Onions can be used in almost every type of food, from cooked foods and fresh salads to spicy garnishes. Often chopped or sliced, they’re found in recipes spanning almost every culture in the world. Depending on the variety, an onion can be sharp, spicy, tangy, pungent, mild or sweet. The whole plant is edible and is used as food in one form or another.
White onions are the traditional onion for classic Mexican cuisine; they take on a golden color and sweet flavor when sautéed.
While the large mature bulb is the type of onion people eat most often, onions can be eaten at immature stages, too. Young plants may be harvested before the bulb develops and used whole as “green onions.” If you're prone to crying when cutting onions, get out the tissues because these tend to have a stronger effect than other onions. A sharp knife also makes all the difference in the world, as a dull knife edge "breaks" the cells in the onions rather than slicing, resulting in onion juice/mist flying into the air.
- Fresh green onions are an ideal choice for salads and other fresh or lightly-cooked dishes.
- Bulb onions (also sometimes called “storage onions” because in proper conditions, they store well for quite some time after harvest and therefore are available through the fall and winter).
- Storage onions have an intense flavor and a higher percentage of solids; they’re the best choice for savory dishes that require longer cooking times or more flavor.
Handling & Storage:
- Good-quality white onions will be firm, free of blemishes or mold spots and have even-colored, paper-dry skin. Some feel that sweeter onions will be flat-shaped from stem to root-end, not round.
- White Onions should be stored in a cool, dry location with good ventilation. They should not be stored in either a plastic bag or a refrigerator!
- Bulb onions should be heavy for their size, with papery skins that are clean and undamaged. Green onions should look fresh, with bright color and firm greens; avoid bunches with wilted or badly damaged greens.
- Onions in any form are perishable, but the best place to keep them varies with type. Keep bulb onions in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place (55–65°F / 13–18°C), away from potatoes (potatoes will absorb the onions’ moisture and deteriorate faster). Keep green onions (or cut bulbs) at their best in the refrigerator, sealed in a bag to avoid transfer of off-flavors and odors.
- Always wash onions thoroughly before use. Discard any onions that have sprouted, show signs of rot or mildew, or smell bad.
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