This or That? White Onion vs. Red Onion vs. Yellow Onion

If you’ve spent enough time in the kitchen, you begin to develop a gut feel about which ingredients work best with this and that - but do you really know when to use a red onion over a white or yellow?

However, at some point in your exploration of all things culinary, you may have stumbled upon a common debate that seems to plague cooks all over the globe: red onion vs. white onion vs. yellow onion.

Well don’t worry--we’re here to finally give you a clearcut answer as to which onion is better for what and how to properly use them. Allow us to present this as a series of rules that you need to follow when it comes to using these bulbs in the kitchen.

Red Onions

Probably the most common of the three, these lovely reds have layers that are meatier and less tender than your other options. From the way it looks plus its mild and sweet taste, red onions are better for uncooked recipes. They simply enhance meals rather than introduce enough distinctive flavors to your dishes.

You should use red onions for:

  • Salads

  • Sandwiches

  • Salsas

All you have to do is to cut these up or dice them up to add a bit of mild flavor on your meals that require zero cooking.

Yellow Onions

Now we move on to the most common type of onion: the yellow ones. We use this as often as we can because it introduces a nice astringency to our dishes, while still contributing a bit of its sweetness to the dishes. The outer skin can be quite tough, but the layers are meaty enough for most dishes.

You can add yellow onions when preparing the following:

  • Stew

  • Soups

  • Shish kabobs

White Onions

Typically more pungent with a sharper taste, white onions are a great substitute to the yellow ones. Despite its reputation of astringency, these are still quite mild to the taste and not as pungent.

Mexican cuisines often call for white onions in their recipes. You can also use this for the following:

  • Salsa

  • Chutney

You can also mince this together with your yellow onions if you want to add more onion meat but mellow out the taste of your dish.

For most recipes that call for onions, you can be almost 100% sure that they mean yellow onions. Unless otherwise specified, these are the onions that usually accompany most recipes.

There really is no hard or fast rule when it comes to choosing onions for your recipes. However, there are certain tastes and textures that you’ll achieve better with each different type of onion. Of course, these three only make up a part of the plethora of onion types available to us, but these are the most popular ones out of the rest.

When it comes to calories, both white and red onions contain the same amount of 60 calories per serving, while yellow onion amounts to a total of 64 calories in all. So what about you--what’s your preferred onion? Whatever it is, we hope that you are using it for the right type of recipes to get the most out of its flavor.


Tara O'Doherty is Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of voxie. She's a global award-winning strategist, marketer, designer, author, speaker and educator who lives in Toronto, Canada with her two fat dogs. She is best known for her SickKids VS digital work which resulted in numerous global awards and helped secure over $700 million dollars in donations for the hospital. She is also the former co-Founder and CPO of JADEO and x-VP of Experience Strategy at Cossette Communications, and currently the VP of Design and UX at Akendi.


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