Difference between Red, White, and Yellow Onions

Updated on June 27, 2017

An onion is a versatile vegetable that is used in a variety of dishes such as salads, soups, or meat viands. It is also a favorite appetizer or side dish when served deep-fried as onion rings. This vegetable has a strong fragrance and flavor, is packed with nutritional value, and comes in several varieties. In this article, we’ll tell you all about the differences between three kinds of onions: red onions, white onions, and yellow onions


Red onions

Red onions have purplish-red papery skin and white flesh with tinges of red. They come in small and big sizes. Red onions have layers that are meaty and slightly tender. They have a strong and spicy flavor when raw but it gets sweeter when cooked. Red onions are wonderful when eaten raw since they have just the right level of bite and crunchiness. The vibrant color of red onions also add to the appeal and brightness of certain dishes. Though they are available year round, red onions make up less than 10% of the onion market in the US. Red onions are also commonly referred to as the salad onion as it is ideal for raw preparations. They are also often used for salsas, taco fillings, and pizza toppings.

White onions
White onions

White onions are onions that have thin white papery skin and white tender flesh. They usually come in fist-sized bulbs. White onions have a sharp, clean flavor and can be eaten raw. These onions, though, don’t get as sweet as other onions when cooked and they tend to fall apart easily. This variety is available throughout the year and the taste and flavor stays the same even in different seasons. White onions are often minced and added to raw salsas. Since they have a clean flavor, they are usually added to salads, sandwiches or scattered over pizza. White onions are also good substitutes for yellow onion in some dishes.

Yellow onions
Yellow onions

Yellow onions have yellow-brown and fairly tough outer skin. They have white flesh, meaty layers, and are usually fist-sized. They are regarded as the all-purpose onion due to the good balance of flavors. The majority of the onions grown in the US are yellow, hence they are readily available in groceries and are relatively cheap. This type often becomes the default onion for most household dishes. The versatility of this type of onion makes it a good vegetable for many recipes. Yellow onions have a strong flavor when raw but it gets sweeter when cooked. This type of onion is ideal for soups, stews, and other meaty viands. They are also delicious when caramelized and they hold up well when cooked.

Red vs White vs Yellow Onions

What are the differences between red, white, and yellow onions? Red onions have purplish-red skin, white onions have white skin, and yellow onions have yellow-brown skin. They all have white flesh but red onions have added tinges of red in them. Red onions come in different sizes, have thin papery skin, and layers that are less tender and meaty than white and yellow onions. White onions, on the other hand, come in sizes that are similar to yellow onions but have thinner and more papery skin, and are more tender. Yellow onions are fist-sized onions with fairly tough outer skin, and have meaty layers.

In terms of flavor, red onions are strong and spicy when raw, leaning more on the sour end whereas white onions have a sharper, cleaner flavor. Yellow onions have a good balance of astringency and sweetness. These also become even sweeter when cooked. Due to the vibrant color, red onions are often used in salads, salsas and in other raw preparations. White onions are often minced and added to salsas and other Mexican dishes. Compared to the red and white onion, the yellow onion is considered to be the all-purpose type as it goes well with hearty meat dishes, stews, and soups.

Comparison Chart

Red OnionsWhite Onions Yellow Onions
Purplish-red outer skin and white flesh with tinges of redWhite skin and fleshYellow-brown or golden skin and white flesh
Comes in small and large sizesAround the same size as the yellow varietyFist-size
Thin, papery skinThinner, more papery skinFairly tough outer skin
Layers are less tender and meatyMore tenderHas meaty layers
Strong and spicy when raw, leaning toward the sour end; becomes sweeter when cookedHas a sharper, cleaner flavor than yellow onion; doesn’t get as sweet when cookedHas a strong taste when raw but a good balance of astringency and sweetness; gets even sweeter when cooked
Often used in salads, salsas, and raw preparations for their vibrant colorMinced and added to raw salsas and chutneys (often used in Mexican dishes)The all-purpose onion (for stews, soups and meat dishes)