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How to Caramelize Onions

How to Caramelize Onions to Bring Out a Rich Savory Flavor

Onions are rich in sugars that can be caramelized to bring out a rich, sweet, savory flavor. Caramelized onions can be used in dips, sauces, soups, and various other dishes.
Sonia Nair
Last Updated: Mar 8, 2018
Gold Colored Onions
Caramelization is a process of heating sugars, which break down to totally different compounds with a characteristic color and flavor. In case of caramelization of onions, sliced onions are heated over slow fire for a certain period of time, till the natural sugars in it are broken down. Caramelized onions are more sweet with a deep amber to brownish color, and a smoky flavor.
Almost all types of onions, and even shallots can be caramelized. While some people prefer the sweeter varieties, like Vidalias, others go for less sweeter onion types. If you like the sweeter onion varieties, then you may use Walla walla, Vidalia, Texas sweet, Mayan sweet, Oso sweet, sweet imperial, Maui, etc. Otherwise regular yellow, red, or white onions will do. It is also said that large onions with a mild flavor are best for caramelizing.
  • Peel and cut three to four onions into halves. Once done, place them on the cutting board, with the flat side facing downwards. Slice the onion into strips. While thin slices are easy to cook, even thicker ones can be caramelized.
  • Take a thick-bottomed frying pan, and place it over low heat. Add two to three tablespoons of olive oil or butter into the pan. Butter is more flavorful, but it can get burned. If you are using butter, make sure to keep the heat as low as possible. You may also use a mixture of both butter and olive oil.
  • As the oil or butter gets hot, add the sliced onions, and cook on low heat. Stir at regular intervals, so that the onions don't get burned.
  • Gradually, the onion slices will become translucent, and change to golden brown and deep brown. Once they reach a deep amber color, remove the pan from the stove. Your caramelized onions are ready.
  • You may fasten the process of caramelizing by adding one or two pinches of salt, while cooking. Onions contain moisture that is suck out by the salt. This moisture will evaporate while cooking. Even thinner slices can make your job faster.
  • If the slices are sticking to the pan, then add a small amount of wine or vinegar (or even water), so as to loosen them.

You may store caramelized onions in air tight containers for up to three months. If you have lots of onions for caramelizing, it will be better to do the task in batches, rather than cooking them all at once. You may also use additives, like black pepper, spices, etc., for a different flavor.
If you want to caramelize onions in the oven, all you have to do is to slice the onions, and toss with some oil. Spread the slices in a roasting pan, and place it inside the oven that is preheated to 425° F . Cook for an hour, but make sure to turn the slices at regular intervals, so as to prevent burning. However, the best way is to cook them on the stove top, over low heat. Caramelized onions are used as delectable additions to pizza, soups, hamburgers, mashed potatoes, and a whole lot of other dishes.