The importance of Onions
The onion is one of the most versatile ingredients in the kitchen, and for good reason: it adds a savory and rich flavor to many dishes, as well as a touch of sweetness. There are also many health benefits to eating onions; they’re a great source of vitamin C and have been found to be effective in lowering blood pressure and cholesterol.
Onions are used in a wide variety of dishes, from soups and stews to casseroles and stir-fries. They can be roasted or sautéed on their own or with other vegetables or meats, chopped or sliced into rings, or chopped finely. They’re delicious when cooked into pasta sauce or when mixed with pickles and other raw vegetables.
There are two basic types of onions: sweet onions and pungent onions. Sweet onions come in both yellow and white varieties; they tend to be very mild in flavor, with low amounts of sulfuric compounds (which cause the strong taste). Pungent onions come in red, white, yellow, and several varieties that are colored purple. These are much stronger in flavor than sweet onions they’ve got more sulfuric compounds which means they’re better for dishes where you want their strong flavor to really shine through, like stews, soups
Onions and the benefits of fruit and vegetable are often overlooked, but they deserve a special place in our kitchens. We use them for everything from adding flavor to our home-cooked meals to healing cuts. Here are a few facts about onions that every cook should know:
- Onions have been cultivated for approximately 7,000 years. The onion’s scientific name is “Allium cepa”, and its history dates back to at least the year 3700 BC in Babylon.
- Onions were used as the first anesthetic. In the late 1700s, chemist Joseph Priestly discovered that onions produce a gas similar to nitrous oxide, which was used as an anesthetic until the discovery of chloroform in 1847.
- The onion effect is real. According to a study performed in 2009, people who cut onions cry less than those who watch other people cut onions because smelling an onion activates the same pain perception centers of the brain as actually being cut by one.
- Onion juice can heal a wound faster and make it less noticeable. For example, onions have been used to heal cuts for thousands of years—they act as antiseptics and prevent infection by destroying bacteria on your skin. They also stimulate healing so you won’t suffer from scar
Onions are a must-have ingredient that brings out the flavor of so many different foods. They’re in just about any food you can think of and they are especially important in Mexican, Italian, French, and Chinese cuisine. An onion’s pungent taste makes it one of the most versatile vegetables you can have on hand—in fact, it’s so versatile that I almost hesitate to call it a vegetable. After all, onions are more than welcome in savory and sweet dishes alike, like a classic caramelized onion tart or a rich chocolate cake with caramelized onions.
But while you know how good an onion is for cooking with, do you know why? Let’s break down what makes an onion taste the way it does.
The layers of an onion contain specific compounds that react once peeled and cut open. When you chop up an onion, its cells are damaged and begin to release enzymes (one example being alliinase) that cause changes within each cell. The cell walls begin to break down and create new flavors when the enzymes come in contact with certain chemicals (such as thiosulfate or allyl disulfides) already contained within the cells. The process of making these new compounds is called oxidation and continues until onions reach a brown
Onions are the unsung heroes of the culinary world.
- They add depth and flavor to almost everything you cook, yet they’re usually overlooked.
Don’t let their humble appearance fool you if you learn how to use them, onions will make your food taste better than anyone else’s.
In a friendly tone: If you’re anything like me, you’ve been told to avoid eating too many onions because of their overwhelming odor. The truth is, however, that it’s not the onion itself that smells; it’s what happens when you bite into one, releasing an enzyme called alliinase into the bloodstream and letting the sulfur compounds spread throughout your body, which then break down in your lungs and forms a gas that gives off the smell we associate with onions. And this breakdown process–whereby onions go from being a bulbous piece of vegetable to a pungent addition to certain dishes–acts as the catalyst for the most useful trait of onions: their healing powers.
The benefit of having onions on hand isn’t just limited to their ability to heal various ailments; they also serve as a veritable kitchen sink. They can be used as part of everyday cooking (think soup and stew) and as part of medicinal concoctions (think chicken soup and hot toddies). Onions are great for cleaning surfaces, shining silverware, removing odors from hands after chopping garlic or onion, repelling insects, and dandruff prevention. the list goes on. And if you haven’t tried eating raw onion before, I’ll tell you how beneficial this can
Onions are an example of a food that can make or break your cooking. While onions themselves are relatively inexpensive, it’s worth remembering that all you need to do to get the most out of them is to slice them in half, soak them in water for about 30 minutes, and then dry them off with paper towels before cutting. This is called “sweating” and will mellow out any harshness the onion may have. Onions contain sugar that draws moisture from the air, which dissolves the sugars and enhances their flavor. To get the best flavor from onions, you want to bring out as much sweetness as possible by allowing them to sweat first.
I’ve seen a lot of pretty gardens, but some of the most beautiful are those created by my friend Sarah. She’s got a knack for taking an empty patch of land and turning it into something lovely in just a few short months. I’m always fascinated to see what she’s done with her space, so I asked her to tell me about it. Here’s what she had to say:
An empty patch of dirt is just that empty. Even if it’s situated right next to your house or right outside your door, without anything planted you’ll get a sense of emptiness, because there will be nothing growing and blooming to add color and life. It just goes to show how important planting something is it can change the entire feel of your surroundings.
A friend who used to live in an apartment once gave me a gift card for my birthday, and she told me that I could use it either for myself or buy something for her. At the time I had no idea what I was going to get for her, but as soon as I saw the gift card I knew exactly what I wanted: some pretty little plants. They were only $5 each at the store where I bought them, but they instantly transformed that patch of dirt