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White vs. Brown Onions: What’s the Difference?

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When you’re cooking you might think that an onion is an onion. What’s the big deal? In the end, whether you cook it until it’s soft, just chop it and leave it raw, or use it as a garnish over the top of the dish, the onion used doesn’t matter cause it’ll all taste like onion, right?

Wrong! Different onions have different flavors, nutritional aspects, and each one can be used to bring out the best in a dish.

For example, green onions (wild onions) are actually hollow stems that when chopped make small green circles that give an extra bit of zest and flavor to each dish they are sprinkled over.

Red onions are best for chopping into bits for salads, giving them an extra crunch, or cutting into rings and adding to your sandwich. The potent smell and the strong, zingy flavor can really make the meal.

Using the wrong onion will still result in good food, but not great food. So, in this article, we’re going to focus on the differences between two seemingly similar onions: white onions versus brown onions.

How can you use each onion to its best potential and make your meals extra special? Read on to find out!

Brown onions on a woven plate

What Are Brown Onions?

Brown onions are the most versatile onions. They have a strong smell and an even stronger, tangy yet slightly sweet flavor. They are known as brown onions because of the golden-brown shell of skin on the outside of the onion. However, when cut open, they are white on the inside.

These onions are the best for a bold flavor addition when cooking, but not favored as a raw additive in meals. They are used in all types of pot-made meals, such as soups, lentils, chili, and pasta.

What Are White Onions?

White onions are much subtler in flavor and smell. Their name comes, consequently, from white flesh covered in a shell of white skin.

They are great for more mild additions of flavor in cooking, and work well raw cut up in sandwiches and salads because they are not going to overtake the flavor and ruin your meal!

They are slightly sweeter than their brown cousins, and can also work well in dips such as pico and guacamole.

White onions in a wicker tray

Nutrition Facts: Vitamins, Minerals, Calcium, and Such!

A whole white onion contains thirty-five calories. White onions have eight carbs, seven net carbs (one gram of fiber). As they are a sweeter onion, each one contains three grams of natural sugars. Each white onion also possesses one gram of protein.

However, as a vegetable, they have more sustenance in other ways. White onions have twenty milligrams of calcium, three percent of your daily value.

The health benefits of consuming white onions are numerous. First off, for people with diabetes or struggling with abnormal blood sugar levels, white onions help stabilize blood sugar and even contain anti-diabetic properties in their compounds.

White onions have flavonoid antioxidants that can prevent tumors from growing, increase bone density and increase your overall antioxidant levels. White onions are also healthy bacteria and gut-friendly. They have dietary fibers and prebiotics that are great for the gut.

They are anti-inflammatory and those with high blood pressure observe a decrease in blood pressure after continuous consumption.

white and brown onions in one container

Brown onions contain all sorts of nutrients, including calcium, manganese, sodium, amino acids, and sulfur. They are rich in vitamins and contain amounts of vitamins C, A, B6, B9, and B12.

Brown onions, as well as white, contain leveling properties for blood pressure. Brown onions especially have a nutrient called allicin that is known for making blood pressure more stable. Brown onions are also known to decrease symptoms of diabetes and the risk of getting diabetes.

These onions have antioxidant levels that are significantly higher than garlic’s, approximately eleven times more! This helps flush out any toxins in your system. Brown onions also take bad cholesterol levels and lower them, helping your heart stay healthy, using its vitamin C to improve the circulation of blood throughout your body, and reduce inflammation, boosting your immune system.

Brown onions can even help rid you of a cough, as they contain a property called sputum that heals a sore throat!

An overall reminder: these helpful aspects of an onion come over time from regular consumption. Eating just one onion one time will not see results. Consistency is key, and why not be consistent! Onions have a wonderful flavor to add to any dish they are included in!

white and brown onions in a basket on white background

What Is the Difference in Flavor or Taste Between White Onions and Brown Onions?

Speaking of flavor, let’s dive in!

As a whole, onions have a strong, tangy flavor. The experience is heightened by the pungent smell that goes along with it. They almost give the same reaction that you experience when sucking on a lemon, except onions aren’t bitter.

They are not a main dish vegetable; they are used as a flavor-enhancing tool in small amounts in the main dish, such as in soups or chilis, in side dishes such as salads, and in small slices in sandwiches. You don’t ever see anyone eating their mashed potatoes and steak with a side of onion!

That’s typical for all types of onions, but between types, there are subtle differences.

Brown onions tend to be strongest in flavor, and are perfect in small quantities to add flavor to a cooked dish. Consuming them raw is not usually preferred, as the flavor is too overwhelming and takes over the taste of the other food. They are slightly sweet, but not as much as the white onion.

White onions are the sweet ones; and paired with their sweetness, they have a milder flavor and are much less overwhelming. White onions can be used for flavoring in cooking, but can also be enjoyed raw and add a slightly sweet addition to salads and sandwiches.

Differences in Size?

There are small, medium, and large versions of each type of onion, but even in that there is a noticeable size difference between these two onion types.

White onions are typically smaller. The smallest white onions are around two and a half ounces and about one to two inches in diameter. Medium white onions are almost four ounces in weight and two or three inches in diameter, and large ones are approximately five and a half ounces and have a diameter of three to three and a half inches.

For brown onions, their sizes extend to even extra-large! Small brown onions are around four ounces in weight. Mediums are around five to eight ounces, with the average set at 6 ounces. Large brown onions are between eight to twelve, with ten ounces being the average, and extra-large brown onions are any onions over twelve ounces!

raw brown onions in a basket on a table

What About Growth Patterns? Do White Onions Need Different Care Than Brown Ones?

The process of planting onions is similar between the two, but in specifics, the details may differ based on the species.

White onions need to be planted at a certain time of year: early spring. If planted too early, they will freeze to death, but if they are planted too late then they will need to be harvested before they reach full maturity. Planting them in the early spring allows for the soil to be warm enough that they will grow, and gives them enough time to mature completely.

You can test the soil before you plant if you’re not sure: just till the earth a little, and if it gives easily then it is ready for planting.

White onions need a lot of space to grow, and will not survive if they are being choked off by other plants. Aim to separate your white onions by at least six inches of space.

When planting, the gardening method of raised beds works best, but if it is not possible or beyond your abilities, a mound of dirt on top of the buried seed or bulb is effective.

For brown onions, they need at least four inches of depth as well between them and the surface, and they must be planted using raised beds.

For both, make sure to keep the soil moist, and we recommend using mulch around the plantings. Mulch is a great way to keep your onions thriving, because it prevents them from getting too dried out from the sun, drowning in too much watering or rainfall, and prevents weeds from growing too close and taking all of their growing space and nutrients. Happy planting, and happy cooking!


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