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How big is an onion?


Shel_B

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This question has been on my mind for a while.  We so often see a recipe that calls for a small, medium, or large onion.  But what does that mean?  I didn't know, although I suspect that at least some here do. However, I believe that there are a lot of folks like me who couldn't say how big a described onion is.

 

This morning I decided to find the answer, and I found the Onion Sizing Guide:

https://owyheeproduce.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Onion-Sizing-Guide.pdf

 

Maybe this will help those who, like me, are clueless about this.

 

Edited by Shel_B
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 ... Shel


 

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3 minutes ago, Shel_B said:

This question has been on my mind for a while.  We so often see a recipe that calls for a small, medium, or large onion.  But what does that mean?  I didn't know, although I suspect that at least some here do. However, I believe that there are a lot of folks like me who couldn't say how big a described onion is.

 

This morning I decided to find the answer, and I found it here, at the Onion Sizing Guide:

https://owyheeproduce.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Onion-Sizing-Guide.pdf

 

Maybe this will help those who, like me, are clueless about this.

 

I do have a clue about this. You are kinda nutty. A small onion is small. A big one is big. Good morning! My only observation is this: Berkeley Bowl onions are big.

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I find the linked onion sizing guide remarkably unhelpful. The sizes are specified by diameter in inches. So you'd either need a big caliper, or cut one in half to measure the diameter directly or use a tape measure to get the circumference and calculate the diameter from that. 
 

I do appreciate cookbook authors that give weights.  I reserve the right to do whatever I want but it’s nice to have a clue what they had in mind.  
 

In his recent book, Veg-Table, Nik Sharma put a table up front that lists gram weights for small, med and large sizes of all the veg he calls for in the book. Kinda handy so those who care can check and those who find weights overly fussy can skip right over that. 

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I share one of @blue_dolphin's thoughts in particular.  She commented on the diameter of the onions.  The same applies to height.  If I compare say, a vidalia onion to a Spanish, the height difference also had to be considered.  I no longer use cooking onions because my nose and eyes can't stand it when i do.  I use sweet or Spanish instead.  I share your frustration with the question:  how big is an onion?  I conjure up an image of a regular cooking onion and approximate a half, ot quarter, or whatever and use that as a guide.  To bad our cookbooks seldom have weights.

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29 minutes ago, blue_dolphin said:

I find the linked onion sizing guide remarkably unhelpful. The sizes are specified by diameter in inches.

[...]

In his recent book, Veg-Table, Nik Sharma put a table up front that lists gram weights for small, med and large sizes of all the veg he calls for in the book. 

Essentially, I agree with you about the onion sizing guide.  It was the only thing I could readily find that addressed the issue.

 

I much prefer working with weight, and it really frosts my pumpkin when recipe and cooking sites provide only volume.  So, thanks for the info about Veg-Table. I'll see if I can somehow dig up the information. 👍

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 ... Shel


 

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41 minutes ago, blue_dolphin said:

I find the linked onion sizing guide remarkably unhelpful.

 

Not to mention that apparently, there's no such thing as a "large" onion,  and a big medium can be bigger than a small jumbo.

 

I agree that the only accurate method is by weight. You can't even use volume, because that will vary according to how finely you chop. Sharma's method is helpful,  but only for that book.

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methinks the best educational tool for the question is:

buy a five pound bag of onions - dump them out and observe the sizes.....

 

recommended for late fall implementation with a fresh crop. 

Jan-May our Giant bag of onions usually contain 2-5 onions that are sprouting and basically rotting in the bag . . .

it's a Giant thing - Weis Markets (across the street) has far superior 'fresh produce' as the season wears on.

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Some years back, Kenji Lopez-Alt wrote about measuring by mass v. volume, using onions as one specific example. While he didn't discuss onion size, he made some interesting points about using onions in recipes. This is part of what he said: 

I'm currently working on an onion soup recipe. In my final recipe, I'm going to be calling for "4 large onions, finely diced (about 6 cups)"—a relatively imprecise measure. A quick search for onion soup recipes in the UK reveals this one from the BBC, which calls for "1kg onions," a far more precise measure. So precise, in fact, that unless you're really lucky, you're going to have to use some fraction of a whole onion in order to land right at one kilogram. What does this level of precision get you? I'd argue that it doesn't get you better food, and in fact gives users a false sense of precision, which, in reality, doesn't even exist." He goes on to point out that in some recipes, a difference in the amount of onions of 20% (by weight) doesn't actually make much difference in taste. 

 

I'm not sure he's right, mind you, but it's an interesting view. (Scroll down about halfway for the onion discussion.)

 

 https://www.seriouseats.com/why-mass-weight-is-not-better-than-volume-cooking-recipe

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I remember reading those comments from Kenji. I see his point but still like a weight.  One can just as easily say "4 large onions, finely diced, about 6 cups" or "4 large onions, finely diced, about 1 kg" and the volume measurement can't be assessed until after dicing while the weight can be measured up front, even estimated at the store. 

Probably not a heck of a lot of difference in that onion soup recipe which is already a liquid and can always be simmered to reduce or topped up with additional stock or water. 

 

When recipes do include weights, I've occasionally been surprised to find that the onion, carrot, potato or sweet potato I've got in my hand weighs 4 or 5 times more or perhaps are only a half or quarter the size of what the recipe writer was using. I wouldn't say the recipe isn't going to work but the balance of ingredients, moisture and flavor can be affected.  

I reserve the right to do whatever I want but it's nice to know what the recipe writer intended and weight is a better way to do that.

 

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46 minutes ago, JAZ said:

Some years back, Kenji Lopez-Alt wrote about measuring by mass v. volume, using onions as one specific example. While he didn't discuss onion size, he made some interesting points about using onions in recipes. This is part of what he said: 

I'm currently working on an onion soup recipe. In my final recipe, I'm going to be calling for "4 large onions, finely diced (about 6 cups)"—a relatively imprecise measure. A quick search for onion soup recipes in the UK reveals this one from the BBC, which calls for "1kg onions," a far more precise measure. So precise, in fact, that unless you're really lucky, you're going to have to use some fraction of a whole onion in order to land right at one kilogram. What does this level of precision get you? I'd argue that it doesn't get you better food, and in fact gives users a false sense of precision, which, in reality, doesn't even exist." He goes on to point out that in some recipes, a difference in the amount of onions of 20% (by weight) doesn't actually make much difference in taste. 

 

I'm not sure he's right, mind you, but it's an interesting view. (Scroll down about halfway for the onion discussion.)

 

 https://www.seriouseats.com/why-mass-weight-is-not-better-than-volume-cooking-recipe

 

Why does he think that using weight rather than volume somehow means you have to be as precise as your scale can be? Go buy a 1 kg bag of onion and that is how close you have to be. Ok, I know you don't get 1 kg bags so go buy 2.2 pounds or as close as you can get in the store. Maybe throw in another if it is spring and the onions are old so you will have to censor out a fair bit of the outer layer. Still easier than packing diced onions into a measuring cup. Sure, it would be more precise to say the weight of diced onion rather than the weight of onion before dicing, but like he says, it doesn't really matter that much. 

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its an onion

 

used in an Rx that should be understood 

 

to be + / - for that ingredient .

 

@haresfur

 

I agree with you 

 

weigh stuff that matters 

 

as in baking 

 

onion size doesn't .

 

for non-baking .

 

Ive been watching Boston Legal recently 

 

a Judge says this :

 

' enough of the jibber - jabber ( sp ? ) '

 

this thread is jibber - jabber 

 

go back to the first response .

 

study it carefully.

Edited by rotuts (log)
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I like onions. I think onions make everything better. Whatever the recipe calls for, I am likely to use more (assuming cooked onions, not raw). Often I cook onions down to a fraction of their initial volume, pure oniony goodness, as is done in many Indian recipes.

 

See also: garlic and chiles.

 

If the amount of onions was critical, clearly the recipe should provide some sort of +/- tolerance, in weight and/or volume (but preferably weight).

 

But I have become a loosey-goosey cook over the years. 🤷🏼‍♂️

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11 hours ago, AlaMoi said:

buy a five pound bag of onions - dump them out and observe the sizes.....

 

I don't know that bagged onions would necessarily be random sizes.  Other produce - I'm thinking apples in particular  - are sorted by size before bagging.

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Too big is my problem.  For some reason over the last two years or more, onions sold here have been getting bigger and bigger. They are now the size of bowling balls. I stopped buying them; living alone I never cooked anything that required that much onion and if I cut them up, I usually ended up throwing most away.

 

Now I only use shallots, which I prefer anyway. Next time I decide to make a dopiaza for the entire neighbourhood, I may buy an onion.

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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2 hours ago, liuzhou said:

Too big is my problem.  For some reason over the last two years or more, onions sold here have been getting bigger and bigger.

I've noticed that here as well. It's an expedition to find a small onion.

 ... Shel


 

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'stuff' sold by weight - i.e. a 5# bag of . . .

there is usually some 'pre-sorting' for size/weight, but in order to make the bag as close as possible to the specified weight selected smaller size/weights is added to the reach an acceptable tolerance.

 

I'd dump out my last bag and take a pix - but I've already used up the small ones . . .

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On 4/22/2024 at 6:11 PM, liuzhou said:

Too big is my problem.  For some reason over the last two years or more, onions sold here have been getting bigger and bigger. They are now the size of bowling balls.

 

I found small onions,

...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

A terrible thing is ignorance, the source of endless human woes, spreading a mist over facts, obscuring truth, and casting a gloom upon the individual life. - Lucian of Samosata (born 120, died after 180 CE)

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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