The Marvelous Onion – Facts and Folklore

Onions have been valued for thousands of years for culinary, medicinal and other uses. Some facts and folklore about the onion.

  • The common onion is part of the Allium or lily plant family, which includes garlic, chives, leeks and shallots.
  • The onion gets its name from the Latin word uniowhich means ‘one’ or ‘single’, as onions are different than garlic, which produces many small bulbs while the onion produces only one.
  • Traces of onions have been found in Bronze Age settlements dating back to 5000 B.C.E.
  • Actual cultivation of onions by man is believed to have begun 4000 years ago in ancient Egypt.
  • Alexander the Great fed his army onions with the belief that if they ate strong foods, they themselves would become stronger.
  • Onions have strong antiseptic qualities, and their juice has been used for cleansing and healing wounds for centuries, all the way up to the American Civil War.
  • When The Plague infected Europe, some believed it was caused by evil spirits. Some would wear strings of onions around their necks to try and protect themselves.
  • Onions have also been used for other varieties of ailments through the centuries. In ancient India they were used as a diuretic, in China they were used for many things like liver disease, constipation and wound healing. In Colonial America eating a raw wild onion was thought to cure measles.
  • There is medical research that proves onions are indeed a healthy vegetable. They can lower blood glucose, lower blood pressure, lower overall cholesterol, dissolve blood clots and help prevent cancer.
  • There are two general categories of onions. Fresh spring/summer onions and storage onions. Fresh onions can be any color, some have their green stems attached. They are generally milder than storage onions. Storage onions can be red, yellow or white. They can range in flavor from mild to really strong, but most storage onions sweeten up and become mild when cooked.
  • Everybody who has ever had to cut up a lot of strong onions knows what happens. It is literally a job that makes all of us cry. That is because onions contain sulfur, and when you cut the onion sulfur is released into the air. This air-borne sulfur reacts with the moisture in your eyes and creates a mild form of sulfuric acid! Your eyes tear up to flush this substance from your eyes.
  • There are many ways to try and prevent crying while cutting up onions, some methods practical, some not. Some say cut them under water, or put them in the refrigerator an hour before cutting, or don’t cut the root end until last. Some have even suggested putting on a tight fitting swimming mask!

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