Colors, Flavors, Sizes & Seasons

Onions vary in color, size, the time of year harvested, and flavor. These differences make onions very versatile.

The Color of Onions

Bulb onions can be yellow, red, or white. Approximately 87 percent of the crop is devoted to yellow onion production, with about eight percent red onions, and five percent white onions.

  • Yellow Onion

Yellow Onions

Yellow Onions are full-flavored and are a reliable standby for cooking almost anything. Yellow onions turn a rich, dark brown when cooked and give French Onion Soup its tangy sweet flavor.

  • Red Onion

Red Onions

Red Onions, with their wonderful color, are a good choice for lots of fresh uses or for grilling, charbroiling, and roasting.

  • White Onion

White Onions

White Onions are often used in prepared salads, white sauces, and is the traditional onion for classic Mexican cuisine. They have a golden color and sweet flavor when sautéed.


Onion Color, Flavor, Usage Guide

This chart was created to serve as a guide for helping you choose what kind of onion to use in a recipe. Feel free to let your own tastes, preferences, and creativity along with this chart guide you to your own decision. The most important thing to remember is "bring on the onions" and enjoy!

Note: Crop size in the chart below is approximate. Remember, flavor and usage info are general guidelines for each color and type.

Color

Variety or Type

Availability

Raw Flavor/Texture

Best Usage

Yellow Onion:
All-purpose and most popular, approximately 87% of the U.S. onion crop is comprised of yellow varieties. The most well-known sweet onions are yellow. The best type of onion for caramelizing is a yellow storage variety. Cooking brings out this variety's nutty, mellow, often sweet, quality when caramelized.

Sweet

March-September

crisp, juicy, mild flavor with a slightly sweet ending with little to no after-taste

raw, lightly cooked, sautéed, or grilled

Fresh, Mild

March - August

crisp, juicy, mild to slightly pungent with a faint after-taste

raw, lightly cooked, sautéed, or grilled

Storage

August-May

strong onion flavor, mild after-taste

grilled, sautéed, caramelized, baked, or roasted 

Red Onion:
About 8% of the U.S. onion crop is red. They have gained popularity in the past decade, especially in foodservice on salads and sandwiches because of their color. 

Sweet

March-September

crisp, very mild onion flavor

raw, grilled, or roasted

Fresh, Mild

March-September

bright tones, slightly less water content than yellow with a slightly pungent ending

raw, grilled, or roasted

Storage

August-May

sharp, spicy, and moderate to very pungent

raw, grilled, or roasted

 

White Onion:
Approximately 5% of U.S. onion production is dedicated to white onions. They are commonly used in white sauces, potato and pasta salads, and in Mexican or Southwest cuisine. Due to the compact nature of their cell structure, white onions do not store quite as long as other varieties.

Fresh, Mild

March-August

moderately pungent and clean finish, very little after-taste

raw, grilled, sautéed, or lightly cooked

Storage

August-May

modertaley pungent to very pungent and full flavored, but finishes with a cleaner and crisper flavor in comparison to yellow and red storage varieties

raw, grilled, sautéed, or lightly cooked

Preparation Tips:
1. Cut onions as close to cooking or serving time as possible. Onion flavor deteriorates and its aroma intensifies over time.
2. High heat makes onions bitter. When sautéeing onions, always use low or medium heat.
3. Chopped or sliced onions can be refrigerated for up to 7 days in sealed containers.


Onion Sizes

Onions range in size from less than one-inch in diameter to more than 4.5-inches in diameter. The most common sizes sold in the U.S. for retail are between 2 to 3-3/4 inches in diameter.

Super Colossal
onion sizing chart
4-1/2" and Up Yellow, Red, and White
Colossal
3-3/4" and Up Yellow, Red, and White
Large/Jumbo
3" and Up Yellow, Red, and White
Medium
2" to 3-1/4" Yellow, Red, and White
Pre-Pack
1-3/4" to 3" Yellow and White
Small
1" to 2-1/4" Yellow, Red, and White
Boiler
1" to 1-7/8" Yellow and White
Creamer
Under 1" Yellow and White

Seasons

Yes. Onions are seasonal! Based on when they are harvested, onions grown in the U.S. can be divided into two categories.

Spring/Summer Onion Traits

  • Available in yellow, red, and white from March through August
  • Can be identified by their thin, lighter-colored skin
  • Typically higher in water content, which reduces their shelf-life and makes them more susceptible to bruising
  • Range in flavor from sweet to mild
  • Best to use in salads, sandwiches, and fresh, lightly-cooked or grilled dishes
  • Many specialty sweet onions are part of this category and are sold under a specific trade name or label
  • Note: Some domestic and all imported onions with these traits are offered other times of the year.

Fall/Winter Onion Traits

  • Available August through May in yellow, red, and white
  • Easy to recognize by their multiple layers of thick, darker colored skin
  • Commonly lower in water content, they have a longer shelf-life
  • Range in flavor from mild to pungent
  • Best for savory dishes that require longer cooking times or more flavor

Commercial U.S. Onion Availability*

Spring/Summer Onion Availability

Fall/Winter Onion Availability

Area

Production

Area

Production

Texas

Rio Grande Valley & Winter Garden,

West & High Plains

March - August

Colorado

July - March

California

Desert Valleys
San Joaquin Valley
Coastal Valleys

April - September

Idaho-Eastern Oregon

July - May

Georgia

April - September

Washington

July - May

Arizona

May - June

West/Central Oregon

July - May

New Mexico

June - September

New York

August - May

Washington

Walla Walla
Columbia Basin

June - August

Utah

August - March

Colorado

July - September

California
High Desert Valleys

September - April

Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina

Limited Production

Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio

September - April

Hawaii

Year Round
(Limited Mainland availability)

Michigan

September - March

 

 

Minnesota & North Dakota

September - March

 

 

Nevada

September - April

 

 

Wisconsin

September - March

 

 

Pennsylvania, Massachusetts

Limited Production

Note: Organic onions are available from several states.

*Producers and some production areas (e.g., South Texas; California Valleys; Vidalia; Georgia; Walla Walla, Washington; New Mexico, etc.) trademark their brands and labels. Individual trade names and private labels are too numerous to mention.

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