The onion index

Onions contain quercetin, an antioxidant that helps prevent atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease, and regenerates vitamin E.

May 17, 2013 | | Back Issues



n. a swollen edible bulb used as a vegetable, having a pungent taste and smell and composed of several concentric layers; the plant that produces the onion
Oxford English Dictionary

Worldwide, about 9 million acres of onions are cultivated annually in more than 170,000 countries; 92 per cent are for domestic use only.

Onions come in three colours: yellow, red and white. Green onions (scallions) are young plants harvested before bulbing occurs in the fall. Yellow onions turn a rich dark brown when caramelized. Red onions brighten up salads and grilled food. White onions are used in traditional Mexican cooking for their sweet flavour when cooked.

Ancient Egyptians believed the onion’s spherical shape and concentric rings symbolized eternal life.

The slaves who built the pyramids in Egypt were fed radishes and onions. Ancient Greek athletes ate onions because they were believed to balance the blood. Roman gladiators rubbed their bodies with onions to firm up their muscles.

In the Middle Ages people paid their rent with onions. And doctors prescribed onions to facilitate bowel movements and erections, and to relieve headaches, coughs, snakebites and hair loss.

The first settlers brought onions to the New World only to discover native people were already using wild onions, eating them raw and cooked.

Onions harvested after bulbing has begun, but before the plant is mature, are called summer onions. The usual time to harvest is in the fall, when the leaves die back and the skin of the onion turns brown and brittle.

Onions contain quercetin, an antioxidant that helps prevent atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease, and regenerates vitamin E. High in vitamin C, onions are a good source of dietary fibre and folic acid. They also contain calcium, iron, are low in sodium and contain no fat.

Onions are toxic to dogs, cats, guinea pigs and many other animals.

The juice of onions can be used as a moth repellent and rubbed on the skin to prevent insect bites. It is also said to promote hair growth and reduce freckling. It has been used to polish glass and copperware, and prevent rust. A spray made of boiled water and chopped onions can be used as a plant pesticide. Onion skins produce a yellow-brown dye.

Chopping an onion releases syn-Propanethial-S-oxide, a volatile gas that causes a stinging sensation in the eyes. Tears flush out the irritant. To avoid the problem try cutting onions under cold water. Or do not cut into the root end as it has a higher concentration of the compound.

The onion (Allium cepa) is the most widely cultivated species of the genus Allium. It is most frequently a biennial or a perennial, but is usually treated as an annual and harvested in its first growing season.

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