So Many Onions, So Many Benefits: Facts from a Dietitian

Richie Santucci

by | Updated: July 13th, 2021 | Read time: 3 minutes

Onions have long been a staple in cooking. They’re not only the backbone of most savory recipes, they’re free of saturated fats, low in sodium, high in vitamin C and have been shown to help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. They also help prevent and manage the top three leading causes of death in the US: cancer, heart disease and diabetes. With so many onions out there, it’s easy to get onion-whelmed. Let’s dive into the many different types of onions and how to use them.

Red Onion Chopped on Cutting Board to Represent Different Types of Onions |

Different Types of Onions

Yellow onions

Yellow onions are the most common onion consumed in the U.S. and a staple in most kitchens. They range in size from golf ball to grapefruit. While they pack quite a punch when eaten raw, they become sweet when cooked. Yellow onions are versatile, used for recipes ranging from soups to stir fries to roasts.

If you want to add a burst of sweet (yet healthy) flavor to your dishes, try caramelizing yellow onions to use as a garnish. Caramelized onions can dress up mashed potatoes, enhance fish or poultry dishes, or take a sandwich or veggie burger to the next level. For a special treat, try Vidalia onions. Vidalia are the sweetest yellow onion variety strictly grown in the state of Georgia. New to yellow onions? Start with a classic French onion soup or beef and broccoli recipe.

White onions

If you’ve enjoyed fresh salsa, you’ve most likely enjoyed white onions. With a much milder and sweeter taste than yellow onions, these baseball-sized onions are well suited for salsas, pico de gallos and fresh garnishes over pizzas and entrees. They’re also delicious cooked in dishes like refried beans. If you want an onion to accompany your burger (both meat and meatless) this would be a great pick. Try white onions with classic hummus, white bean soup or sweet and sour chicken.

Red onions

Red onions are a vibrant addition to any dish in flavor, appearance and nutrition. The red color comes from an antioxidant-rich pigment called anthocyanin, so lay them on pizzas, salads, burgers and sandwiches for looks and nourishment. Red onions release a zesty burst of flavor when raw, which is how they’re often used, but like all onions they’re sweeter when cooked. They set themselves apart as the go-to onion for pickling and making unique toppings such as red onion jam. Try pickled red onions on ceviche or tacos.


Also called green onions because of their appearance, scallions are found commonly in Asian cuisines. These long, thin, tubular onions come in a bunch – white near the roots and dark green on the tops. The tops are more flavorful than the root section, and they’re usually sliced as a raw garnish for salads and cooked dishes. If cooking scallions, just a touch of heat will do. Scallions have a high moisture content, so store them in the crisper drawer to extend their shelf life. Avoid sealing scallions in bags unless they’re truly airtight. Next time you purchase scallions, consider making scallion hash brown cakes or even gluten-free spinach scallion cakes.


If you haven’t tried potato leek soup, now may be the time! These large, stemmed green onions are commonly used to flavor stocks and soups. Leeks are more fibrous than your average onion, and their earthy green stems and sweet white sections are both enjoyed for their different attributes. Since leeks are a milder member of the onion family, they can be enjoyed on their own. Try this grilled leeks recipe to enjoy all leeks have to offer!


Shallots look like oblong-shaped red onions, and you’ve likely tasted them in French sauces like the mignonette or Asian dishes like congees and curries. They are optimal minced and mixed into vinaigrettes since they offer a flavor very similar to garlic. Try this Brussels sprout and caramelized shallot hash or a pear, shallot and thyme pita pizza.

On your next grocery visit, grab different types of onions and try something new. As you can see, onions offer a variety of benefits and culinary uses. Whatever onions you add to your meal plan this week, it will be a tasty and nutritious addition to your healthy lifestyle.

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