Using Raw Onions in Salads

Assortment of different onions

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Raw onions can add a nice bite to salads, from a green onion sliced and added to a simple green salad to easy creations based almost entirely on the sweetness of Vidalia onions.

Reducing the Smell

Sadly, they can also be too pungent for plenty of people. Luckily, making raw onions less pungent is as easy as 1-2-3:

  1. Cut the onion as you want it in the final dish—chopped, sliced, or minced.
  2. Put the pieces in a colander and rinse them under cool running water.
  3. Spread rinsed raw onions on a clean kitchen towel or layers of paper towels and pat dry.

Once "treated," raw onions will be noticeably sweeter and thus more palatable for the onion-sensitive. Even strong red onions benefit from a rinse.


Remember, too, that not all onions are created equally. Try these onions for a sweeter salad addition:

  • Green onions are the mildest of onions and make a pretty ingredient in grain, pasta, and rice salads. Trim off and discard their root ends, and peel off and discard any browning layers before slicing or mincing these lovely salad additions.
  • Sweet onions are aptly named and have much less sulfur than other onions, allowing their natural sweetness to shine through. Look for them in spring and summer to use as a crunchy, flavorful addition to all types of salads. Use them chopped, sliced, or minced in salads.
  • Spring onions are immature yellow, white, or red onions and tend to be much less pungent, and thus sweeter, than larger versions. As the name would suggest, look for them in spring and early summer at farmers markets and specialty grocery stores. Prep them like green onions, removing outer layers and root ends before slicing or mincing.
  • Ramps are wild leeks that have a flavor like a woodsy green onion. They are delicious in salads and their tender green leaves are edible. Like green onions, there is rarely a need to rinse them off after cutting to mellow their flavor; their flavor is mellow already.
  • Red onions vary greatly in their pungency, but the rinsing technique works great with them. You can even soak them in cold water for a bit before rinsing them to pull out more of their pungency and further soften their flavor.
  • Shallots have a slightly softer garlic-like flavor and are particularly tasty when used in dressings.