Onions enhance flavors in food

July 23, 2013|Lynn Little

Wouldn’t it be great to season your food without adding a lot of fat or salt? Try adding onions. Their lively flavor ranges from sharp to sweet and they enhance many dishes plus provide a nutritional boost.  

There are many different onion varieties on the market. Yellow onions are the most common and readily available year-round. The yellow onion has a sharp flavor, thick skin and low moisture content. They can be kept for many weeks in a cool, dry place.  If stored correctly, most onions will keep up to 2 months.

Sweet onions are mild in flavor because they have been bred to be higher in sugar and lower in pungent sulfur compounds than storage onions. Sweet onions are often named after the place where they are grown: Vidalia, Walla Walla, Maui. They have higher moisture content and do not store as well as yellow onions.

White onions are generally mild and slightly sweet. They can be used for cooking or in salads. Red onions are delicious in salads, adding both flavor and color. When cooked, red onions have less flavor than other varieties.  


Spring onions have a mild, delicate flavor and both the green tops and the white bulb can be sliced and added to salads, omelets, tossed into stir-fries or  finely chopped and used as a garnish on fish or in noodle dishes. Spring onions are normally sold in bunches — look for ones that have firm white bulbs and undamaged green tops.  The thinner onions will have a milder flavor. Store wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator and use within a few days. Spring onions do not store as well as yellow onions.   

A half cup of cooked chopped onions has only 30 calories, almost 2 grams of fiber, very little sodium and is virtually fat-free. More than 20 compounds in onions have been identified as helpful to prevent heart attacks and stroke, fight cancer and stave off infection.

To minimize crying that comes with chopping onions, chill them an hour before slicing. Cut them from the top and peel down without slicing the root end. Chop in a well-ventilated place. 

Save time and tears. If you have a food processor, chop several onions at one time and then freeze in 1 cup portions. Wrap well or put in a sealed freezer container. 

If you worry about onion breath, try chewing some parsley, mint, or other bright green herb. The chlorophyll in the herbs counteracts onion odor. 

If onion odor lingers on your hands, wash with vinegar or lemon juice. 

Onions develop a wonderful flavor with long, slow cooking. Slice onions into rings or half moons. Sauté in a nonstick pan with a teaspoon of oil over moderate heat. Stir frequently.

Puree onions into a sauce or broth. They add mellow flavor without being visible.  

The skin of yellow onions can be boiled in water to make a dye for eggs or yarn. You can also add the yellow peels to the stockpot to deepen the color of broth or soup.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.

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