What You Need to Know About Onions, From How to Pick ‘Em to How to Pickle ‘Em

Like rainy days and sad songs, onions will make you cry. And yet imagine a world without them. We’d have no scallion pancakes, no French onion soup, no pierogies, no Greek salad, no chicken yassa, no sour cream and onion potato chips. Now that is something to cry about.

It’s easy to take onions for granted when they’re available in grocery stores year-round in abundance, but they’re a special ingredient, featured in savory dishes the world over and revered since ancient times for their medicinal properties. What’s more, onions aren’t just one thing. The bulb many of us think of as an onion is a member of the Allium genus, of which there are hundreds of different species, many of which are wild, ornamental, and/or highly seasonal. (Hellooo, spring onions!)

Given this vast array of alliums, today, we’ll be focusing on some of those that are most common in the U.S. (and in BA recipes). Funyuns do not make the list. Here’s how to pick, store, slice, and use onions. (Breath mints recommended.)

  • types of onions

    Photo by Emma Fishman, Food Styling by D’mytrek Brown

    Meet the onion family.

    Onions are members of the Allium genus, which includes pungent plants like garlic, leeks, chives, ramps, and hundreds of other species. Since we can’t possibly cover all alliums (all-iums), we’ve divided just a fraction of those we reach for the most into three unofficial categories: storage onions (pictured above), softies, and little guys.

  • Photo and Food Styling by Emma Fishman

    How to cut an onion…

    Cutting an onion can feel like trying to escape a maze, blindfolded. One wrong turn—or slice—can send you swiftly down the wrong path. And then there are all of the different verbs—you can slice an onion, chop an onion, dice an onion, cut an onion… What is all what?! 

    We say: Enough already! Let these step-by-step photos show you how to cut an onion, once and for all. Whether you need half-moons or slivers (scroll down to see the difference!), a rough chop or a fine one, we’ve got you covered.

  • Photo by Emma Fishman, Food Styling by D’mytrek Brown

    …without bawling your eyes out.

    Pick from one of two major strategies—either stymy the release of the chemical compound or protect your eyes themselves. (Or, when you’re really afflicted, you can do both.) 


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