Shopping for onions

Not all onions are created equal.  Healthy Food Guide takes a look at the main varieties and what they’re best suited for.

Onions are used all over the world and are a wonderful addition to savoury meals. They are low in energy and contain flavonoids, which are antioxidants, and sulphur-containing compounds. Both are thought to protect against diseases including cancer and heart disease.

Spring onions

Also known as scallions, bunching or green onions, these onions are milder in flavour than brown onions and can be eaten raw or cooked. The green tops are often chopped and added to salads and stir-fries or used as a garnish. Look for solid white bulbs with root hairs attached and crisp green leaves.

Pickling onions

These are small brown onions with a strong flavour. If you’re not into pickling they are also tasty in salads.


These are a bit like a pickling onion with elongated bulbs that grow in a cluster. They have a more delicate and sweeter taste than brown onions and are delicious raw and cooked. Choose firm, heavy shallots.

Red onions

With a burgundy-red skin and reddish flesh these are mild in flavour, so are often eaten raw in salads or as a garnish. Choose onions with a dry, flaky outer skin and firm flesh.

Brown onions

These are the most common variety and have a strong flavour so tend to be cooked rather than eaten raw. They are available all year round. Choose onions with a crisp outer skin and firm flesh.


While spring onions can be stored in the fridge, other varieties need to be kept in a cool, airy dark place — but not in a plastic bag. Avoid storing onions with food that might absorb its flavours.


  • Most onions are best avoided if following a low-FODMAP diet, although the green part of spring onions is fine.
  • Stop the tears! To cut down on the crying, chill the onion then cut into the top, leaving the root end until last.
First published: Oct 2015

Ready to put your health first?
Subscribe here

Thanks, you're good to go!


Thanks, you're good to go!


{{ contentNotIncluded('company') }} has not subscribed to {{ contentNotIncluded('contentType') }}.

Ask your librarian to subscribe to this service next year. Alternatively, use a home network and buy a digital subscription—just $1/week...

Go back