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How to Buy and Store Onions

posted in Vegetables and Beans by Kathy Maister

The lowly onion has a ton of uses. Did you know that it’s the only basic ingredient found in every single solitary cuisine around the world? It adds a wonderful flavor and a pungent aroma to every recipe it’s in.

When you buy onions, be sure to look for firm onions that are free of cuts and blemishes.

Types of Onions

There are two main classifications of onions: the green onion (or scallion) and the dry onion.

Green onions are often eaten raw on salads or used as a garnish.

The dry onions have a juicy flesh and are covered with a dry papery skin. They come in a wide range of sizes, shapes and flavors.

If a recipe just says “chopped onions” buy the “yellow”onions. 88% of all onions eaten are the yellow onion. (It’s not the most original name but it certainly is descriptive!)

Another type of yellow onion is the Vidalia onion which is the sweetest and juiciest of them all.

It looks just like a regular yellow onion, but tastes quite different from the all-purpose onion. Look out for the sign at the grocery store.

Red or purple onions, another example of the dry onion, are often eaten raw or on salads and hamburgers.

They have a vibrant color and tend to be a bit sweeter than the yellow onion.

Storing Onions

Onions can last for several weeks (if not months) without compromising their taste or nutritional value. However, you must be sure to store them in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place.

Once you cut an onion, wrap whatever portion you don’t use in plastic wrap, and put it in the refrigerator. It will keep about 4 days.

I’m Not Really Crying: How to Prevent Crying When Cutting Onions

Some onions make you cry like a baby, others seem to have no effect on your eyes.

Unfortunately, you can’t tell in advance which is which, just from looking at the onion. You just have to cut into it and hope for the best.

A really sharp knife actually makes a difference as well when cutting an onion. Some say “the sharper the knife, the less you cry.”

Peeling the onion under running water can help a little if the onion is really bothering your eyes

You could also try freezing the whole onion for about 20 minutes before you cut into it. That always works for me!

An Onion A Day?

Americans eat on average about 19 pounds of onions per year. Yikes! That’s a lot of onions – but not compared to the onion consumption of many other countries around the world!

As Julia Child once said: “It’s hard to imagine a civilization without onions.”

Here are a few more’s posts on onions:


Onions – Chives, Shallots, Spanish and Pearl

Onions – Frying (Caramelized and Sautéed)

Onions – How to Mince, Dice and Chop

Onions – How To Slice

Onions – Onion Holder

Onions – Pearl – How to Peel

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Andrew said:

Stumbled upon your website from dethroner, and I had a quick question about onions. I was making a meal the other day and the recipe called for a spanish onion, which is what exactly I just went with yellow and it worked out fine. Just curious.

Kathy Maister said:

Hi Andrew, welcome to startcooking! A Spanish onion is a great BIG round onion with either yellow or white skin. It’s not quite as strong as a yellow onion. Your dish probably had a stronger onion flavor than what the recipe intended. I love substitutions. I usually never have all the ingredients on hand for an “Oh no what am I going to cook for dinner tonight” meal!

Jayme said:

Another tip to prevent your eyes from watering from cutting onions is to chew a piece of peppermint or spearamint gum as you cut! Love your site. I just found it!

Kathy Maister said:

Great tip! I will try it next time I cut some onions!

Tia said:

Ok, I just discovered this blog, and will be starting to cook in a week or so. (as opposed to being a kitchen hand) and this blog is awesome :)

I know this is a one year late comment, but holding my breath while chopping onions seem to help me stop my eyes from watering. Just have to make sure every time you have to take a breath in, to get clean air, somewhere without any onion smell..

I dunno if this actually works.. After trying so many things out including wearing safety glasses and many million other things, this is the only thing i found to work for me.

Kathy Maister said:

Welcome Tia! I hope your recipe does not call for too many onions-I wouldn’t want you to pass out! How about you try cutting your onion in front of an open window? The fresh air blowing in may help! (Freezing the onion for 20 minutes still works for me!)

Good Luck and let me know if you have any questions!

B. said:

The best way to cut an onion without the sting is to cut it at an angle. The gas doesn’t release and burn your eyes when you cut into the onion at angle.

Kathy Maister said:

Hi B. I have never heard of that trick! I’ll give it a try next time I’m cutting onions!

Lynda said:

How can you pick a SWEET purple onion at the grocery store? It always seems that the ones I pick are very strong…not sweet.

Kathy Maister said:

Hi Lynda, I wish I knew the answer to that one! I’m sure it probably has to do with environmental growning factors which would intensify the flavor but not the appearance.

The term “sweet” seems to be a contradiction. Yes purple onions are sweet compared to other onions varieties but, it is still an onion! :)

I do not like RAW onions and even the purple sweet onions are too strong for me! The Vadalia onions are not quite as strong as the purlpe onions. Green onions have a less strong flavor but, for me, the white part of the green onion is even too strong.
Once cooked I love all onions but the raw ones I totally avoid.

mark said:

how do I store green onions for longevity?

Kathy Maister said:

Hi Mark, try spreading them out in a single layer on a paper towel and rolling it into a log. Then put the log into a plastic bag, and then in the refrigerator. This is how I store lettuce and it stays fresh for several days.

Stephanie said:

I have a recipe that calls for browning the onion. Sometimes the onion ends up with a bitter taste as opposed to a sweet taste. Am I cooking it too fast, too slow or too high? I don’t know. My grandma gets it right everytime and she just looks at me a shakes her head. This can’t be that hard. Help.

Kathy Maister said:

Hi Stephanie,

Too high heat may cause bitterness. Be sure to cut your onion with uniform slices so that it will cook evenly.
AYou might want to borrow your grandmother’s fry pan to see if that makes a difference. I once had a pan (by an un-named famous maker!) that no matter what I set the stove to, it just got hotter and hotter.

Stacy said:

Hi. You have a very useful site. I was just wondering – I like to buy fresh veggies but never get around to using them – I’ll use half a zuchhini for example – and this time around it’s scallions and leeks. What do I do with the greens from each? Can I freeze them or dry them in the oven for later use? Are leek greens even edible? All the recipes say to use only the white parts! Thanks in advance for any advice you can give me!

Kathy Maister said:

Hi Stacy, yes you can freeze scallions. I have never tried it but here are some good tips on the subject!
Only the white part of the leek gets eaten. I did a post on Leeks you might find interesting.
I try to buy small quantities of fresh vegetables at any given time. It ofter means two trips to the grocery store in one week but it is better than throwing away unused veggies!

sylvia said:

Hi, I love white skinned onions but have trouble finding them. Can you help please?

Kathy Maister said:

Hi Sylvia,
Ask the Manager of the produce section of the grocery store. They may well be able to order them for you!
Good Luck!

James said:

Ok, if a yellow onion is stronger than a spanish onion, do you think i should use a half or three fourths of the yellow to equal 1 spanish? I do not want to over power my dish.


bob james said:

I had a tip about cutting the root end of the onion first.Not the top end,This I have found reduces the tears and eye stinging.

I would like a tip about how to get the onion skin off more easily?as the more you have to fiddle/handle the onion,the more the pain,and some onions wont release the skin easily?

startcooking said:

BJ, Some onions, usually the thicker skinned ones, are very easy to peel. The really thin skinned ones are really frustrating to peel. If you try to peel off the very outer layer of onion along with the skin, that might help.

Susan said:

Is there a way to reduce the “bite” of raw red onion? I made bruschetta and the red onion was a bit overpowering. I could add less of it, but it adds great color!

startcooking said:

Red onions can be really strong!

Try cooking them slightly in butter or olive oil. You can “sweat them in the microwave for 1 minute, depending on the amount and the strength of your microwave. Or saute them in a frying pan.

Cooking them will reduce the “bite”.


to peel an onion, try this method

1. make a 1/4 inch wide cut on the side of the onion from top to bottom,

2. remove 1/4 wide strip

3. peel the rest if the outer layer off the entire onion

4. use as desired

Demi said:

Very nice post. I really enjoy the reading. I come here from the google while searching for some good article.Thanks

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