What is brown onion?

In this brief guide, we will answer the query, “what is brown onion?” and will discuss different types of onions.

What is brown onion?

Brown onions are also called yellow onions or Australian Brown. If they’re raw, they’re abrasive, but if they’re cooked, they’re mild. The high starch content prevents them from turning to mush even after extended cooking durations, making them an excellent all-purpose onion. It is also one of the longest keeping varieties in cold storage (1).

In the United Kingdom, these onions are by far the most prevalent and are regarded as a basic food item in the onion industry. As a result of their versatility, they may be utilized in almost every savory cuisine. There is a lot of variation in the flavor of brown onions based on the time of year and the kind of onion you buy. During periods throughout June and July of each year when there is a shortage of onions in storage in Britain, supermarkets must import them from South America because of a lack of quality in their stock. The firm, pale-yellow flesh is very pungent and has a very high dry-matter content. The comparatively low yield, the difficulty of removing the heavy brown skins, and the yellow color of its flesh militate against its use for dehydration purposes (1).

What is an onion?

In the genus Allium, a group of pungent plants that includes onion relatives such as garlic and leek, as well as chives and ramps, there are more than a thousand different varieties of onion. In the onion family, there are many, many different varieties, each with a unique flavor and personality.

The bulb onion is thought to have originated in central Asia but is not known in the wild, so it may have become extinct or be a hybrid from ancient cultivation. Allium cepa is a biennial plant that produces a large bulb in the first year of growth. After vernalization by winter cold, rapid re-growth of foliage in spring is quickly followed by the production of several tubular flower stalks each producing a single, more or less spherical, umbel of around 200 flowers (2). 

To keep things simple, we’ve broken down the three unofficial categories of alliums into three subcategories:

Storage Onion

Many physiological and biochemical characteristics change during onion bulb storage, including water content and the concentration of flavor compounds, carbohydrates, minerals and plant growth regulators. Changes in these characteristics are likely to be linked to respiration and remobilization of carbohydrates to provide energy for the growing sprout. All nutrients required for growth of the sprout must come from within the bulb; therefore, changes in the concentrations of key metabolites could be used to predict the onset of sprouting. Studies suggest that onset of sprouting occurs between approx. 13 and 29 weeks of storage at 1°C or 34°F (3).

It’s possible to preserve them in your kitchen for a long time if you store them correctly after harvesting them in late summer. At a farmer’s market, you may see specific names, such as Australian Browns or Red Zeppelins, instead of just color (white, yellow, and red). Yellow is our favorite color to cook with; we choose white for garnishing, and red is our favorite color for pickling and grilling. Even if the taste or look of a meal is somewhat altered by switching between them, it won’t destroy it.


All of them should be stored in the refrigerator to keep them fresher for longer.

Sweet onions

Sulfur and water content are lower in green onions compared to other types of onions. This means they are mild and crisp when eaten raw, fried into onion rings, or used to fill mushrooms or tomatoes. For example, Walla Wallas is cultivated in Washington, Georgia, and Hawaii; Vidalias are produced in Georgia, while Mauis are grown in Hawaii. When properly matured the bulbs may be stored without great losses for several months, but it is not a long-storage variety. Its successful production of bulbs in many locations is partly due to its resistance to damage by thrips. It is greatly esteemed for salad purposes because of its succulent, sweet, mild-flavored, almost-white flesh (1).

Greens Onion 

Onion bunches and spring onions (both incorrect) are incorrectly referred to as “scallions” on BA. They are a softer, gentler, and herbaceous kind of onion than any of the store bulbs. Both raw (like over braised tofu or fried eggs) and cooked slowly (like in Cantonese-style scallion sauce) are delicious ways to utilize them. These must be harvested and sold within a few days and are popular both for salad and cooked use (2). They are immature true onions harvested before bulbs form (4).

Spring onions

Sweet, juicy newcomers! Premature harvesting is done to provide space for the larger bulbs to develop. They are, as the name suggests, very limited in supply. It’s time to shine the spotlight on these gems. If you’d want to pay respect to Catalonia’s calçots (a scallion-like onion cousin), use romesco instead of the more traditional lemon breadcrumbs or strong mustard dressing. Spring onions are immature onions grown at high density for a short season. The market often does not distinguish between A. cepa and A. fistulosum for this use. A similar product is semi-bulbed onions, again harvested before maturity and sold quickly; it provides a larger amount of bulb tissue than scallions (2).

Little Guys

The best things in life are often the smallest. If you have to peel a large number of vegetables at once, blanch them first.


Shallots and other so called multiplier onions, once classified as separate species, are now regarded as conspecific with bulb onions (2). They develop a small cluster of bulbs and are more subtle in flavor (4). These may be used in any situation where a storage onion would be appropriate. For their variety and oniony taste, they’re a favorite of many. In the Philippines, they may be served in a variety of ways, including finely chopped and mixed with lemon vinaigrette, cut in half and grilled with a chicken, or pickled whole, like in the Vietnamese meal dua Hanh. For the record, even if a bulb has two lobes, we still count it as one shallot.

Cipolline Onions

These Italian cuties are naturally little and squat like saucers, as opposed to being forced to be so. Roasting them whole until they’re caramelized is a great way to use them. Boiling their thin skins for around 30 seconds before peeling them helps make the job a little simpler. Cipollini onions are small, sweet, early onions (4).

Pearl Onion

In boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin, and a variety of other classic French dishes, red, white, and yellow onions are a common ingredient. Rounded or round, they may be used to top Tarte tatins or roasted, braised, creamed, glaze, confited, or any number of other delectable dishes. In the freezer section, look for pre-peeled bags. Pearl onions (A. ampeloprasum) form only one storage leaf (4).

Other FAQs about Onions that you may be interested in.

Can you eat onion stalks?

Can you eat onion skin?

Does Onion Powder Go Bad

How to store cut onions?


In this brief guide, we answered the query, “what is brown onion?” and discussed different types of onions.


  1. Magruder, Roy. Descriptions of Types of Principal American Varieties of Onions. 1941. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.
  2. Griffiths, Gareth, et al. Onions—a global benefit to health. Phytother res, 2002, 16, 603-615.
  3. Chope, Gemma A., et al. Physiological, biochemical and transcriptional analysis of onion bulbs during storage. Ann bot, 2012, 109, 819-831.  
  4. Sagers, Larry A. Introduction to Vegetable Classification by Family Groups and Growth Habits. 2005.