Latin Name: Allium cepa
What is an Onion?
A main ingredient in cuisines around the world, onions, like garlic, belong to the Allium family. Onions have been cultivated and foraged since at least 6000 BC. Since then, they have played an important part in history. Onions were one of the staple foods of Egyptian pyramid builders and an essential ingredient in their funeral rites (the onion’s layers of concentric spheres aligned with the Ancient Egyptian conception of eternal life). Onions were also consumed in abundance by both Greek athletes and Roman gladiators. Throughout Europe in the Middle Ages they were prized enough to be given as gifts, to pay rent, and to treat a variety of health ailments.
Since their taste and nutritive qualities are so globally valued, onions can be found fresh and cooked in many ways, pickled, caramelized, powdered, dehydrated, frozen, and canned.
What are the health benefits of Onions?
Warming in nature, onions are used by traditional Chinese medicine, as a chi—or energy—tonic, to induce urination and perspiration, and to counterbalance illnesses brought on by cold weather. Onions are combined with jaggery, an unrefined concentrated cane sugar, as a traditional household remedy for sore throat in India.
The sulfur compounds in onions are particularly good for the cardiovascular system, reducing blood platelet aggregation and lowering levels of cholesterol and triglycerides. The trace mineral chromium also benefits cholesterol levels, improves glucose tolerance, and maintains low blood sugar content. Other health benefits of the onion include increasing bone density, helpful for treatment of osteoporosis, and lowering the risk of laryngeal, ovarian, and colorectal cancers. Onions also exhibit a variety of anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects; for the latter, this is especially true in the case of teeth and gums when eaten raw.
Shallots have the highest phenolic content, making them the onion variety highest in antioxidant and anti-cancer activity. Shallots have six times the amount found in Vidalia onion, which is the variety with the lowest phenolic content. Generally, the more pungent onions deliver more health benefits than the milder varieties. Their health-giving antioxidant properties are best preserved by cooking over a low heat, such as simmering in a soup.
Where can I find Onions?
Onions can be found year round in most grocery stores and some outdoor markets.
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