Peeling The Layers On Onions: 6 Varieties And How To Use Them

In an Indian kitchen, nothing can function without onions. Cheap and plentiful, they’re as much a part of our daily lives as breathing, and is any dish really complete without an onion ‘salad’ on the side? But even though we use them so regularly, when was the last time you stopped to pay attention to the plethora of onions out there and took advantage of their varied uses and qualities? 

Most onions don’t add a lot of nutrition to food with just a handful of vitamins and minerals apiece, but what they do have in spades is flavour and each type brings something just a bit different to a dish. Belonging to the allium genus like garlic, they can bind with your body and leave a trace smell and the sulfur it releases when it can irritate the eyes but overall, we think that a little onion breath is well worth the flavour. 

Here’s a quick guide on the most common types of onion you’ll find in stores and how to use them:

Red Onions

The most familiar one to us in India, the red onion is sweeter and mild, and designed to be eaten raw. The deep red colour – as the name suggests – makes they visually aesthetic addition to salads, sandwiches and bugers to uplift the flavours.

Yellow Onions

These onions are a bit more uncommon in India but are the daily onion for many parts of the world including the USA and Europe. It has heavy papery skins with a pungent flavour and aroma. They’re built for cooking and most recipes call for yellow onions.

White Onions

Somewhere between these two is the white onion which tends to have crisp layers and a nice crunch. The flavour is milder and sweeter than yellow onions but not quite as sharp as red onions. They’re the onion of choice to serve in sauces and dips like salsa or guacamole. 


If you’ve watched any international cooking show, you’ll probably know shallots by name, even if you haven’t cooked with them yourself. Unlike larger onions, shallots are small and made of multiple lobes like garlic and impart an intense flavour. They also roast well so if you’re making something in the oven, this could be the best choice.

Green Onions

These are nothing but onions that haven’t fully formed a bulb yet and the tall green shoots are harvested for their mild but distinctive flavour. Most often seen in Chinese or other East Asian food, green onions can be used to cook or as a garnish for additional texture and flavour


Though they might not cross your mind when you think of onions, leeks are part of the family too. Subtle and underappreciated, leeks are often put to use in sauces and soups but they can be roasted or grilled as they are for a unique side dish.