Onions come from the Allium family, there are many different types of onion but I will list and describe some of the more common ones.
Spanish or brown onion – the most common onion you will find, used in soups and stews etc. They are rich in sulphur – the chemical that makes some people cry
Red onion – milder and sweeter than the Spanish onion, can be sliced or diced thinly and eaten raw in salads and salsas or on burgers. A little finely diced red onion is great with smoked salmon.
White onion – not as common as the red onion, a lot sweeter and used in a similar way.
Shallots – can grow up to the size of a golf ball, often in cloves rather like garlic, they are delicate sweet and peppery. Its texture makes it easier to chop finely and its size gives good portion control. Often used as a base for sauces.
Eschalion shallot -sometimes called the banana shallot because of its shape, it is larger and longer than a regular shallot. Easier to peel and less wastage than a shallot but used in much the same way. I use it like an all-purpose onion.
Silverskin onion – a small sweet onion, often pickled in vinegar
Cocktail onion – even smaller than the silverskin onion and a lot sweeter.
Spring onion – also called a salad onion or scallion. Small, thin and green stemmed with a white tip, great thinly sliced raw into salads or into oriental dishes
Chives – very fine mild and green, still a part of the onion family but usually referred to as an herb, finely chopped they are great in dips, salads and particularly great with warm new potatoes or in potato salad.
Leeks – still part of the onion family, long, green leaves with a white tip, a lot milder than regular onions, better fried than boiled as boiling makes them go mushy, they are great added to casseroles. Probably best known from leek and potato soup and its chilled counterpart Vichyssoise.
Garlic – still part of the Allium family, and can be either “dry” or “wet”. Dry garlic is the familiar white bulb that you crush or finely chop to add to soups and sauces etc. Wet garlic is the very first crop of garlic. It looks a bit like a fat spring onion and has a creamy mild garlic flavour. Because it is not bitter, it can be eaten raw in salads or added to omelettes or mashed potatoes.
Wild garlic – grows in damp hedgerows and woodlands, very seasonal and grows from January to early spring, you can often smell it if you are out walking during that time. It looks a bit like Lily of the valley, but a rub of the leaf will release its garlic aroma. Great raw and cooked, I like to shred it and add it to risottos, salads or mashed potato
As well as being tasty and versatile, onions and garlic are known for their health benefits. Widely cited for their ability to help lower cholesterol and for protection against cardiovascular and respiratory problems as well as diabetes and stomach cancer.