August 11

What is a Spanish Onion? How is it Different?

Written by: Dolly

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I’ve grown onions, I’ve eaten onions, and you can bet I’ve pickled them too.

Although nothing will beat onions grown in my own backyard, these yellow, sweet Spanish onions come close. 

They’re sweet, subtle, and mild – a perfect addition to a warming meal or a crunchy bite of sweetness in a summer salad. 

It’s time to incorporate Spanish onions into your regiment and sweeten up your onion game.

Oh, and by the way, due to their higher sugar content and low sulfur content, you’re less likely to cry when dicing them. What more could you ask for? 

What is a Spanish Onion?

spanish onion

The delicious Spanish onion comes from the Mediterranean, hence their love of hot and humid weather. 

Like other storage onions, they can grow to be as large as a softball! With their papery yellow skin and white-yellow bulb, they’re often mistaken for your average yellow onion. In many grocery stores, you can often find Spanish onions mixed in with all the other yellow onions. 

Spanish onions are unique in that they have a relatively low sulfur content and a fairly high sugar content.

spanish onion with dark background

The low sulfur content means they have a very mild, delicate flavor. While the high sugar content means they have a sweeter taste! Because of this, it’s very easy to dilute the flavor through over-cooking. 

They’re delicious raw, making them an excellent choice for sandwiches and other casual dining experiences.

However, you can also lightly grill or sauté them to bring out that caramel flavor. 

Throw those grilled slivers on top of a patty and you’ve got a burger with a hint of sweetness. Or, if you want to sweeten up some pasta, sub your red onion for Spanish onions and lightly sauté them. 

Also, don’t store these yellow, sweet Spanish onions in the fridge! They will go bad faster when refrigerated, unlike sweet onions. 


Spanish Onion Vs Yellow Onion

onions

Yes, people–there is a difference!

Yellow onion is a broad, umbrella category that Spanish onions fit under. So, though Spanish onions are technically yellow onions, not all yellow onions are Spanish onions.

Though they look alike, that’s just about where the similarities end. Take one bite and you’ll know the truth. 

Spanish onions are sweeter and more delicately flavored than regular yellow onions.

So much so that you can even eat them raw! 

On the other hand, I would not recommend eating a plain yellow onion raw if I were you. Only Spanish onions! 


Are Spanish Onions Sweet?

Yes! But they are not a “sweet onion,” like Vidalias or Walla Walla onions. 

Though they’re sweet in flavor, they don’t have the same sugar content as sweet onions. 

They fall under the “yellow onion” category, not the sweet onion one. 


How to Cook with Spanish Onions

cooking with spanish onione

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when cooking Spanish onions is to proceed with caution. 

You want to make sure to not overcook Spanish onions.

Since they have such a delicate flavor, it’s far too easy to burn it out of them altogether. And what’s the point of eating such a sweet, mild-flavored onion if you can’t taste it at all? 

So, if you’re going to cook them, try lightly sautéing them. You could also grill some thick slices to combine that yummy char with their naturally sweet flavor.

Just be sure to keep an eye on them as they cook up really fast. 


Where Can I Buy Spanish Onions?

farmers market onions

Try a farmers market or a local grocer!

Big retailers tend to throw the Spanish onions in with the other yellow ones without differentiating them first. So, it’s next to impossible to find that one Spanish onion in a stack of yellows. 

Plus, your local growers will be able to tell you the exact species of the onions too, not just the broad categories. 

I’m all about staying loyal to local, so I know I’m a little biased. But, in this case, a local farmers market is really your best bet. 


Substitutes for Spanish Onions

spanish onion substitutes

If you are planning on eating them raw, consider swapping them for red or sweet onions, like Walla Walla onions.

In general, any mild or sweet onion is a good substitute. 

If using in a pasta recipe or cooked dish, try subbing with a yellow onion. I would recommend cooking the regular yellow onion longer than you would a Spanish onion, as they are harsher in flavor. 


Can You Caramelize Spanish Onions?

carmelized spanish onion on a salad

Yes! That’s one of the best ways to cook them. They taste the best when raw, caramelized, or cooked very lightly. 

Throw them on the grill and watch the magic happen right before your eyes. 


Is a Spanish Onion a Red Onion?

Nope! Spanish onions fall under the yellow onion category. 


Is there a White Spanish Onion?

Spanish onions vary in color, but they usually range between white and yellow. 

So, while you may find white Spanish onions at the store, they are not actually white onions. Still Spanish onions!  


How to Grow Sweet Spanish Onions

spanish onions in garden

Since Spanish onions originate from the Mediterranean, they love a hot and humid climate. So, if you’re living in Alaska and don’t have a greenhouse, these may not be the crop for you. 

Spanish onions tend to produce a lot of fruit, which makes them great for any beginners out there. Talk about a low-maintenance, high-yield crop. 

Like all onions, you can choose between planting seeds or bulbs.

I’ve always planted with bulbs, as growing onions from seed is difficult, but to each their own!

They do require watering, but you don’t want to overwater them, or else the bulbs will rot.

It’s a delicate balance, but I promise the outcome is worth it!

Test your soil ahead of time, as they prefer low sulfur soil to match their low sulfur content. 

All in all, they take about four months to grow. Not too shabby! 

Here’s a more in-depth look at growing onions


When to Pick Spanish Onions

onions

You’ll know it’s time when the tops of the shoots start turning brown and falling over.

Usually, it takes about four months for them to reach maturity, but I recommend keeping an eye on those tops a little earlier. 


How to Say Onion in Spanish

Onion directly translates to “la cebolla”--pronounced say-bo-yah. You learn something new every day! 


Conclusion

Whether you love the bite of a sharp onion or the sweetness of a Vidalia, onions elevate every dish they’re in. 

Chop up some Spanish onions for your next grilling session and enjoy their sweet, mild flavor. Be careful when sautéing or grilling them – you don’t want to lose that hint of sweetness. 

But, in the meantime, happy cooking! 

Dolly


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About the author

Dolly is a student at Goldsmiths, University of London and an avid cook. After managing a miniature organic farm for a year, she fell in love with the art of cooking and the taste of homegrown greens. Dolly first became plant-based eight years ago, and she is now a full-blown vegan; her plant-based journey has made her creative and experimental in the kitchen. If she’s not writing or cooking, Dolly can be found on her front porch, strumming her guitar and singing for anyone who will listen.

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