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  • The definitive guide to onions

The definitive guide to onions

Posted on Jul 03, 2017  | Tags: fruit and vegetables, onions, eschalot, green onions, spring onions

Onions have been around for over 3,000 years, yet onion confusion still exists. The Allium family includes all types of varieties, varying in shape, colour, taste and size.

Here is our definitive list of what your local greengrocer stocks and how we refer to each type in New South Wales.


Green onions (shallots)

Sold in bunches, green onions are often called shallots or green shallots. These green onions have long green stems with a small white underdeveloped bulb at the base. Simply discard the roots and the deep dark green tops before use. Green onions are best eaten raw or quickly cooked.

Brown onions

With a well-balanced yet distinct onion flavour, brown onions have crisp white flesh and papery brown skin. They’re the perfect all-rounder for cooking, we use brown onions in our classic Fresh onion soup recipe and during the cooler months they are ideal for using in casseroles and braises.

Red onions

These vibrant deep crimson-skinned onions have crunchy white flesh tinged with red. They are sometimes incorrectly called Spanish onions. Finely sliced or chopped, red onions can be eaten raw in salads and salsas. Once cooked, they develop a subtle sweetness, which makes the red onion a popular one.

White onions

With their mild yet distinct onion flavour, fleshy white onions are good for barbecuing and general cooking.

Pickling onions

These small-sized onions (about the size of 20 cent coin) are perfect for pickling. Add whole peeled pickling onions to slow-cooked casseroles and roasts.

Spring onions

Sold by the bunch, spring onions are similar to green onions however they have a small white immature bulb at the end of the stem. They’re perfect for braising or slicing, or adding to soup, stir-fries and salads. They are sometimes incorrectly called salad onions.


These small onions grow in clusters and have papery golden-brown skin and are sometimes called French shallots. Sweeter than brown, white or red onions, eschalots have a distinct well-balanced onion flavour. They’re mainly used in French and Asian cooking.


French onion soup with cheese baguette

Prep 30 mins | Cook 2 hrs | Serves 4

2 tbs olive oil

50g butter or margarine

1 kg brown onions, sliced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tsp sugar

8 cups beef stock

1 tbs dry sherry, Madeira or brandy (optional)

1 baguette bread stick

100g grated Gruyere or tasty cheese

Step 1: Heat oil and butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat until butter sizzles. Add onions, garlic and sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, for 40–45 minutes until onions are deep golden.

Step 2:  Stir in stock, cover and bring to the boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir through sherry, Madeira or brandy, if using.

Step 3: Just before serving, slice baguette. Preheat a grill on high. Place baguette on a lined tray and grill one side until golden. Turn slices over and top with cheese. Grill until cheese is bubbling. Ladle soup into serving bowls and serve with cheese baguette.


Choose white, brown and red onions and eschalots that are dry and firm. Spring and green onions should be firm, vibrant and moist.


 For maximum quality remove from plastic bag and store white, brown and red onions and eschalots in a cool, dry, dark well ventilated place.  Spring and green onions are best kept in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.

Good For You

A rich source of a variety of natural sulphur compounds that may have health benefits.

A source of dietary fibre which helps keep the intestine functioning normally and also vitamin C, which contributes to normal immune function.

Onions provide small amounts of many minerals and vitamins that add to our daily intake of these essential nutrients.

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