How to keep onions from sinking in a salad?

I like raw and cooked onions.

I like raw onions in a lot of salads but the problem is diced onions end up in the bottom of the bowl.

  • Please post an answer if you want to answer. There's no need to answer in comments, especially not things that are already posted as answers below. – Cascabel Oct 29 '17 at 5:18

This is physics.

There's an effect called: "Granular convection" It's a phenomenon where if you have materials of different sizes in a container and vibrate or shake them, that the largest objects will move to the top and the smallest to the bottom.

To keep the onion from sinking, you should make the chopped onion pieces bigger relative to the other ingredients in the salad.

As you can see in JBentley's answer, in a salad where all ingredients are evenly chopped you won't get the sinking effect.

  • Onion does not need to be chopped. You can make it sized by length. Those slices do float. Not everyone wants a copped salad or take the time. Still good answer. – paparazzo Oct 24 '17 at 12:22
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    Cool, I always wanted to know about "granular convection" – Max Oct 24 '17 at 13:47
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    @Max Watch out with your container though, when it's cone-shaped there supposedly is a reverse effect. – Pieter B Oct 24 '17 at 14:02

I don't think the issue here is dicing vs slicing the onions. The reason why the latter appears to present better in this answer is in my opinion because of the size relative to the other ingredients. In the left hand image, the diced onions are much smaller than the tomato and cucumber, whereas the sliced onion on the right is a closer match in size. This also explains why the onion sinks in the left image - being smaller than the other ingredients, it can make it's way through the gaps more easily to the bottom.

This leads to an alternative solution: dice the other ingredients to match the size of the onion. Take for example a salad shirazi (a classic Persian salad):

enter image description here enter image description here

As you can see, the onion is nice and evenly spread throughout the other ingredients (no sinking) and in my opinion presents rather well.

Also it's worth being aware that this is highly subjective. I personally find smaller chunks more attractive than bigger in general. I also find it improves the taste, as the ingredients blend better together while chewing and you experience the salad as more of a "whole". With bigger chunks, you tend to taste "all tomato" followed by "all cucumber" etc.

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    Agreed, I dice all the ingredients because it also provides a sense of homogeneity. You can't really take all of the ingredients at once on your utensil if they're sliced and, in my opinion, that detracts from the taste. Also, you can use a spoon to eat the salad if they're all diced! Weee! – John Hamilton Oct 24 '17 at 8:23
  • But I may not want to fine chop all ingredients. A classic Greek salad is big chunks. In a leafy salad I may not want a cop. Those are good looking salads. – paparazzo Oct 24 '17 at 8:45
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    The answer literally says that this is subjective. Of course for some salads (or some salad eaters) an even smaller size won't be ideal. But it's always good to provide more general answers and more options. – Cascabel Oct 24 '17 at 10:21

I found that slices float better and present better. They don't take much longer to cut and you don't need much onion for a salad.

Slices on the right

Greek salad

Thick slices can be cut to taste. You want some to sink. I like them for a little crunch. They're easier to pick out if anyone doesn't like onion at all.

In some cases thin slices might be better, though. If your salad is lettuce-based, thick slices may still tend to sink, while thinner slices will cling to the lettuce a bit better. This may also be a good idea if anyone eating the salad doesn't like larger chunks of onion. A down side to thin is that it can overpower the presentation.

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    did you just do these salads to answer this post ? – chicken burger Oct 31 '17 at 13:07
  • @chickenburger No, I have been working on my salads and take pictures to remind me how to make them. – paparazzo Oct 31 '17 at 14:10

There is no law of nature that requires salad to be served in a bowl. In fact I rarely see it served in a bowl: I'm used to seeing it served on a plate. You can toss together the leafy components, dressing, and any other ingredients you want to mix well, plate them, and then sprinkle the onion on top and serve.

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    +1 although I was uncertain at first, because your suggestion (sprinkling the onion on top) works in a bowl too. But it occurred to me the OP might be concerned with the onions sinking after preparation, in which case the plate helps. – JBentley Oct 24 '17 at 16:27
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    @JBentley Not seeing how a plate changes anything. Sink is sink. A small dinner salad is not typically server with any toppings, fust greens and dressing. – paparazzo Oct 24 '17 at 17:01
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    I have had plenty of salads, small and large, served on plates, with toppings, at home and in restaurants. It makes sinking less of an issue because there's less motion: no tossing, no accidental rearranging as you serve from a large bowl. Things will still fall to the bottom some, especially if you have, say, big pieces of lettuce that drag everything around when you grab them, but it really will help. – Cascabel Oct 24 '17 at 17:27

I recently discovered pickled red onions (and I've added the recipe I use on my website), and they're really easy to make.

I say this because they're an excellent addition to any tossed salad, and because they're saturated in vinegar, they're not rigid, so leaving full rings isn't a problem like raw onions.

Also, because they're larger pieces, they don't settle in a salad.

Similarly I avoid using chopped carrots, favoring shredded or matchstick carrots because they have the same issue of being too small that the end of the salad is all carrot.

This is also known as the "Brazil Nut Effect".


There is a very simple way to counter that porblem if you are going to dress a salad in a bowl. You can cut any ingredients in the size you want, so you can dice oignons.

Before serving, when you added everything, just take a tool like a spoon or a wooden spoon and "incorporate" everything delicately. All your ingredients will be mixed up without any harm and therefore you will enjoy a delicious mix of your salad.

This action, "incorporate', comes from pastry cooks who use that to incorpore ingredients that are heavier than others.

just like in this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UfqBYkNDRSg

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    @JBentley The downvote wasn't mine, but the suggestion doesn't actually work very well. It's stirring that causes the granular convection effect of small things sinking to the bottom. – David Richerby Oct 24 '17 at 19:16
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    @DavidRicherby Incorporating and stirring are not the same thing though. Stirring is typically a circular motion which will have the effect you describe. Incorporating (as shown in the linked video) involves a motion that lifts ingredients from the bottom and attempts to spread them evenly throughout. If done carefully it should result in a better obviation of the sinking problem than stirring. – JBentley Oct 24 '17 at 20:12
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    @JBentley I seriously doubt that. I suspect incorporating will accelerate the granular convection effect. – paparazzo Oct 24 '17 at 22:51
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    Probably the main point is just that it's a very small amount of stirring: you start out with the small bits on top then you carefully slightly mix, just enough that they follow their natural tendency to move down, stopping before they all fall. – Cascabel Oct 25 '17 at 2:23
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    I know how to incorporate and how to stir and how to toss. Either way, the small bits make it to the bottom of the salad. Just carrying the salad from the kitchen to the table causes settling, as does passing it around the table and of course each person taking a serving. By the time it gets halfway around, all the olives and onions and tomato pieces are on the bottom, and the big lettuce leaves are on the top. Cutting the pieces to be about the same size is the only sure-fire solution I've ever seen. Not my down vote but I understand it completely. – Todd Wilcox Oct 25 '17 at 3:21

This is simple. We can chopping an onion with loop chopping. enter image description here

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    This is already in the most upvoted answer. Please do not repeat answers. – user34961 Oct 24 '17 at 12:22
  • Maybe, but he provided a picture that clearly shows the detailed method for the OP's problem. At least this is something valuable. – chicken burger Oct 31 '17 at 13:08

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