweat, brown, caramelize, stir-fry or sauté, and roast onions… http://www.professionalsecrets.com/en/ps/ps-university/chef-de-partie-vegetables/onions/cook-onions/

Herbs/Spices That Go Well With Onions
Paprika, celery, salt and pepper, coriander, basil, garlic, marjoram, sage, oregano, tarragon, thyme, parsley, rosemary, dill, mint. This is only a partial list, as the versatile onion can pair well with SO many flavorings and foods.

Foods That Go Well With Onions
The list here would be extremely long and practically impossible to be all-inclusive. Here are just a few examples of specific foods that pair well with onions: bacon, bread, cheese, milk and cream, garlic, oil, mushrooms, beef, beets, cucumbers, and potatoes.

Recipe Links
26 Ways to Use up Onions https://www.hungryharvest.net/blog/2016/8/9/26-ways-to-use-up-onions

The Best Onion Recipes: 14 Ways to Use a Bag of Onions https://www.babble.com/best-recipes/the-best-onion-recipes-25-ways-to-use-a-bag-of-onions/

National Onion Association’s Onion Recipes https://www.onions-usa.org/recipes

Herb-Roasted Onions https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/herb-roasted-onions-recipe-1950695

50 Onion Recipes https://www.saveur.com/gallery/onion-recipes

Onion Recipes https://www.foodnetwork.com/topics/onion

21 Recipes That Make Onions the Star of the Meal https://www.epicurious.com/recipes-menus/our-best-onion-recipes-gallery

How to Make Caramelized Onions https://www.spendwithpennies.com/caramelized-onions/

Caramelized Onions https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/caramelized-onions

Onion Recipes (100+ recipes in this collection) https://www.taste.com.au/recipes/collections/onion-recipes

About Judi
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.














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