Don’t have the right onion for traditional pico de gallo? This article will help cover what type might work, or be best for your particular taste!
Authentic and traditional pico de gallo calls for white onions. They are sweeter and don’t have a lingering onion taste. Red onions can also be used and they work better than yellow or green onions.
So, is red, white, yellow, or green onion the one for you? Discover which is which, below!
What’s the Best Kind of Onion for Pico De Gallo?
Pico de gallo is also called “salsa bandera”. When translated literally, this means “flag salsa”. This name is a portrayal of the white, green, and red colors of Mexico’s flag (source: Na’atik). The name is also an indication of the dish being a staple in Mexican cuisine.
So, the white of the pico de gallo is represented by the white onions in the dish, while the green is cilantro and the red is tomatoes. With this, you’ll know that traditional and authentic pico de gallo is made with white onions.
However, some people replace them according to what they have available, or according to their preferences. And this is totally fine because, hey, even professional chefs tweak traditional dishes.
So, let’s examine what these onions will contribute to pico de gallo.
The pungency of onions is what determines most of their flavor profile. This is measured through Pyruvic Concentration in μmol/g (source: Oregon State University) or μmol ml−1 (source: Scientia Horticulturae).
The higher the pyruvic acid concentration, the more pungent an onion is. The lower the concentration, the sweeter the onion is (source: Oregon State University).
According to a study, red onions were found to have the highest pyruvic acid concentration compared to yellow and white onions (source: Australian Journal of Crop Science).
However, other people disagree and find that red onions are milder in flavor (source: The Kitchn). But this could be because of their geography, as red onion grown in Italy is milder than those grown in New York (source: Journal of Agricultural Research).
They work well in salads and dressings because they have less tender meat. But if you think they are too astringent or sharper for your liking but still have to use them nonetheless, you can soak them in water first (source: The Kitchn).
In the same study, white onions were found to have the least amount of pyruvic acid concentration (source: Australian Journal of Crop Science), which makes them sweeter than red or yellow onions.
In the US and Europe, sweet onions have become more popular and in demand lately (source: Scientia Horticulturae).
White onions don’t have a lingering taste like red onions, and they are much milder in terms of spiciness. White onions are excellent in salads and they are the type used in authentic traditional pico de gallo (source: Bon Appetit).
According to many cooks, white onions also give more bite to a dish and they tend to last longer in pico de gallo.
Among the onion bulbs, yellow onion is considered an all-purpose kind of onion. This is because it just has that balance of sweetness and astringency (source: The Kitchn).
Yellow onions are likely the most trusted type of onion because if a recipe didn’t mention the type of onion to use, it most likely requires these guys.
However, they aren’t the best when eaten raw. In fact, they are too intense. But they are excellent when caramelized, roasted, or sautéed.
Yellow onions are meaty and won’t break up too much when cooked (source: Bon Appetit). This means that yellow onions may not be excellent in pico de gallo recipes.
Green Onions (and also scallions / spring onions)
And, if for some reason you don’t have any of these types of onion bulbs, you can always use scallions in pico de gallo (source: The San Diego Union-Tribune).
They are softer in flavor and have more of a herb-like taste. They work best in salads, dressings, garnishes, or stir-fries (source: Bon Appetit). They are not the best in cooked dishes because they can shrivel.
Can You Make Pico De Gallo Without Onion?
Theoretically and technically speaking, pico de gallo without onions is not pico de gallo. The taste will be different.
But we understand some people don’t like onions or don’t have them on hand. When they don’t, they use cucumbers or peppers that have low or moderate heat.
If it helps, go ahead and experiment with different types of onions and see what works best for you!