The Simple Addition That Will Elevate Caramelized Onions

If vegetables had personalities, onions would undoubtedly be the sassy kind. When sliced, diced, or simply cut open, their assertive attitude releases a pungent aroma that makes most people cry — and we're not talking about happy tears, either. This, combined with a sharp taste that, per Healthline, often causes heartburn, almost makes us wonder why home cooks choose onions at supermarkets in the first place.

That is — until they're cooked. The assertive attitude suddenly and literally softens, showing off the sweeter and more pleasant side of onions. This can then be used in chutneys, hummus, atop flatbreads, meats, and pizzas, per the National Onion Association. This soft sweetness makes caramelized onions a favorite. 

Science of Cooking explains that caramelization happens when sugars in food break down, which results in distinct caramel notes, as well as browned colors. But onions make you work for its coveted caramelization state, as a minimum of 30 to 60 minutes of cooking time is often required. Fortunately, this time frame can be reduced with one simple addition, which also gives a flavor boost to the resulting onion dish. Here's what that is.

Elevate your onions with brown sugar

Caramelized onions are certainly tasty on their own, but why not elevate them with the magic of brown sugar? America's Test Kitchen states that brown sugar will make the onions brown faster and taste sweeter, and all you need is 1 teaspoon per 2 pounds of onions.

Just coat a skillet with some kind of fat, like oil, wait until it shimmers, and add the onions, brown sugar, and ½ teaspoon of salt. The total cooking time is around 20 to 25 minutes, and the first half of that should be spent covering and cooking the onions over a medium-low flame. Remember to give them a good stir once in a while. At the halfway point, ditch the lid, crank up the heat to medium-high, and patiently wait for those onions to turn dark brown. And don't forget to keep stirring them.

Brown sugar is likely the favored choice over regular sugar because it contains molasses. This intensely dark syrup tastes warm and sweet, per The Spruce Eats, and is responsible for brown sugar's super soft textures and golden brown colors, via Food Insight. It's no wonder caramelized onions benefit so greatly from brown sugar.