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Different Types of Onions

Updated: Jul 7, 2020

When a recipe calls for onion you may be thinking this is pretty self explanatory. But did you know there are actually six different types of onions? No, they don’t all taste the same. Here is a basic breakdown of the major types of onions and their uses.


The yellow onion is basically your average cooking onion. They’re especially good for caramelizing. This particular type of onion will have a white or yellowish inside and a yellow or tan outside. It’s also known to have a stronger taste than some of the other onions on this list.

These onions are typically available all year long and can be stored for long periods of time. You’ll find yellow onions used in French onion soup, shish-kabobs, stews, and sauteed dishes.


These may look very similar to the yellow onion but they have a much milder flavor. With a yellow skin and a pale yellow inside these onions are commonly used in salads and as garnishes. Again, this onion is perfect for people who aren’t huge fans of the onion taste. The flavor is extremely mild compared to others on this list.


These beautifully colored onions add flair to salads. Although they may look great as a garnish you should be mindful that they can often have a spicy or peppery flavor. Red onions are commonly used as pickling onions. In addition they can be great for grilling because of that unique flavor. It’s less commonly known that if you soak cut red onions in water for a short period of time it can actually reduce that spicy flavor. That’s why these are perfect for pickling.

Red onions are available throughout the year. They are also sometimes used outside of the culinary world. The skin can be used as a dye. You may even notice that they stain your fingers a bit after slicing or chopping.


Shallots are more of an onion-garlic hybrid. Their uniquely shaped bulb looks different from some of the other onions which are more round. Shallots are extremely mild. They’re perfect for people who don’t like the typical onion taste. The mild flavor is perfect for on top of steak or used in a dressing or vinaigrette.

If you happen to be cooking and the recipe calls for a shallot you can almost always substitute it for a different type of onion if need be. This is because the flavor is so mild that using a different onion would only enhance that flavor.


Scallions, also known as green onions, don’t even really look like an onion. You aren’t only using the bulb but the entire stalk (depending on the recipe). These onions are two toned, meaning you can use the green parts and the white parts. Each part has a different flavor so a recipe may only call for one but not the other.

Green onions can be eaten raw or cooked and are often used as a garnish. They may be on top of meats, salads, vegetables, casseroles etc. They have a pretty mild flavor so they’re perfect on top of a meal. They are also commonly used in stir fry meals as well.


Often used in Mexican dishes, these strong flavored onions are often preferred because they leave less of an aftertaste. White onions, even though similarly flavored to yellow onions, won’t leave the oniony smell or taste in your mouth hours after your meal. That’s why they are the most common onion used in fresh salsas and guacamoles. They’re perfect for tacos, on top of salads, or caramelized.

Even though there are so many varieties of onions it is not essential that you know the difference and which meals require which kinds. Although they have different degrees of flavor and spice they can more or less be interchanged. Knowing which type of onion will provide the right balance to your meal may be something you want to experiment with. Again, shallots and green onions are mild. Red onions are more flavorful. Try out some different types and be sure to tell us your favorite!

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