A large bowl of red onions sits on a table in representation of the question can you cook with red onions

Can You Cook With Red Onions?


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Can You Cook With Red Onions? – The quick answer is yes, you can cook with red onions, BUT they are not optimal for cooking. Find out more about cooking with red onions and if you should avoid frying, sauteing, or carmelizing red onions at home, and what red onions are best used for.

Ah, onions. One of many quintessential ingredients in any pantry. Whether you are a seasoned chef or an amateur cook, it’s safe to say that at least a couple of varieties of onions are a must-have in your kitchen — including red onions.

These reddish onions are juicy, fresh, spicy, slightly sweet, and, most of all, eye-catching. Perfect for adding a pop of color to any salad. But… Can you cook with red onions? Or are they only useful in their raw form?

Spoiler alert: they are much more than just a “salad onion”!

What’s The Difference Between Using Red Onions And White Onions for cooking?

Before we answer the million-dollar question, let’s look at the difference between using red onions and white onions. Both types of onions have many layers of flavor — pun intended — but are somewhat different.

When raw, red onions are fresh and pungent. In contrast, white onions are softer and milder than their red counterpart. But when exposed to heat, things take a turn.

When cooked, white onions stand out due to their pungent flavor. Red onions, on the other hand, become milder. Plus, in terms of texture, white onions have thinner, papery skin compared to red ones.

Last but not least, red onions have the cool ability to dye some foods thanks to the color of their skin. Needless to say, white onions can’t do that because, well, they are white.

Can You Cook With Red Onion Instead Of White or yellow?

Many recipes call for a specific type of onion, but what if we only have red onions? We know that sometimes replacing ingredients in a recipe when you are a not-so-experienced cook is scary, but don’t panic — you can swap them out without major consequences.

On a serious note, it’s quite common to substitute white or yellow onions with red onion, especially if you are after a less intense flavor than white onion can offer. But even if you are not looking for that outcome and just need to use red onion because you don’t have the white one, it’s still a good option. Red onions are pretty versatile, and the change in flavor is not drastic at all.

Pro-Tip: If you want to tone down the pungency of red onions, the best way to do it is to submerge them in a bowl of cold or ice water and let them sit for at least 10 minutes. After draining and slicing them, you will be left with far less sharp and intense onions.

cook with red onion or white Can You Cook With Red Onions? Vegetables

Do Red Onions Cook The Same As White Onions?

Both onions come from the same family, both are swappable, and both can make you shed a tear or two. But even though red onions and white onions have many similarities, that doesn’t mean they cook exactly the same. 

For starters, red onion loses some of its characteristic spicy flavors when cooked, giving a milder onion flavor to dishes. As mentioned above, this is not a dramatic change, but it is worth noting that it doesn’t happen with white onions.

Also, red onions don’t caramelize as well as white onions — but more on that later.

Can You Cook With Red Onions? 

Long story short, the unique flavor of this colorful vegetable is not only limited to salads — you can cook with red onions! As long as you enjoy its flavor profile, of course. But one common question still remains… What can you cook with red onions? Rather, how can you cook red onions? Fortunately, in many ways.

Can You Saute Red Onions

Sautéed onions go well with any food. Soups, steaks, pasta, you name it — they are simply too flavorful and too easy to make. So easy that you don’t need a specific type of onion.

So, can you saute red onions? Of course, you can! Sautéing is a highly flexible cooking method, so when we say you can sauté any type of onion, we mean any type of onion. The only thing you have to worry about is timing because if you overcook them, you will caramelize them or worse, burn them.

Can You Caramelize Red Onions

While you definitely can sauté them, can you caramelize red onions? Technically, you can. However, it is not the best way to cook them. 

You see, this type of onion is not renowned for its sweetness — it is slightly sweet, but not as sweet as its cousin —, and as you probably already know, you need sugars to break down for caramelization to happen. This process occurs naturally with white onions by cooking them slowly over low heat, but if all you have in hand are red onions and want to caramelize them for a mouthwatering burger, there’s a hack that can help you out: balsamic vinegar.

You only need about ½ tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, and believe us, that amount goes a long way when it comes to caramelizing red onions. Just pour it into the pan, and voilà! The sugar content in balsamic vinegar will make your onions soft and sweet in no time.

Can You Fry Red Onions

Who doesn’t love some crispy, golden-brown fried onions? They are a staple in South Asian cuisine, especially in gravies, curries, kebabs, and just about any dish that needs layers of texture and flavor. Good thing you can fry pretty much any type of onion, including the red one.

A few cooking blogs claim that the best onions for frying are sweet onions, but the truth is that red onions can do the job just as well or even better, thanks to their thin layers. That’s the key to achieving the signature addictive crunch of well-fried onions.

diced red onion Can You Cook With Red Onions? Vegetables

What Are Red Onions Used For Primarily?

Red onions are primarily used raw in salads and ceviches, mainly because of the color it provides to those dishes, but also because it is one of the few varieties of onions whose flavor is pleasant to enjoy raw. They are also used to add a crunchy touch to hot dogs, tacos, sandwiches, and homemade salsas. But if you want to give them a more complex flavor as toppings, say hello to the ultimate recipe for red onion lovers: pickled onions.

You’ll only need red onions, vinegar, salt, sugar, and water, and trust us, once you make your first batch, there’s no turning back. The tangy, vinegary flavor is addictive, and you’ll want to add a good spoonful of the stuff to just about anything you cook. You can use it as a taco garnish, tuck it into sandwiches, and much more. Plus, the pink hue of pickled onions is beautiful, so they can also serve as a garnish for other dishes.

Fun-Fact: If there’s one thing Mediterranean cuisine loves, it’s red onions. They are the main characters of salads such as Turkish sumac onion and Greek salad, and they are present almost everywhere in their pickled form.

To Sum It Up 

Although red onions are usually enjoyed raw, don’t let anyone tell you that’s the only way to do it. Rather, feel free to grab your favorite pan, turn on the stove and throw in a couple of sliced red onions, because you can cook with them. 

They are as versatile as any other type of onion, so much so that you can use them instead of white onions if you want to. Truth is, whether raw or cooked, red onions are a great addition to anyone’s kitchen since they are sure to tickle your taste buds.

Besides sautéing, frying, and caramelizing, do you know any other ways to cook red onions that you would like to share? We would love to read your opinion in the comment box below!

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