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4 Key Differences Between Sweet Onion And Yellow Onion

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Whether you are making soup, stew, pizza, some popular Mexican dish, or any other dish from popular cuisine from all over the world, you can use onions to make it more flavorful. 

This veggie is one of the most versatile ingredients in the world and it works well in almost any dish or with almost any type of food. 

On top of that, there are various types of onions to choose from, including red onions, white onions, shallots, or scallions. However, the two most popular types are definitely sweet onion and yellow onion. 

What’s more, many people tend to think that these two types of onions are the same because they look quite similar. 

However, there are certain differences that need to be discussed in order for you to choose the best one for your favorite dish. 

Less commonly used in cookingMost commonly used
Lighter color of the skinGolden-brown skin color
More flattened, squat, or rounded bulb shapeMore elongated tear-drop-like bulb shape
Larger in sizeComes in various sizes, but slightly smaller
Sweet, mild flavorRobust and assertive flavor
Slightly higher in caloriesSlightly higher in fiber and vitamin B6
Can be eaten rawMore suitable for cooking

Sweet Onion Vs Yellow Onion: Basics

Before I get to the main differences between sweet onion and yellow onion, let me explain the basics of these two popular veggies. 

Sweet Onion

Sweet onions, a delightful and sought-after variety of this versatile vegetable, boast distinct characteristics and unique attributes that set them apart from their more pungent counterparts.

Sweet onions are a specialized category of Allium cepa, the common onion species. Unlike conventional yellow onions, sweet onions are bred to be milder. They have a natural sweetness that delights the taste buds.

It is important to emphasize that there are several renowned varieties of sweet onions, each with its own distinct characteristics and regions where they are cultivated. 

The famous Vidalia onions from Georgia, the Walla Walla onions from Washington, and the Maui onions from Hawaii are just a few examples of these prized varieties.

Sweet onions are best kept in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated area, away from direct sunlight. When stored correctly, sweet onions can maintain their freshness and flavor for an extended period.

It is also important to know how to tell if an onion is bad

Yellow Onion

Yellow onions, the quintessential kitchen staple and a fundamental ingredient in countless savory dishes possess a robust flavor profile that imparts depth and richness to all kinds of culinary creations.

Yellow onions, scientifically known as Allium cepa, belong to the common onion species. They have been cultivated and consumed for centuries in various cuisines around the globe. 

With their assertive and pungent flavor, yellow onions form the base of numerous classic dishes and are a staple in kitchen pantries worldwide.

Just like with sweet onions, there are different varieties of yellow onions, each with subtle variations in flavor and size. 

Spanish onions, Bermuda onions, and globe-shaped yellow onions are among the well-known types of this versatile onion variety.

When it comes to storage, yellow onions should be stored in a cool, dark, and well-ventilated place, away from potatoes, as onions can absorb moisture and odors, affecting their longevity and taste.  

Physical Appearance Comparison

photo of onion on the table

Almost all types of onions are quite similar in their appearance, and yellow and sweet onions are no exception. However, they have certain distinct differences worth knowing. 

1. Skin Color: Sweet onions typically have a paler and lighter skin color compared to yellow onions. The skin ranges from pale golden to light amber hues.

Yellow onions, as their name suggests, have a golden-brown to light-yellow skin color. The skin is generally thicker and tougher than that of sweet onions.

2. Bulb Shape: Sweet onions often have a more flattened, squat, or rounded bulb shape. They are not as elongated or tapered as some varieties of yellow onions.

Yellow onions often have a more elongated, tear-drop-like bulb shape. The bottom tapers to a pointed end.

3. Size: Sweet onions are generally larger in size compared to yellow onions, with an average diameter of around 4 to 5 inches (10 to 12.5 cm).

Yellow onions come in various sizes, but they are often slightly smaller than sweet onions, with an average diameter of around 3 to 4 inches (7.5 to 10 cm).

4. Skin Texture: The skin of sweet onions is usually thinner and smoother than that of yellow onions. It may feel slightly waxy to the touch.

The skin of yellow onions is rougher and more papery than that of sweet onions. It may feel drier and more textured.

5. Flesh Color: The flesh of sweet onions has a typically ivory to off-white color. When you cut into a sweet onion, you’ll notice the inner layers have a translucent appearance.

The flesh of yellow onions is white to cream-colored with a more opaque appearance compared to the translucent flesh of sweet onions.

Some onions, especially red varieties, can turn blue under certain circumstances, but you have to know that there is no such thing as blue onions

Flavor Profile Comparison

Both sweet and yellow onions have distinct flavor profiles that make them suitable for different culinary applications. 

1. Mildness: The most defining characteristic of sweet onions is their mildness. They have a gentler, less assertive flavor compared to yellow onions.

On the other hand, yellow onions are prized for their robust and assertive flavor. They have a stronger and more pronounced onion-like taste compared to sweet onions.

2. Level of Sweetness: As the name suggests, sweet onions are known for their natural sweet taste. When eaten raw, they offer a pleasant, delicate sweetness with only a hint of tanginess.

Of course, they do not taste like a honeycomb, but it is a decent level of sweetness for one onion.

Yellow onions have higher levels of sulfur compounds, which contribute to their pungency. When eaten raw, they can be quite sharp and may induce tearing.

3. Subtle Tang vs Umami: Despite their sweet taste, sweet onions may have a mild tang that adds depth to their flavor profile without overwhelming the palate.

When cooked, yellow onions undergo a delightful transformation, developing deep, rich, and savory umami notes. This transformation makes them an essential base for countless savory dishes.

4. Caramelization Potential: Due to their higher sugar content, sweet onions caramelize well, adding sweetness to dishes.

However, yellow onions caramelize even better, developing a deeply flavorful and slightly sweet taste during the cooking process.

Nutritional Profiles

cut up and whole onion on a cutting board

Sweet onions and yellow onions have some differences in their nutritional profiles, including their calorie content, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Let’s explore the specific variations in their nutritional composition:

1. Calories: Sweet onions are relatively low in calories, with an average of about 40 calories per 100 grams (3.5 ounces).

Yellow onions are slightly lower in calories, but nothing significant. 

2. Carbs: Both sweet and yellow onions are moderately rich in carbs, mainly in the form of natural sugars. Both varieties contain around 9 grams of carbs per 100 grams. 

3. Fiber: Sweet onions provide a moderate amount of dietary fiber, contributing to digestive health. They contain approximately 1.5 grams of fiber per 100 grams.

Yellow onions offer a slightly higher amount of dietary fiber compared to sweet onions, with approximately 1.7 grams of fiber per 100 grams.

4. Vitamins: Both types of onions contain a fairly decent amount of vitamin C. They both contain vitamin B6, which plays a significant role in metabolism and the functioning of the nervous system. 

However, there is a slightly higher amount of vitamin B6 in yellow onions. 

5. Minerals: The mineral content in sweet and yellow onions is practically the same. Both varieties contain several essential minerals, including potassium, which is crucial for heart health. 

They also provide small amounts of calcium, iron, and magnesium. 

Culinary Uses

Since they have distinct flavor profiles, sweet and yellow onions have slightly different culinary applications as well. 

Sweet Onions

Since they are mild and have a fair amount of sweetness, it is ideal to eat sweet onions raw. They are a perfect side for sandwiches, slicing into salads, or garnishing raw dishes like ceviche. 

If you don’t like the idea of eating them raw, you can saute them. When lightly sautéed, sweet onions retain their delicate flavor and add a hint of sweetness to the dish. They work well in stir-fries or as a base for omelets.

Grilling is a classic choice for all types of onions, but grilled sweet onions are in a class of their own. 

Sweet onions caramelize beautifully when grilled, bringing out their natural sugars and imparting a delightful sweetness to the cooked dish. Grilled sweet onions make a fantastic side dish or addition to grilled meats as well. 

Finally, sweet onions complement dishes that require a gentle onion flavor, such as quiches, frittatas, and delicate soups, and they also work perfectly well in raw dips and salsas, adding flavor without overwhelming the rest of the ingredients. 

Yellow Onions

Because of their robust flavor, yellow onions are not really suitable for eating raw. However, that same flavor makes them a preferred choice for cooked dishes that require a strong onion taste. 

They are commonly used as a base for soups, stews, sauces, and curries, where they provide a rich, savory foundation.

Since they caramelize even better than sweet onions, slow-cooked or sautéed, they develop a deep, sweet flavor that enhances dishes like French onion soup or caramelized onion pies.

They also hold up well to higher temperatures and intense cooking methods, which makes them suitable for stir-fries and sautéed dishes, where their robust taste shines.

Yellow onions are also great when roasted or baked. They become tender and take on a delightful sweetness, adding depth to roasted vegetable medleys or as a side dish for roasts.

I love yellow onions with some olive oil and rosemary or rosemary substitutes. In fact, sweet onions go perfectly with chimichanga or burritos, and I am sure you home cooks will love them too.

How To Choose The Right Onion For Your Dish?

yellow onion on a pile

Now that you know the main differences between sweet and yellow onion, you will be able to conclude to some extent which one will work best in your dish. However, I will briefly try to explain how to choose your perfect onion for the perfect dish. 

1. Consider the Flavor Profile: 

Sweet Onions: Opt for sweet onions, such as Vidalia, Walla Walla, or Maui varieties, when you desire a mild and slightly sweet taste. 

They work wonderfully in raw dishes, salads, and recipes that call for a delicate onion flavor without overwhelming the other ingredients.

Yellow Onions: Choose yellow onions, such as Spanish, Bermuda, or globe varieties, when you need a strong and assertive onion taste. They are excellent for cooked dishes, soups, stews, and caramelized delights, where their robust flavor shines.

2. Raw vs Cooked Preparations: 

Raw Dishes: If your recipe involves using raw onions, like in salads, salsas, or garnishes, go for sweet onions. Their mildness and natural sweetness will enhance the dish without overpowering the other fresh ingredients.

Cooked Dishes: For recipes that require cooked onions, such as stir-fries, sautés, soups, or casseroles, yellow onions are the more suitable choice. Their robust flavor will withstand the cooking process and add depth to the dish.

3. Caramelization and Grilling: 

For caramelization: When you plan to caramelize onions, turning them into golden, sweet strands of flavor, yellow onions are your best bet. Their higher sugar content is perfect for achieving that delectable caramelized result.

For grilling: Sweet onions work exceptionally well for grilling, as their natural sweetness intensifies when exposed to high heat, creating a delightful smoky-sweet flavor.

4. Seasonal Availability: 

Consider the availability of different onion varieties and the current season in your region. Sweet onions are often seasonal and might be more abundant during specific months, while yellow onions are generally available year-round.

5. Texture and Size: 

Keep the texture and size requirements of your dish in mind. Sweet onions are typically larger and have a more delicate texture, making them ideal for raw dishes. 

Yellow onions, being more robust and firm, are well-suited for prolonged cooking methods and dishes that benefit from a hearty onion presence.

4 Key Differences Between Sweet Onion And Yellow Onion