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Everything you need to know about onions

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An onion is probably the first vegetable anyone learns to use in the kitchen; they are a part of the allium family along with garlic and chives. Onions are essential to cooking; they can be used raw in salads, in burgers, for stews, and much more. The flavor which onion adds to your cooking is indispensable and the varieties of onions are endless. Knowing what type to use for cooking a particular meal could be confusing too. It could also be the difference between a basic meal and a delicious meal bursting with flavor. If you familiarize yourself with the different types, you will know how to put each type of onion to great use.

Types of Onions
There are many types of Onions, but these are the most popular ones you will find.
Red Onion – They often range from maroon red to purple in looks and are one of the most popular types of onions. They are pungent and spicy, do very well in soups, rice dishes, and bring a lot of color to salads.

White Onion – It can be difficult differentiating white onions from yellow onions because they look similar. White Onions tend to be crisp, sweeter with a cleaner flavor profile. These can be used in a salad, sandwiches, pizza and more.

Sweet Yellow Onion – This onion is widely used because of its mild flavor and sweetness. This onion has thin papery skin. Yellow onions are versatile and sweet when cooked-you can use them for stews, soups and are fantastic when caramelized for burgers.

Cippolini – These are a bit bigger than pearl onions but with a disc-like shape and slightly yellow skin. In terms of flavour, they are extra sweet, almost sugary.

Scallions – This type of onion has so many uses because of it’s mild flavor. When it comes to looks, it is white at the bottom and green at the top, similar to spring onions but crunchier. They are great for stir-fries and pastas.

Spring Onions – It looks similar to scallions-white at the bottom and green at the top. Spring onions are young onions (red, white, sweet) harvested early. Spring Onions are perfect for garnishing.
Leeks – Leeks look like a rather bigger version of scallions but have white parts that are tender and sweet, and green tops. Leeks are generally not eaten raw because of how tough it is but delicious when cooked

Vidalias – Vidalia’s are commonly found in Vidalia Georgia. This onion has small amounts of pyruvic acid which is the stuff that makes your eyes water. Vidalia’s have thin papery almost yellow skin, with a narrow root and stem but wide in the middle. Because vidalias are sweet and crisp, they are great for eating raw.

Pearl Onions – These are mini sized Onions, tiny and sweet and they come in a variety of colors – Red, Yellow and white.

Shallots – They look like a smaller, slender version of red Onions. The flavor tends to be a cross between garlic, red onions and yellow onions which makes them perfect for vinaigrettes and are popular in French cuisines.

Ramps – Ramps look similar to scallions but the stems are slender and the green part are leaves that are wider, flat and greener. You will find that it has a bit of purple at the point where the leaves meet the stems. Ramps taste like a cross between garlics and onions. Ramps can be used in Frittatas, Risotto’s and many more dishes.

How to store onions
When it comes to storing onions, they can be categorized into two: Spring bulbs or Storage bulbs:
Spring bulbs need to be refrigerated for it to retain its freshness. Spring onions, ramps, scallions are examples of spring bulbs and they need to be wrapped in paper towels, then in a Ziploc bag before storing them in the vegetable compartment of the fridge.

Storage bulbs on the other hand need to be stored in a dry and humid free place. Avoid soring them where they can collect moisture because it can cause molds and cause the onions to sprout. Examples of storage bulbs are sweet onions, red onions.

Why you tear up over onions
Onions are notorious for making eyes water and they hurt as well for a few minutes, how do they do this? When you cut an onion, it releases a chemical known as lachrymatory factor (LF). Interestingly, LF is meant to protect the onions from predators, which is why LF affects the sensory nerves in the eyes, and brings you to tears.

Hacks for cutting onions without tearing up
There are so many unproven methods for cutting onions without it hurting your eyes some include lighting a matchstick, place one end in your mouth while it burns. Ignore that, here are five tried and tested tips you can use –
•Place the onion in the refrigerator, not in the freezer. If the onion is cold, the chemical it releases that irritates the eyes will be reduced because most of it will evaporate.
• Use a sharp knife when cutting an onion will mean the chemicals released will be reduced; a dull knife will compress the onion and cause it to release the irritating propanethial S-oxide.
• Wear goggles when you are about to cut an onion, is it worth the investment? Perhaps it is if you really want a fail-proof method of cutting onions without the irritant chemical getting to your eyes. If you wear contact lenses, then that should help as well.

• Cut the onions under a kitchen vent. This is a tried and true way of preventing tears. The vent extracts the irritants as you cut – this method is absolutely genius.
• Cut off the top and peel the outer layer of the onion but do not cut off the roots because the root contains the most amounts of sulphuric acids that bring you to tears.


In this article:
Yemisi Odusanya
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