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Onion Expert

What Does it Mean to "Sweat" an Onion?

Blake Branen Rosencrantz - Thursday, September 20, 2012
Ever read a recipe and wonder what it means to “sweat an onion”?  Wonder what the difference is between sweeting an onion, sautéing an onion, and caramelizing an onion?  Well you are not alone. Sweating an onion is the process of releasing the flavor of the onion on low temperature and using moisture.  Unlike sautéing an onion or caramelizing an onion, sweating an onion doesn’t involve any browning of the onion.  Use a pan that can be covered and use low heat. Covering the pan causes the steam to be captured and then drips back onto the onion.  Cooking an onion this was has a mellower flavor, and the more you cook the onion the sweeter it gets.  Sweating an onion is especially desirable when making white sauces that contain onions, as no color is added to the sauce; it is also good for making risottos. However, sautéing an onion dose involve browning the onion, and in an uncovered pan.  As the onion cooks you will notice that it is becoming more translucent, and then becomes brown.  Sautéing an onion adds a deeper flavor and richer color to the onion, and is the most common way to cook an onion. Caramelizing an onion is another way to cook an onion.  To caramelize an onion you want to start off by sweating the onion, in a covered pan, with butter or oil.  Once you have completed that process you want to continue to cook the onion until the onion becomes any where from a honey color to a deep brown color.  This process can take some time, but as long as you are stirring the onions you will not burn them. To use your new master chief cooking skills head on over to our recipe section.  
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