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Onion Guide: What To Buy At The Grocery Store

First Posted: 02/22/2012 3:48 pm Updated: 08/31/2012 10:48 am

Onions are the backbone to almost all savory dishes, so you'd think we all know which onions to buy, right? Wrong. With many varieties out there, a few different colors to choose from, and sometimes vague recipes to deal with, it can be hard to know which onion is best to use. Some are better suited for cooking with, and others should never be used for sauteing.

These layered bulbs can be astringent, sweet and tangy all at once. They are the not-so-secret ingredient for many home cooks and professional chefs alike. An onion alone can fill your kitchen with the sweet smell of a satisfying meal to come. Just sautéing them in a bit of olive oil -- the first step to many recipes -- will have people wondering what delicious feast is being created in your kitchen.
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Finding a fresh onion is almost as important as selecting the right variety. One that is heavy in your hand and very firm to the touch is the freshest. If an onion is soft or has a strong potent odor, then it has passed its peak and will most likely give off an unpleasant flavor. Onions can store well for up to two weeks (sometimes longer) in a cool, dark place. Sweet onions, however, have a bit of a shorter life span. Onions are notorious for making people cry, but there are a few tricks to avoid the reaction to the gases.

Need to know which variety to buy? Click through the slideshow below for a quick onion guide.

Which is your favorite onion? Leave a comment below!

Yellow Onions
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The most common onion, and the real all-purpose work horse of the kitchen, is the yellow onion. When a recipe calls for onions, it's almost always referring to this one. This has a strong astringent flavor -- a result of its high sulfur content -- and is also nicely sweet.

The yellow onion is better used for cooking rather than raw -- but it can work in any recipe if you're in a pinch. The longer this onion cooks, the sweeter it becomes, and it adds a nice tangy flavor to dishes. This is the onion that makes the beloved French onion soup. It works beautifully in soups, stews, sauces, pastas and so on.

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Filed by Julie R. Thomson  |