A curated display of grated onions, and grating tools.

Grated Onion Guide

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Onions are the foundation of many of my favorite recipes. They provide depth, flavor, (and a quick way to clear your sinuses). If a recipe calling for finely chopping and mincing onions feels intimidating – or you just don’t have the patience to mince vegetables tonight (no judgment), this lesser-known technique is going to change your life. I’m talking about grated onion.

What Is Grated Onion? Grated Onion Meaning 

Grated onion is an efficient way to prep onion into tiny, fine pieces or even a paste-like consistency that you just can’t get with a knife and cutting board. The result is a finely textured, grated onion that can release a lot of moisture and flavor – without the onion-y texture of larger chunks.

Grated onion is used in cooking to impart a strong flavor and aroma to dishes. It is especially useful when you want the onion flavor evenly distributed throughout a recipe or a smooth consistency. It’s the secret sauce in marinades, dressings, and dishes where you want that full-on onion flavor without the onion pieces stealing the show.

Still life of onions and grating tools arranged together.

How To Choose The Right Onion

Different recipes call for specific types of onion based on the strength and flavor needed. If your recipe calls for grated onion, I’d bet you’re looking for a yellow, white, or sweet onion. These onions (along with red onions) are some of the most popular options. They usually are pretty similar in size and consistent in flavor. 

All these onions are readily available in just about any produce section. 

When shopping for onions, look for ones that are firm, sturdy, and feel heavy. Pass up any that have soft spots, damaged outer skin, or are sprouting. 

Keep onions at home in a dark and cool area away from moisture. You might be tempted to store onions in your refrigerator, but that will cause them to spoil quickly. A cabinet or pantry is the best spot for your onions to hang out until needed. 

Three onions, a red, yellow, and white sit in a stainless steel colander on a black and white granite countertop.

How To Grate An Onion 

Grating an onion can feel weird the first time around, but you’ll soon find it is a go-to method. Let’s dive into it step by step:

Tools and Ingredients:

Instructions:

First things first, pick out a firm and fresh onion. This method works well for large symmetrical white, yellow, or red onions. Choose the type your recipe specifies.

Prep: Remove any loose papery outer layers. Then lay your onion on the cutting board and chop off the root end and the tippy top. Gently peel away the papery, outer onion skin and throw it away. 

Then, give your onion a rinse in the sink to remove any dirt or bacteria. 

Cut: Place the washed onion on a fresh cutting board on one of the flat, cut ends. Take your knife and slice the onion in half vertically, from the top down to its bottom, creating two roughly equal halves.

Grate: Now, hold one of those onion halves with the cut side facing the grater. As you grate, your onion will release some serious moisture, so make sure to use a bowl or plate to catch all the grated onion and any juices that come with it. 

Using the holes on your grater, start grating the onion in a smooth, downward motion. The grater tool will cut chunks out of the onion. With each pass, the onion will get smaller and smaller.

As you get close to the end of the onion, be extra careful with your fingertips. The last thing you want is a little chunk of thumb in your onions (ask me how I know).

Close up of grated onion on a dark wood cutting board.

If your grater has a safety guard, this is the time to use it. If you’re using a handheld grater, don’t fret about the tiny bit of onion at the end that’s too small to grate safely. Just toss it in the trash and enjoy a moment of gratitude for not slicing your thumb. 

If you’re grating both onion halves (go you!), do it all over again with the second half.

Now that you’ve grated that onion like a pro, it’s ready to jazz up your recipe. Grated onion is a superstar in marinades, dressings, sauces, and more! Just remember, grated onion is packing a punch in the flavor department, so go easy if your recipe only needs a smidge. 

A hand grater and half a white onion sit on a dark wood cutting board.

What’s The Best Way To Grate An Onion?

It’s a simple process that you will quickly feel comfortable with. Wash and peel the onion, cut the top off, and cut the onion in half from top to bottom. Then, press the onion against the grater, sliding it against the holes to grate.

How To Store Grated Onions

If you got a bit carried away in grating or are prepping for a future recipe, store your grated onions in the refrigerator in an airtight glass container (so your entire fridge doesn’t smell of onion). 

A plastic zip-top bag would be my second choice after a glass container. If you only have plastic containers, one will work fine – just be aware that it may smell like onions even after a thorough watch.

Your grated onions will become stronger the longer they are stored. I recommend using them within three days of cutting before they become too powerful.

Grated onions stored in glass containers and a half onion stored in a zip top baggie.

What To Do With Onion Scraps

If you want to try the country-chic lifestyle and make stock from scratch, onion scraps are a key player to a healthy and flavorful stock. Take the top end, root end, and skins and toss them in a freezer bag to add to as you cook. Once you have a bag of scraps, you are ready to easily make a batch of stock.

If homemade stock isn’t in your future, you can compost or simply throw away the onion scraps. 

A white onion cut in half rests on a dark wood cutting board with onion papers laying around it.

Food Prep Safety: Avoiding Injury (And Tears)

Keeping bits of thumb out of your grated onion should always be a top priority, and honestly isn’t too difficult. Only using onions that are cut in half to create a better grip is the best way to stay in control. Don’t try to grate 100% of the onion. It’s better to sacrifice the last little bit of onion to the trash bin than to sacrifice your finger to the grater. 

If you’re nervous about grating, you can use a paper towel or even a clean kitchen towel to add a bit of buffer between you and the blades or go for the food processor grating method. 

Even the most strong, independent girlies might tear up when cutting onions. Onions release enzymes and sulfenic acid when damaged. These enzymes are what cause that stinging feeling and the watering eyes. As you can imagine, grating onions is far more damaging than slicing with a sharp knife.

If you are sensitive to cutting onions, you can pop the onions in the refrigerator for a half hour or so (remember not to store them in there long term) or set up a fan to blow the irritants away from your face.

Is Grated Onion The Same As Chopped Onion?

Grated onion and chopped onion are similar but definitely not the same thing. They have different uses and characteristics in cooking.

Grated Onion:

Grated onion involves using a grater or a fine shredder to break down the onion into small, fine pieces. The resulting texture is more like a paste or puree, and it releases a lot of moisture and flavor when grated, ideal in certain recipes.

Grated onion is often used when you want the onion flavor to be evenly distributed throughout a dish, and you don’t want distinct pieces of onion in the final product; think of marinades and dressings – or any dish I’m preparing for my mom.

Chopped Onion:

Chopped onion involves cutting the onion into small to medium-sized pieces using a knife. The size of the pieces can vary depending on the recipe.

Chopped onion retains more of its structure and texture compared to grated onion. You’ll have visible pieces of onion in your dish.

Grated Onion vs. Chopped Onion:

Chopped onion is frequently used in recipes where you want the onion to provide both flavor and texture, like in stir-fries, soups, stews, and salads.

Grated onion is more about infusing a smooth, intense onion flavor, while chopped onion adds both flavor and texture. Choose the option that best suits your guests and recipe.

Why Should You Grate Onion?

Grating onions has a few perks over other prep options depending on what you’re making and your preferences. Here are some reasons why you might choose to grate onions:

  • Smooth Texture: Grated onions have a finer texture compared to chopped or minced onions. This is perfect in recipes where you want the onion flavor to be evenly distributed without the chunkiness of large onion pieces.
  • Even Flavor distribution: When you grate onions, you release more of their natural juices, which can help distribute the onion flavor more evenly in your dish. Perfect for making marinades, dressings, or sauces from scratch
  • It’s quick work: Grating onions is a quick way to incorporate them into your recipes. If you’re in a rush and don’t have time to finely mince an onion, grating is the way to go.
  • Reduced cooking time: Because grated onions release their moisture more readily, they tend to cook faster than chopped onions. This is great for recipes where you want to soften the onions quickly without browning them.

Remember that grating onions can release more of the volatile compounds that make your eyes tear up. If you’re sensitive to cutting onions try chilling them before grating or grating them near an open window or under a running fan to disperse the onion fumes. 

A glass bowl of grated onion sits in front of two onions, one cut in half and the other whole.

What Grater To Use For Onions?

It really depends on what you’re making and how you want your onions to turn out. Really most options will work for most recipes with only minor differences in the final outcome. 

Box Grater: This is what comes to mind when you think of a grater. It’s the boxy thing with different holes on different sides. It’s great for recipes where you want those onions to not be noticeable but also not totally vanish into the dish. Box graters are typically sturdy and can stand on their own, making using them easy.

Handheld Grater: These come in different styles but are basically one side of the box grater with a handle added on. They come in various sizes from thick shredding holes to microplane-level tiny holes. They’re handy for smaller amounts of onions or when you prefer a fine texture. They are easier to handle than a box grater but less stable as they don’t stand on their own.

Microplane Grater: Imagine a handheld grater with super tiny sharp blades – that’s a microplane grater. They are often used for zesting citrus and are like magic for creating an extra-fine onion texture. These are fantastic when you want the onions to just melt into something like a fancy risotto or a zesty vinaigrette.

Food Processor with Grating Attachment: Got a bunch of onions to grate in a hurry? A food processor with a grating attachment is your time-saving buddy. It’s perfect for when you need a lot of uniformly grated onions quickly, like for making a big batch of coleslaw. 

View from above of a box grater, a rasp, and a hand grater lay arranged on a black and white granite countertop.

How to Grate an Onion Using a Food Processor

I love to use my food processor to grate onions, especially if I plan to use it for other aspects of the recipe I’m making. I actually consider this a life hack since it’s so easy. To grate onions with a food processor:

  1. Peel and rinse your onion. 
  2. Chop off the stem and root, and quarter the onion so it will fit in your food processor spout. 
  3. Place the shredding attachment on your food processor and feed the pieces of onion into the spout one at a time. If your food processor has a pulse option use it to avoid overdoing it. 

Using your food processor is a quick and easy way to grate onions without the risk of cutting your hand or needing to hand wash a grater. It may create more moisture than hand grating so keep in mind how much onion juice you are adding to your recipe when using this method. 

A food processor full of grated onion sits on a black and white granite countertop.

Do You Dice Or Grate Onion?

Okay, so when you’re deciding whether to dice or grate an onion, it really comes down to your priorities for the onion. 

Dicing onions (chopping them up into little pieces) is your go-to move when you want those onion bits to be front and center in your dish, adding texture and a good punch of onion flavor. Dicing is the way to go when you want people to see and taste the onion.

Now, on the flip side, grating onions is like turning them into onion confetti. This technique is all about spreading that onion flavor evenly throughout your dish. It’s like a secret flavor agent. Grating can also mellow out that onion bite a bit, so it’s less intense.

So, it’s a matter of what you want the onions to do in your recipe. If you want them to shine and provide some texture, dice them up. But if you want them to play a supporting role and blend in smoothly, grating is your move. 

Why Grate An Onion Rather Than Dice An Onion?

If you want the flavor of onion but not the texture or visual of chunks of onion, reach for your greater rather than your cutting knife. Grated onion is perfect for sauces and dressings, and anything with a smooth texture. 

Grating an onion is also likely to be faster than mincing or dicing, especially if you aren’t yet a professional chef. 

Can I Use A Grater To Dice An Onion?

Technically grating and dicing are very different techniques with different outcomes. A grated onion will be wetter and more crushed than a diced onion. You can likely get away with using grated onion in place of diced in most recipes – but they are not exactly the same.

a whole white onion sits on a granite countertop in front of a stainless steel box grater.

How To Get Similar Results Without A Grater

If you don’t have a grater and don’t have time for a Target run, you can chop onions as tiny as you can possibly get them and then crush the cut pieces. You can also put your food processor to work and pulse until it’s chopped as much as possible. 

With either option, you won’t get the puree level of texture needed for dressings, but you could make it work in sauces and other recipes. 

Three glass bowls of grated onion sit on a dark wood cutting board,

What Does Grated Onion Look Like

Grated onions have a distinctive appearance that varies depending on the technique and the specific type of grater used. Here’s a general description of what grated onions can look like:

Medium Texture: When using a box grater with medium-sized holes, the grated onions will have a medium texture. The pieces will be more substantial compared to fine shreds but still smaller and more uniform than diced onions.

Fine Shreds: When using a fine-grating surface, like a microplane or a fine side of a box grater, grated onions will resemble very fine, thread-like shreds. These shreds are almost translucent and have a texture similar to freshly fallen snowflakes.

Puree or Paste: If you continue to grate the onion using the finest side of the grater or use a food processor with a fine grating attachment, you can achieve an onion puree or paste. This results in a smooth, almost creamy consistency with no visible individual pieces.

Watery and Juicy: Grated onions tend to release a significant amount of natural juices during the grating process. So, they often appear wetter and more liquid compared to diced onions. You’ll notice a pool of onion juice surrounding the grated onion, which can be a valuable addition to certain recipes.

The choice of grating style is typically determined by the specific recipe and the desired texture and flavor you want in your dish.

Three glass bowls, each with various sizes of grated onion sit arranged in a row on a wood cutting board.

Grated Onion Substitutes

If you’re looking for a grated onion substitute because you don’t have an onion around, you have several options. Depending on the purpose of the grated onion in your recipe, reach for:

Onion Powder: Onion powder is a valid substitute for grated onion when you want to add onion flavor without the texture. A jar of onion powder can live in your spice drawer or pantry for years and works well in most recipes. When substituting, start with about 1 teaspoon of onion powder for every medium-sized onion.

Minced or Finely Chopped Onion: If the onion is meant to provide texture and flavor to the recipe, you can use finely chopped fresh onion. However, this will give you visible onion pieces in your dish. Use an equal amount of minced onion as the grated onion called for in the recipe.

Scallions (Green Onions): For a milder onion flavor, you can substitute with chopped scallions. They provide a pleasant onion flavor without being overpowering.

Shallots: Shallots have a delicate, mild onion flavor and can be used in place of grated onion in recipes where you want a more refined taste. Finely mince or grate shallots and use them in dressings, vinaigrettes, or sauces in equal amounts as the recipe calls for grated onion.

Three rows of grated onions lay aligned on a cutting board.

Can You Buy Grated Onion

You can find grated onions sold in some grocery stores typically available in a few different forms:

  • Freshly Grated Onion: Some stores offer freshly grated onion in the refrigerated section, usually near other fresh produce or pre-cut vegetables. Perfect if you want the convenience of pre-grated onion without the DIY time.
  • Frozen Grated Onion: This is a longer-lasting option that retains much of the onion’s flavor and texture.
  • Dehydrated or Dried Grated Onion: Available in the spice and seasoning aisle, this is a shelf-stable option that can be rehydrated to use.

Pre-grated onion can save you time, but it might not have the same freshness and flavor as a freshly grated onion.

Grated Onion vs. Onion Powder

Grated onion gives you both flavor and texture. When you grate an onion, you get these tiny shreds of onion that provide a bit of crunch or bite to your dish. The flavor is pretty immediate and has that classic onion punch. Plus, because grated onions retain most of the onion’s natural moisture, they can add juiciness to your recipes. 

Onion powder is like onion dust. It’s finely ground and completely dry, so it dissolves easily in recipes. The onion flavor is much milder than fresh options. If you want a more subtle onion presence without any texture or moisture, onion powder is a great option.

In a nutshell, if you want both the flavor and crunch of onion, go for grated onion. But if you’re after a more subtle onion flavor without any texture, grab the onion powder.

A pile of grated onion sits on a wood cutting board in front of a pile of grated onion.

Grated Onion To Onion Powder Ratio

If you’re in a pinch and need to substitute onion powder for grated onion you can generally use the following ratio: 

1 tablespoon of grated onion is approximately equivalent to 1 teaspoon of onion powder.

This is an approximate ratio, and you may need to adjust it based on your preferences and the recipe details. Remember to start with smaller amounts and taste as you go. You can always add more but it’s difficult to backtrack. 

A top view of a pile of grated onion surrounded by onion juice next to a pile of onion powder all sitting on a wood table.

Grated Onions

Whether you’re just starting out in the kitchen or consider yourself a seasoned home chef, understanding the art of grating onions can elevate your cooking experience. Grated onions add depth and richness to your dishes without any texture or loss of moisture. Give grated onions a try to experience the difference they can make in your cooking.

About Author

TiaGoodnight

Hey! I'm Tia, and I started this site to bring you the best information on all things kitchen so you can enjoy and elevate your everyday life.

I love trying new techniques and tools, living for the thrill of pulling off a new skill. On weekends you'll find me at the local farmer's markets or hosting friends and family for an evening of yard or card games and delicious food.

If you're looking for honest, real-world advice on all things kitchen and cooking, you're in the right place!

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