Onions are the most used flavouring vegetable in the world.
Most savoury dishes include one of the onion family - white and red onions, garlic, chives, shallots, spring onions and leeks. All of these vary enormously in shape, size, colour, texture and intensity of flavour. New Zealand's top onion growing area is Pukekohe, south of Auckland.
Main crop onions
These are the most common onions and are available all year round. They are strongly flavoured, firm onions with layers of golden brown paper skins and white flesh. Generally used for cooking rather than eaten raw. The most common varieties are Pukekohe Long Keeper and Pukekohe Early Long Keeper.
Available all year.
Red onions have burgundy red skins and red tinged flesh. Spanish type red onions are large and round, while Californian red onions tend to be flatter and milder. They are mild, sweet and juicy and are delicious eaten raw in salads, used as a garnish or added to sandwiches. Globe shaped red onions are becoming available; they are more pungent and taste more like a main crop onion.
Available January - August.
White onions tend to be more pungent than brown onions and have white papery skin. They can be used in place of other onions in savoury dishes or finely chopped and served raw in salads and salsas.
Small, main crop onions with a strong pungent flavour. They are available all year round, but are at their best for pickling about March.
Available all year.
Roughly the same size or slightly larger than pickling onions, their skin colour ranges from coppery yellow to reddish brown. The bulbs are elongated or oval and are formed in several clusters or bulblets. The two most commonly grown varieties are Ambition, a globe shaped bulb, and Picador, an oval shaped bulb. There is no noticeable difference in flavour. Shallots have a more delicate, sweeter taste and finer texture than onions.
They are considered the gourmet onion and are preferred in French and Asian cooking. Delicious raw or cooked, shallots have a wide range of end uses. They keep well in a cool dry place. In Australia, Japanese bunching onions and spring onions are often referred to as shallots.
Available February - July with the most plentiful supply available over the late summer months.
What to look for
Choose onions with firm flesh and dry papery outer skin. Avoid those with green shoots or soft spots.
Store in a cool, dark, well ventilated place. Do not put them in plastic bags; if purchased in plastic, remove as soon as possible. Avoid refrigerating or storing with any food that may absorb their flavour.
How to prepare
Remove skin and root, cut as required; slice, dice, wedge or leave whole. Braising; blanch first. Roasting; skin can be left on when roasted whole. Stuffing; peel, cut off top, scoop out centre to leave 1 cm shell. The release of oil during peeling brings tears to the eyes – there is no guaranteed way of avoiding this. The best advice is to peel and slice quickly. To peel large quantities of pickling onions, top and tail, then cover with boiling water for 5 minutes, drain and remove the skins which will slip off easily.
Ways to eat
Onions can be eaten raw, cooked or pickled. In many recipes, onions add flavour and texture. They can be used in soups, braises, stews, pizzas, pies, pasta dishes, salads, sandwiches, sauces, chutneys and stir fries.
Boil, microwave, roast, steam, stir fry, braise, stew.
|Serving size: ½ cup chopped - 88g|
|Fat, total (g)||0.09||0.1%||0.1|
|- saturated (g)||trace||0%||trace|
|- sugars (g)||7.0||8%||8|
|Dietary fibre (g)||1.4||5%||1.6|
|Vitamin C (mg)||6.2||16% RDI*||7.1||A source of vitamin C|
|Niacin (mg)||0.88||9% RDI*||1|
|Folate (µg)||15||7% RDI*||17|
Percentage Daily Intakes are based on an average adult diet of 8700 kJ
Source: The Concise New Zealand Food Composition Tables, 10th Edition, Plant & Food Research - 2014
New Zealanders are frequent consumers of onions. While onions are not rich in the common nutrients they are a source of vitamin C. Onions are also low in energy. However, onions are rich in phytonutrients – flavonoids, fructans, saponins and sulphur containing compounds. The red varieties are a source of the flavonoids anthocyanins. Shallots are a good source of vitamin C and a source of vitamin A and magnesium.
Remove all loose husks. Only stock graded quality product. Try and offer a choice of large and small, red and white. Plastic causes condensation and encourages rapid deterioration, therefore netting bags are preferable for merchandising. Do not place near items that might absorb flavours. Keep well ventilated. Use the QR code on labels.
In proper storage conditions good quality main crop onions can be kept for 6-8 months. Store in cool, dry, well ventilated areas in an open weave bag or open trays.
Store other onions at 0°C and 65% humidity to prevent sprouting.
Purchase onions with the New Zealand GAP logo.
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