Cooking Onions

What does it mean to cook an onion to soft or golden? How do you know when it’s there?

In recipes we call for onions cooked to a handful of different descriptions: softened, translucent, golden brown, and dark brown.

Sautéing onions causes their cell walls to break down, releasing moisture. It also causes the complex starches within the onion’s cells to slowly turn into simple sugars and concurrently release sulfur compounds (which cause the harsh taste in raw onions)—the combined effect leaves sweeter and less pungent onions in the pan. When we direct you to cook onions to a specific stage, we do so based on the flavor and texture we want from the onions in that dish.

We’ve created a visual guide to help you determine when your onions reach each stage. We tested with 2 cups of sliced onions and 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat.

**THE BOTTOM LINE: ** Follow our visual chart to know when your onions have reached the desired color.

SOFTENED: 2 to 4 minutes

Still crunchy, slightly softened.

TRANSLUCENT: 3 to 5 minutes

Softer, raw onion flavor gone.

GOLDEN BROWN: 5 to 7 minutes

Slight caramel flavors, sweeter.

DARK BROWN: 20 minutes

Very dark, sweet, and rich.

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