Culinary Scientist Tests If He Can Taste a Difference Between Various Types of Onions

Culinary scientist Ethan Chlebowski who studies how to get the most flavor from food, explained different varieties of onions, including shallots, sweet onions, red onions, and yellow onions.

We are doing a deep dive into the world of onions one of the most used ingredients around the world,… For example why do we enjoy the flavor of onions? Can you actually taste the difference between red, white, yellow or sweet onions and how does the flavor change when onions are used raw cooked or caramelized? Do shallots taste different than onions or should certain onions be avoided for specific cuisines? 

He performed a number tests to determine if there was really a great taste difference between the different onions; three raw tests, three sautéed tests, and two caramelized tests. Chlebowski noted that different onions are good for different applications.

If I could only keep one onion on hand, I would go for the red onion. It’s the more pungent variety, which I like for raw application. It looks amazing. When it’s pickled, it’s strong aroma comes through. When it’s sauteed however it’s probably not the best. For caramelized onions where you want that sweet taste and complex aromas .. for that use case I’d probably pick a yellow white or sweet onion.

He also summed up his experiments quite nicely.

Here’s the summary of the questions that you should ask yourself when cooking onions. First, do I want a strongly concentrated aroma or a milder one? If mild I’d go for the white yellow or sweet onions. If stronger I’d go for red or the shallot or if you want to experiment, there are countless varieties of alliums out there. It’s likely not going to make or break the dish. 

Difference Between Onions
Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails.