Originally from Asia and the Middle East, onions have been cultivated for at least 5,000 years. Onions were mentioned in Mesopotamian records from 2400 BC, used by the Greeks and Romans, and considered medicine in 6th century India. In more recent history, onions were considered more of a “poor man’s” food, as they were often eaten with bread or used to add a little flavour to otherwise bland food. Today, the world’s largest onion producers are China, India, the United States, Russia, and Spain.

There are two main types of onions: spring/summer onions, and storage onions. Spring onions are grown in warmer climates, and are mild and sweet. Storage onions are grown in colder climates, and are dried out, giving them their characteristic crispy skins.

Ontario Varieties:

Yellow, or cooking onions, are storage onions available year-round. They are the standard “all-purpose” onion generally suitable for every kind of dish: you can fry them, bake, braise. boil, and grill them, or gently slow-cook them for ultimate flavour. They are characterized by their light yellow flesh and papery skin, and range from the size of a golf ball to a softball. They tend to have a sweet flavour, which grows the longer they cook.

Ontario yellow onions:

  • Trapp’s No. 8
  • Hustlet
  • Norstar
  • Copra
  • Prince
  • Fortress
  • Hamlet
  • Corona

Green onions, also known as scallions, bunching onions, Chinese onions, or Welsh onions are long, green onions with thin white stems. They have a gentle onion flavour, and tend for be crunchy and juicy. They are best suited to use raw, and thinly sliced in salads, and compliment Asian dishes well. They grow from early June to mid-November.

While similar, spring onions are not technically a type of green onion. They are similar appearances, the only difference being the white bulbs at the base. They are sweet and mellow, but have a more intense flavour than green onions.

Red onions and Spanish onions, also a storage onion, grow from early September to late December. They are characterized by their deep red skin and maroon flesh, and range from the size of a golf ball to a softball. Similar in their sweet taste to yellow onions, but are more pungent they tend to have thinner layers and are less meaty. Like green onions, red onions are great when eaten raw. Chop them up and use them in salads and sandwiches.

Ontario’s most popular red onion is the Yula.

Other Varieties:

Cipollini are a type of Italian pearl onion. They are slightly larger than your start North American pearl onion, with pale yellow skin, and are flat and squat. They are very sweet, and ideally are creamed or glazed.

These small, sweet onions can be red or white, and are usually the size of a jawbreaker. Though similar in appearance to the shallot, they are much milder and sweeter.

They are best used as an accompaniment to a meal, usually creamed or roasted, or as a garnish.

Also known as gray shallots or red shallots, these small, bulbous clusters of onions resemble garlic more than an onion. They have dry, copper-drown skin and light purple flesh. Like garlic, they have pointed tapered ends. Their flavour is milder than onions, with a hint of garlic.

They are most popular in French and Asian dishes.

Also known as the fresh onion, spring onion, or summer onion, sweet onions are a type of storage onion. As the name suggests, they are quite sweet due to their lower concentration of sulphur. Unlike other storage onions, however, they do not keep as well and should be consumed as soon as possible.

They are sweet enough to be consumed raw, like ripe fruit.

Often confused with yellow onions, white onions are another type of storage onion with bright white skin and flesh. While similar to yellow onions, they are slightly larger, ranging in size from a baseball to a softball, and are more tangy than sweet.

They are especially suited for Latin and Central American dishes.

Onions are low in calories, a half cup being only 28 calories, and are a major source of polyphenols and flavonoids.

Selecting storage onions (yellow and red), that are dry and firm. The skin should be somewhat brittle, but smooth.

Green onions, on the other hand, should be as fresh as possible. Look for smooth, firm, white bulbs and bright green tops.

Storage onions can last up to one month in the right conditions. Store in the mesh bag they are bundled in at the store, if possible. This will allow air circulation, keep them fresher longer. Store in a cool, dry, dark place for the best results. Never store onions in the refrigerator.

Green onions should be trimmed and refrigerated immediately. Stored cold in a plastic bag, green onions should last up to one week.

Do not store any type of onion with potatoes–they will absorb their moisture and ethylene gas, causing them to spoil faster.

Peeling storage onions can be a chore due to the “onion tears” which commonly afflict the peeler. To peel a storage onion, score from one end to the other, and peel while under cold water to prevent tears. You can also parboil, drain, and peel an onion, or boil/steam then peel it.

Green onions are simple: trim, and gently slide off the outermost layer.

Always chop onions by hand. Storage onions are best sliced in half, then with parallel cuts. Quarter-inch pieces are recommended for even cooking.

Green Onions:

Pearl Onions:

Red Onions:


Sweet Onions:

White Onions:

Yellow Onions:

different types of onions
Seasonal Availability:
Yellow: January to December
Green: June to November
Red: September to March

Nutrition per 61 mL (41 g) yellow onions, chopped:

Nutrient Value
Calories 17
Carbohydrates 4 g
Total Sugar 2 g
Total Dietary Fibre 0.6 g
Calcium 9 mg
Iron 0.1 mg
Sodium 1 mg
Potassium 58 mg
Magnesium 4 mg
Vitamin C 3 mg

Provided by Health Canada