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Original text and images:Lori Alden | www.foodsubs.com
Copyright 1996-2001

Equivalents: 5 medium onions = 1 pound = 2 cups chopped = 3 cups sliced
1 small onion = 1/3 cup = 1 teaspoon onion powder = 1 tablespoon dried onion flakes

Group of onions

There are two categories of dry onions: storage onions and sweet onions. Storage onions are low in water and high in sulfur, so they store well and are available year-round. Sweet onions are usually available just from April to August. Storage onions are more pungent and flavorful than sweet onions, and they're best if cooked before eating.  Sweet onions are usually served raw or lightly cooked. 

Onions should be firm and heavy for their size. Avoid onions that have sprouted or that have an odor, or that have green or moldy blemishes. If you're prone to crying while cutting onions, try chilling them first, then peeling them under running water. Always cook onions over low or medium heat, since they become bitter at high temperatures. 


Substitutes:  white bulbs of leeks OR shallots OR green onions (Cook these for no more than a minute.) OR chopped daikon (salt and rinse first if serving raw) OR garlic OR asafoetida powder (This Indian spice has a strong, pungent flavor and is used as an onion substitute by people who can't eat them for religious reasons.) OR fresh herbs

Bermuda Onion

Bermuda onion    Notes:    These bulb-shaped onions have a sweet mild flavor.  They're available in the spring.  Substitutes: Spanish onion OR yellow onion OR sweet onion (sweeter) OR red onion  

Boiling onions

Boiling onion = boiler = boiler onion  Notes:  These are small versions of yellow, white, or red onions.  They're up to two inches in diameter, and usually cooked whole.   Substitutes: pearl onions (smaller) OR cippolini onion  

Cippolini onion

Cippolini onion = Borettana onion  Pronunciation:  chip-ah-LEE-nee  Notes:   These round, flat Italian onions are about one to two inches in diameter.  They're available in the fall.  Substitutes:  boiling onion OR pearl onion  

Onion flakes

Onion flakes = dried minced onion = dehydrated onion flakes   Notes:   These are onions that have been chopped and then dehydrated.  They lack much of the pungency of fresh onions, but they're convenient and great for backpacking.   Equivalents:  1 small onion = 1/3 cup = 1 teaspoon onion powder = 1 tablespoon dried onion flakes  Substitutes:  onion powder (1 teaspoon onion powder = 1 tablespoon dried onion flakes) OR onion (1/3 cup chopped fresh onion = 1 tablespoon dried onion flakes)

Onion powder

Onion powder  Notes:  Onion powder isn't as pungent as fresh onions, but it's a great time-saver.   Substitutes:  Onion flakes (1 teaspoon onion powder = 1 tablespoon dried onion flakes) OR onion (1 teaspoon onion powder = 1/3 cup chopped onion)

Pearl onions

Pearl onion   Notes:  These tiny onions are sweet and mild.  About one inch in diameter, they're often pickled or creamed.  Substitutes: boiling onion (larger) OR cippolini onion 

Red onions

Red onion    Notes:  These are sweet enough to eat raw, and they're often used to add color to salads.  They're also excellent grilled or lightly cooked.   Varieties include the sweet red Italian onion, Italian red onion, creole onion, and red torpedo onion. Substitutes:   Spanish onion OR green onions (in salads) OR sweet onion OR white onion   
Shallot onions Shallot  Notes:  Australians use the term shallots to describe green onions, but to Americans, shallots are shaped like small brown onions with papery brown skins.  They have a more delicate, garlicky flavor than other cooking onions, and are a common ingredient in French sauces.  Many people find them too hot to eat raw.   They're available year-round.  Substitutes:  green onions (white part only) OR onions (1 small onion = 3 shallots) + dash crushed garlic OR red onion OR green onions OR garlic

Spanish onion    Notes:   These are similar to yellow onions, only larger and a bit sweeter.  Substitutes:  Bermuda onion OR red onion (sweeter) OR yellow onion 

Storage onion = fall onion   Notes:   These onions are available year-round, since their low water content prevents molding during storage.   Since storage makes onions more pungent, these onions are usually cooked before eating.   This category includes the yellow onion, white onion, red onion, Spanish onion, and Bermuda onion.

Sweet onions

Sweet onion = fresh onion = spring onion = summer onion   Notes:   These onions are mild and crisp, so they're the onions of choice for slicing raw on burgers and sandwiches.   They can be lightly cooked, too, though they're not as pungent and flavorful as storage onions.  There are several different varieties, often named after the region in which they're grown.  The most popular include Vidalia, Walla Walla, Sweet Imperial, Texas Spring Sweet, Texas 1015Y, Carzalia Sweet, Oso Sweet, Arizona, Granex, and Maui.  They're usually available from March through August, though some producers extend the season by storing them in a low-oxygen environment.  Sweet onions are usually larger than storage onions.  They also have a higher water content, so they don't keep as well.   Substitutes:   Spanish onion (This isn't as sweet, so consider adding up to one tablespoon of sugar per onion to the recipe.) OR Bermuda onion (This isn't as sweet, so consider adding up to one tablespoon of sugar per onion to the recipe.) OR red onion OR bulbs of green onions

White onions

White onion =   Notes:   These popular cooking onions are often called for in Hispanic dishes, since they have a cleaner, more tangy flavor than yellow onions.  They're slightly more prone to mold than yellow onions, so store them in a dry, well-ventilated place.  Substitutes:   Spanish onions OR yellow onions OR sweet onions

Yellow onions

Yellow onion = yellow globe onion = yellow storage onion    Notes:   This is what most cooks reach for when a recipe simply calls for "onion."  It's higher in sulfur than the white onion, so it has a more complex flavor.  The sulfur, unfortunately, is also what makes you cry when you cut into it.  Yellow onions turn a rich brown and become sweeter and milder when cooked.  Many people find them too pungent to eat raw.  Substitutes: Spanish onion OR white onion.

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