With an astringent bite balanced by a subtle sweetness, yellow onions are all-purpose onions that can be used in most any savory dish. If you don’t have any yellow onions on hand you can easily substitute with another type of onion, such as red or white. In a pinch, scallions, leeks or even chives can be used to provide the pungent astringency a recipe requires.
A yellow onion is a type of dry onion, in that it is an onion that has matured to the point where it has developed a dry, papery, protective skin. Other dry onions can replace yellow onions; directly replace the amount of yellow onion called for in a recipe with one of the following:
- White Onions: Possessing a slightly more delicate flavor than yellow onions, white onions serve as suitable alternatives to yellow onions in both cooked and raw applications. Texturally, the layers of a white onion are more tender when raw, while a yellow onion's are meatier; this difference isn't detectable when cooked and is minuscule when consumed raw.
- Red Onions: While their deep purple skin makes them appear very different from yellow onions, red onions share a similar flavor profile, making them a good substitute for raw applications. A red onion's layers aren’t as tender or meaty raw as a yellow onion's, making it stand out as crisper when consumed raw. Red onions' vibrant hue washes out when cooked, so keep that in mind when preparing a dish such as white rice, as food may end up with a pink tinge.
- Sweet Onions: As the name implies, sweet is the flavor profile that dominates sweet onions such as Walla Walla and Vidalia. Though lacking the astringency that yellow onions possess, their delicate flavor makes them ideal for use raw.
Milder and sweeter than yellow onions, shallots are a suitable alternative, especially in dishes that do not rely on the more pronounced texture of a yellow onion such as a creamy sauce or quiche dish.
- Scallions: Scallions are essentially onions that were not allowed to mature. Long and thin in appearance with bright green tops, scallions tend to be sweet and mild, with a crisp, juicy texture. Use them as an alternative in raw applications, as cooking diminishes their delicate flavor. The green tops possess a more pungent flavor and can be used as a garnish.
- Leeks: Similar in flavor and appearance to scallions, but larger in scale, leeks are typically not eaten raw because they are too fibrous. Replace yellow onions with leeks' white portions in cooked dishes, but only use the woody green tops to flavor soups or stocks.
- Ramps: With a flavor like that of a cross between garlic and onion, ramps are similar in appearance to scallions, but with broad and flat green tops. Use them as a yellow onion substitute in dishes that would benefit from the garlicky flavor, such as pasta dishes, dumpling stuffing or frittatas.
In a pinch, chives can be used to provide a hint of onion flavor to dishes. Chives are best used raw for garnishing purposes because their small, thin shape is texturally dissimilar to that of yellow onion.
While dehydrated onion spices are no substitute for fresh onions' texture, dried minced onions and onion powder can be used to provide flavor in the absence of yellow onions.
- Use 1 tablespoon of onion powder to replace a medium-sized onion.
- Use 1 tablespoon of dried minced onion to replace 1/4 cup of minced raw onion.