Onions can add a punch of flavor when topping your favorite pizza. Onions can be used raw or cooked as a pizza topping depending on what additional flavor profiles you want your pizza to have. Onions can also be caramelized, adding a delicious and distinctive flavor. Raw onions can be diced or cut into very thin slices, adding flavor and texture. Onions are also rich in nutrients, including fiber and Vitamin C! The best onion for pizza depends on the type of pizza, other toppings on the pizza, and individual preferences, of course!
There are many varieties of onions, so some types are better suited to the flavors commonly found in pizza dishes. The most popular onions for pizza are Yellow onions, Sweet onions, Red onions, and White onions.
Types of Onion
There are hundreds of onion varieties, ranging from small green spring onions to large yellow sweet onions. Almost all onion varieties can be eaten raw or cooked, although certain types of onions are better choices for some recipes.
Most onions have a bulb shape that grows underground. Some onion types are grown only in specific regions and during certain seasons, such as the Vidalia onion. However, the most common types of onions used for pizza toppings can be categorized into four main groups: Yellow onions, Sweet onions, Red onions, and White onions.
Yellow onions are the most commonly found onion in supermarkets; they often account for more than 80% of onions grown on farms. They are strongly flavored and are tasty in a variety of dishes. Yellow onions can maintain their texture even during longer cooking times.
Other onions, like the more delicate red onion, can become burnt or mushy with too much heat for too long. Yellow onions have a sharp, strong taste when raw. This flavor mellows when cooked. Yellow onions are the perfect choice for caramelizing and roasting.
Yellow onions would be a good topping addition to most pizza recipes, but especially with hearty meat toppings like sausage and pepperoni.
Sweet onions are just like the name suggests: they are full of sugar! Sweet onions have a mild and crisp taste, and they are frequently used for fried onion rings. These onions are not only high in sugar; they also have a high water content, which lessens the sulfur level of the onion.
Unfortunately, this high level of water makes sweet onions less shelf-stable than other onion varieties, as well as prone to sweating during certain cooking methods. Many sweet onion varieties are grown in specific regions, like the Vidalia onion, named after the area in the state of Georgia where it is grown.
When adding sweet onions as a pizza topping, caramelization is the best option. If you do not like the taste of caramelized onions, a quick saute of sweet onions will impart the best flavor, especially with butter and thyme.
Red onions, with their signature deep red or purple color, are known for their mild, crisp, and slightly sweet flavor. They are commonly served raw in salads and sandwiches. Unlike yellow onions, red onions are easily overcooked and cannot be used to create caramelized onions.
This is due to their low sugar and sulfur levels. Red onions do however make a great choice for grilling, as they have a better-grilled texture than their yellow and white cousins. Red onions are easy to slice thinly and are particularly delicious pickled.
Red onions can also be soaked in cold water to further reduce the sharpness. Raw red onions can be placed as a pizza topping prior to cooking as long as they are sliced thinly to allow for even cooking. Red onions pair well with pizza toppings such as ricotta, feta, goat cheese, bell peppers, roasted red peppers, and meats like pancetta or bacon.
White onions are more pungent than yellow onions and can have a sharp flavor, yet tender texture. White onions are probably the most versatile onion variety, as they taste great cooked and raw. White onions are thin and are often used raw in salsa or on top of sandwiches, but are also delicious when cooked.
White onions are softer and milder than both yellow and red onions, making them ideal as both an ingredient topping and a garnish if desired. Just like red onions, you can soak white onions in cold water to increase the sweetness of the onion.
It is recommended that white onions be diced small or sliced thin when being used raw on pizza, but the great thing about white onions is that they can serve as both an ingredient topping AND a garnish!
Best Onion for Pizza Topping
Onions are considered an “aromatic” ingredient and are well-suited for all kinds of pizzas. Because onion varieties can vary greatly in terms of taste and texture, some onions will naturally work better with certain recipes and preparation methods.
Pizza toppings to pair with Yellow Onion
Yellow onions are excellent carmelized. The sweet flavor and soft texture of caramelized yellow onion pair perfectly with soft cheese (ricotta, fontina, goat), mushrooms, and salty meats such as bacon or pancetta. Carmelized yellow onions are a perfect topping to a “white pizza” that does not have to compete with a sweet tomato-based pizza sauce for dominant flavor.
Pizza toppings to pair with Sweet Onion
Sweet onions, especially when lightly sauteed before adding to the pizza, can add an aromatic and foundational flavor profile in a variety of settings.
This light cooking step is important to ensure the sweet onion does not “sweat” excess water onto the other pizza toppings or crust and turning your pizza into a watery, soggy mess. Sweet onions, like yellow onions, can be cooked down and caramelized to be used in pizza recipes.
Pizza toppings to Pair with Red Onion
Red onions are not a good pizza topping when cooked. They have a delicate texture and their beautiful color turns gray when overcooked. Red onions should be cut into small pieces or slices and be added towards the end of the pizza bake; this will help the onion cook enough to release the sugars and flavors, but not long enough for the red onion to burn. Try adding red onion to a pizza featuring olives, feta, and rosemary. Barbecue chicken pairs well with pickled red onions, as do hearty greens like kale and arugula.
Pizza toppings to pair with White Onion
White onions are versatile, offering the dual benefits of being deliciously cooked and raw. White onion’s stronger flavor shines with light cooking and ensures a good texture for pizza toppings. Because white onions are so versatile, they can be used together with almost any traditional pizza topping, from pepperoni and mozzarella to mushrooms and spinach.
Raw or Cooked Onion for Pizza
All onion varieties can be eaten raw or cooked. However, just because the onion is edible does not mean it makes a good pizza topping. More mild onion varieties, like the red onion, can be soaked in cold water to soften the flavor and can be added raw to a cooked pizza as a garnish.
Heartier varieties, like sweet and yellow onions, can be cooked in butter or olive oil until soft to add a hint of sweetness. Most pizza chefs agree that most onions should be cooked to varying degrees before they are added as a pizza topping. The only exception is the red onion,
When deciding whether to use raw or cooked onion as a pizza topping, consider the other recipe components, such as what type of cheese, crust, meat, vegetables, and other toppings and seasonings are available. Additionally, remember that some onions have a high water content that may release during cooking, which can impact the pizza negatively.
Individual preferences are also an important factor to consider. Some people prefer onions cooked, while others enjoy the crunchy sharpness that raw onion gives a dish. Red onions can be pickled and they can make a delicious addition to certain pizza recipes.
So many varieties of onion can be used as a pizza topping, that it is difficult to determine which is truly the “best.” When selecting an onion to use for pizza, it is important to first determine which onion is the best fit for the recipe.
For example, if you want to make a pizza with caramelized onions, you should use yellow or white onions rather than red onions and budget time to cook the onions. Red onions make a great garnish raw or pickled, but other onions should be cooked slightly before adding to the pizza. No matter what toppings you choose, I hope this article makes it easier for you to select the onion that fits your pizza vision and personal taste.
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