I was discussing this last night with my girl friend...

How do you describe the taste of an onion?

Specifically the growing "spicy" sensation after taking a bite.

I'm just talking about the standard yellow onion.

  • English in particular and languages in general have very few ways to describe smells and tastes except by naming the things that cause them, similar to using orange as a color name. The other color names, however, are unique, but this is not the case with smell or taste terms: -- they're all either congeners, like salt or orange, or they're metaphors, like hot, sharp, bright, full. – John Lawler Mar 14 '14 at 15:53
  • How about awful? – Stu W Jan 2 '18 at 19:57


It really depends on the onion and what exactly you are trying to convey to the listener. An onion might be strong, mild, aromatic, tear-inducing, acidic, salty, spicy, sweet, bitter, sour, or flavorful.

  • Yeah, that was pretty vague. I'll update to be more specific. – Jeffpowrs Mar 14 '14 at 14:55

I believe that's called the "bite" or "heat" (as in spicy heat, not temperature heat).

Google Dictionary has this definition of "bite":

(2) sharp or pungent flavor.

and some synonyms: piquancy, pungency, spiciness, strong flavor, sharpness

  • 1
    Definitely pungent. – M. K. Hunter Nov 7 '14 at 14:07

I think the flavor of onions is "sharp." The New York Times says they are "incendiary" and that onion and garlic chemicals are "irritating," "reactive," and "stinging." The key compounds are based on sulfur, so it is technically accurate to say, "sulfury."

  • +1 I like sharp, but not incendiary because I associate that more with spiciness instead of the bitterness/sour taste of an onion. Ooh and sulfury. I didn't see that the first time. – Alex W Nov 7 '14 at 15:29

Onions, Garlic and Mustard has a special Hotness (Sharp, Piercing, Peppery, Tangy taste). Indians call it Teekha (HOT) which instead your tongue, hits straight or Kicks your nose.


Chilies and pepper do bite your tongue, but Onion, Garlic or Mustard kicks your nose and gives a burning sensation to your eyes. Onion mostly is a sugary for tongue and caramelize the food you add in. A taste maker of different kind.

  • Did you want to write two answers? Your earlier one doesn't seem to address the taste of onions, or do you mean "hot" is your suggestion? What exactly is your answer here? "kick"? – Mari-Lou A Jan 2 '18 at 17:17

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