If you’ve ever purchased onions in bulk, chances are you’ve had a few go old before you could use them all. In this article, we take a look at the typical shelf life of onions and some tips for proper storage.
From yellow onions to scallions and sweet Vidalias, onions are one of the most common household vegetables used in recipes around the world. They’re versatile to cook with, have a sharp and pungent flavor, and are known for their relatively long shelf life.
But just how long do onions last? What if they’ve been cut? And how long do onions last in the fridge? In short, it depends on how you store them, as well as the type of onion you’re dealing with. For example, green onions shouldn’t be stored in the same way as those that are bulb-shaped and covered in thin, papery skin (aka regular or all-purpose onions, as in the picture above).
In order to prolong the lifespan of your onions and prevent them from going bad before use, we’ve put together some tips for storage along with a breakdown of shelf life.
The Typical Shelf Life of Onions
While the shelf life of any food product will vary, most onions can last for weeks to months if stored properly.
Here’s a quick look at how long onions last by type:
- Regular Onions – These include yellow, white, red, Vidalia, and other types of layered onions encased in papery skin. Stored properly (more on that below), they’ll last up to six weeks unrefrigerated, and one to two months in the refrigerator.
- Green Onions – Also known as scallions, green onions are long and slender with small white bulbs at the end. Their flavor is mild and almost spicy, eaten raw or cooked. Typical shelf life is up to two weeks refrigerated, or three to five days left out.
- Shallots – Shallots last up to two months in the refrigerator, and around four to six weeks unrefrigerated. They are smaller than regular onions, more oval-shaped, and have a sharp, sweet flavor echoing garlic.
- Leeks – This slightly sweet-tasting member of the onion family has a shelf life of up to two weeks refrigerated, and only around three days left out.
Of course, how long onions last will depend on the storage conditions, as well as the freshness when purchased. You can freeze onions of any kind to prolong their shelf life, though this may require some preparation such as blanching or cutting into smaller pieces.
While refrigeration does increase the lifespan of onions, make sure to put them in the low humidity drawer. This is very important, as too much humidity can make your onions too soft and, eventually, mushy!
As for the shelf life of cut onions, all types tend to last around 7 to 10 days in the refrigerator. Going old, they’ll become slimy and have an increasingly pungent odor. To make the most of your onions, make sure they’re stored properly and avoid a few common mistakes, which we’ve outlined below.
How to Store Onions
Each type of onion will require different methods for storage. Rather than going for the plastic wrap or bags when it comes time to store chopped, diced, sliced, or minced onions, consider something more eco-friendly, such as plastic-free food wraps.
If you tend to keep onions around in bulk, check them every few days for any signs of spoiling to prevent any mold and bacteria from spreading.
For storing single or bulk onions fresh from the store, it’s essential that they’re kept in a cool, ventilated, dark, and dry area. The ideal storage temperature is between 40 and 50°F, as in the basement cellar or even garage (so long as they’re covered from any bugs). Otherwise, you can keep them in a basket or bowl on your counter away from too much heat or light.
Note that onions and potatoes shouldn’t be stored side-by-side, as this speeds up the ripening process.
For storing onions whole in the refrigerator, wrap each one in a paper towel and put them into a cloth bag, such as our reusable cotton bags. Then, store them in the low humidity crisper drawer. This is one of the best ways to store onions in the fridge to preserve their taste and texture.
As for how to store cut onions, simply put them in an airtight container (glass works great) or bag and stick it in the refrigerator. If you over-prepped and need your sliced onions to last more than a week, put them in an airtight bag in the freezer — they’ll last up to six months, though the texture and flavor will change once removed. (To freeze whole onions, you’ll need to blanch them first.)
Green Onions and Leeks
Despite their differences in size and texture, you can store green onions and leeks in the same way. Left out, it’s best to place the onions vertically in a jar of water, white root side down, where they’ll stay good for a few days. In the refrigerator, you can try this as well (if there’s enough space), wrapping the tops in a paper towel or bag and securing it with rubber bands.
Otherwise, store leeks and scallions in the refrigerator wrapped in a slightly damp, rubberbanded paper towel. Place them in the crisper drawer for optimal humidity levels. Frozen, cut them into rings or slices, and store them in a resealable bag or container.
You can store shallots using the same methods listed above for regular onions. Cool, dark, low-humidity areas are best, in a basket or in mesh or cloth bag left out. Refrigerated, store them in the crisper drawer wrapped in paper towels inside of a small canvas sack.
Cut shallots should be refrigerated in an airtight container or bag and can be frozen so long as the skin has been peeled off, and the cloves have been separated.
Signs Your Onions Are Old
There are a few things to look out for to tell if your onions have spoiled. While some indications of a no-good onion (like a spot of mold) can be trimmed off, if the whole bulb is soggy and rotten, it’s best to send it to the compost.
Telltale signs of old onions include dark or discolored patches, mold, a rotten smell, and sprouting. Green onions and leeks will also begin to look and smell rotten, changing colors from a bright green to darker green, brown, and yellow. They’ll also get mushy and slimy. Obvious as it may seem, moldy and spoiled onions aren’t considered safe to eat!
Storing onions has many layers, but with the right containers and food wraps, you can rest assured that your alliums (the scientific name for onions) are safely preserved for as long as possible.
Explore eco-friendly food storage containers at Public Goods, as well as our collection of organic spices for next time you’re cooking up a hearty and healthy meal! Head over to the Public Goods blog for more kitchen tips, sustainability ideas, and recipes.
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