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Onion Varieties

By Cook's Illustrated Published January 2002

Which onions give the best caramelized taste?

The type of onion you choose for the caramelized onion recipe, as well as others, has a tremendous effect on flavor. Although the caramelizing times of these various onions are consistent, our tasters' preferences were not. Some liked a sweeter, more mellow flavor, while others liked their onions with more bite. Tasters with a sweet tooth gravitated to the white and Vidalia onions (the latter being the sweeter of the two). Those who preferred a heartier onion flavor with only moderate sweetness were drawn to Spanish onions.

Supermarket Onions

Yellow Onion

Tasters found this onion to strike a "good balance between savory and sweet," with a "mild onion flavor" and "beautiful color." A few found it unpleasantly "gummy," with a "bitter finish." Nobody loved it, nobody hated it.

White Onion

This controversial onion was rated both at the top and the bottom of the tasters' charts. Some liked its simple, "sugary," "mellow" flavor, while others found it "too sweet" and "one-dimensional," with "no texture."

Spanish Onion

Most tasters liked this onion for its "deep and complex" flavor and "meaty" texture. While its "heartiness," tempered only by a "moderate sweetness," ranked highly with some, it was considered a bit "harsh" by others.

Red Onion

When caramelized, this onion turned very dark. Its flavor ranked neither high nor low. Tasters found it "pleasantly sweet" with a "good onion flavor", despite its "sticky" and "jammy" consistency.

Vidalia Onion

It came as no surprise that the Vidalia—a notably sweet variety similar to Maui and Walla Walla—was the sweetest sample. Its texture was less pleasing, however, deemed both a bit "chalky" and "gummy."