A complete guide to onions

Think you know your brown from your red onions?

White, red and brown onions – is there any difference? Have you ever wondered why some recipes call for a particular kind of onion and whether another can be substituted in its place?

These three different onions vary slightly in flavour, texture and colour, but can usually be substituted for one another. In terms of cooking, they all behave the same in the pan.

When buying onions, pick those that are firm and feel heavy in your hand. Avoid soft onions or ones that have a sharp oniony odour before peeling. These indicate the onion is old. Except for sweet onions, all these onions can be stored for several weeks in a cool, dark pantry or cupboard.

Brown onions

Brown onions have a brown or almost yellow skin and creamy flesh. They have a strong flavour and are excellent for cooking, which is why they are the most widely-used onion.

With a pungent aroma and strong flavour, it’s an excellent all-round onion.

White onions

White onions are generally not as strong in flavour or pungent as brown onions. Milder varieties of white onions are also eaten raw in salads and in sandwiches.

Red onions

Red onions, sometimes incorrectly called ‘Spanish onions’, have purplish red skin and white flesh tinged with red. These onions tend to be medium to large in size and have a milder and sweeter flavour. Red onions are often consumed raw in salads or lightly cooked with other foods. They are excellent for adding colour to meals but they lose some of their redness when cooked.

According to Onions Australia there are many different varieties of brown, red and white onions grown in Australia. Vegetable seed companies are investing heavily in onion breeding, particularly the development of new disease-resistant varieties. Check out the Onions Australia website for more information.