The Hack That Will Stop Onions From Overpowering Your Salads

If you were to define the onion's personality, you'd likely say it is bold and strong, likes to take charge, and often overshadows those around it. Yes, when it comes to this flavor-packed bulb, a little can go a long way. And even then, it can still be a tad overwhelming. 

However, it is important to point out that it's not the onion's fault. Part of its dominance stems from its environment. According to Britannica, when your onion was a tiny bulb it learned how to get nutrition from the sun and soil. Due to the onion's adeptness at absorbing sulfur, its flavor is greatly impacted by the amount of sulfur its soil contains. For example, Ayur Times explains that the soil around Vidalia, Georgia, is low in sulfur, leading to the mild-tasting Vidalia onion. There is also the onion's nature and its propensity for sucking up sulfur in the first place. Foodiosity explains that onions belong to the allium genus and they are inherently good at absorbing the nutrients in the earth around them, especially sulfur. Quite simply put, the onion was born to be a flavor leader.

That's all fine and dandy for the onion, but what if you want to create a salad that showcases a myriad of flavors? One that doesn't let the onion overwhelm your palate and leave you with breath that resembles a toxic waste dump? Thankfully, there are ways to ensure that this flavorful veggie adopts a supporting role in your dish.

The best way to tame an onion is to soak it

When it comes to taming the powerful taste of an onion, there are several expert tips — and most involve soaking. The Los Angeles Times says that soaking your raw bulbs in a bowl of icy water for about 15 minutes will lessen their strong taste. Water isn't the only onion-mellowing weapon the experts wield. The Kitchn's clever hack involves letting your onion wade around in salad dressing for 10 to 15 minutes. Not only does it soften the onion's bite, but it also enhances your dressing's flavor. The outlet does say that an acidic type like a basic vinaigrette is most effective, but any will do. The best soaking method, according to Cook's Illustrated, is to use cold water and baking soda (they recommend a ratio of 1 tablespoon of baking soda for each cup of water). They purport that the baking soda actually neutralizes the sulfur instead of merely washing some away. At the risk of stating the obvious, make sure you wash the baking soda off before using the onion.

Milk Street, however, takes a completely different approach. It prefers you rub kosher salt into onions with your fingertips. After waiting 10 minutes, it claims the onion will not only possess a less overpowering taste, but it will have a softer texture as well. 

Another important consideration is to pick the right type of onion for your salad in the first place. 

Some onions need more taming than others

There is a reason why your supermarket carries a variety of onions. Each one has a unique flavor that suits certain dishes better than others. If you want one that will work well in a salad, you need to understand the nature of each type. When it comes to opting for yellow, white, sweet, or red, here's how to choose the right onion.

Blue Flame Kitchen describes the budget-friendly yellow onion as the number one pick for cooking. It caramelizes well, maintains its shape and consistency when cooked, and offers an onion taste without overshadowing other ingredients. This is a key player in onion soup. While Blue Flame says white onions are more oniony than their yellow counterparts, MasterClass contends that their sweeter and cleaner taste makes them perfect for salads. However, if you want a milder flavor, the red onion is a terrific choice. Plus, they're pretty. A sweet onion variety like a Vidalia or Walla Walla is very well-suited to playing well with other salad ingredients too. 

Armed with more than enough onion-centric knowledge, you will now be able to ensure that your next salad has just the right amount of oniony taste. Why not show off your bulb know-how with a tried-and-true recipe like this fennel salad with red onion, parsley, and lemon