Onion Revelation

I'm big into using onions in things. I love the mix of tangy and savory that an onion can provide to a dish when employed properly. But lately I've come to a realization that not all onions can be used the same, most notably in red (or purple) onions and yellow (or white) onions. Perhaps the most familiar of all onions, this pair is often thought of as interchangeable, but now I beg to differ.

I absolutely love red onion in its raw form. It has that loaded yet mild onion flavor without being too acidic or too overpowering to remind you that you're eating raw onion. Overpowering is true for raw yellow onions though. I find eating them raw is not nearly as delightful, and often they take over dishes far more rather than highlight them, as the red counterpart. Chopped, sliced, diced – you name it for raw red onion. It makes salads, salsas, dips, sandwiches, burritos, burgers, tacos, gyros all noticeably better than the counterfactual. But if I found raw yellow onion in many of these settings, I'd likely pick them off.

So red onions are just better than yellow onions. Right? I think not. And here is where my revelation lies. I now must conclude that cooked red onions are horrible. I had grown so infatuated with red onions in their raw form that I just assumed that cooking them would also be superior to cooking the yellows. So I diced some on the pizza I made. And I roasted some chunks on skewers. I used it as the base of some sauces and pastas. And I sautéed some down to use as a hearty salad with some greens. And all those times I was expecting that smooth, subtle nuttiness with the oniony overtones that I expected from my times of eating yellow onions in those manners. But to my horror, I was quite wrong. Each dish, very nice in every other way, had this awful taste running through it. It even took me a while to figure out the source. But alas it was the red onion.

It appears that when red onion breaks down and softens, a few things happen. The color gets kind of gray instead of purple, which is itself a bit unappealing. But the taste takes on a sort of flat pungency, sort of bitter and metallic. Ugh! A flavor ruiner. A flavor no-go in my book. In these cooked settings, where the yellow onion is famous for taking on such lovely, savory forms when cooked down or roasted and being a subtle base for marinara sauce, soups, stews, pastas and other sauces in cultures around the world, the red onion appears to be a surefire flop. I can't totally explain it, but I can say that I hate that overpowering non-oniony flavor of the cooked red onion, whatever that is.

While I'll continue to include raw red onion in any and all media, I will not being cooking it in any dishes, and if I see it served to me, I might just have to give it the same treatment as most raw yellow onion, and pick it out. Guess you can call me “picky” when it comes to onions.

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