Today, our Staff Writer & Managing Editor Diana Williamson discusses the underestimated onion.
Onions or “Allium cepa” are generally considered the “Plain Jane’s” of the vegetable world. You may pass them by in the supermarket and head towards the more popular vegetables such as broccoli or brussel sprouts, not realizing what a powerhouse of goodness the little ole’ onion packs.
They are appreciated in many corners of the world, for their intense flavor and variety of uses. From French onion soup to the traditional English Christmas dinner of creamed onions, the hearty onion makes itself at home in countless cuisines. These handy little vegetables don’t have a designer price, so people everywhere on a budget, are able to incorporate them into their meals.
Their cultivation dates back over five thousand years when they were buried in the tombs of Egyptian kings, to accompany them to the afterlife!
Onions were brought to the West Indies by Christopher Columbus and from there they spread throughout the Western Hemisphere. The leading producers today are Spain, Russia, China and the United States.
Onions help improve the immune system, reduce inflammation, heal infections and regulate blood sugar. Eating onions several times a week has also been proven to reduce the risk of various cancers and prevent heart attacks. Studies have also shown they can increase bone density, of particular interest to women of menopausal age.
When peeling your onions try not to remove too much of the outer skin where all the healthy flavonoids live. It’s great to know that when you simmer onions to make soup, the water retains the health benefits of the onion and isn’t lost.
When purchasing, look for crisp, dry outer skins and avoid ones with signs of sprouting, soft spots or dark patches. Store them at room temperature in a well-ventilated space, away from bright lights and heat. They’re best stored in a container with perforations such as a hanging basket- so they have air circulation. Do not store them near potatoes which can cause them to spoil more easily.
They are useful for preventing avocados from going brown. Make too much guacamole? No worries, just place slices of red onion on the guacamole in a plastic container to stop it from turning.
Onions are not just good for cooking, if you get stung by a bee, applying onion juice can alleviate the pain immediately and help get rid of the stinging sensation. If you rub an onion on your skin you can repel insects such as mosquitoes.
The skins can make wonderful natural dyes for clothing. Just put them in a pot and boil for twenty minutes, drain and use the liquid for coloring cotton clothing. One trick is to put them in a nylon before boiling so you will be left with just the dye. You can get anything from pumpkin orange to bright yellow to various shades of brown; depending on the onions and the time you let the fabric soak. Experiment until you find just the right color to suit your taste.
So you see, the often-overlooked onion is really a Prince in peasant’s clothing.