Onions, one of the oldest vegetables, are found in a large number of recipes and preparations spanning almost the totality of the world's cultures. They are now available in fresh, frozen, canned, pickled, powdered, chopped, and dehydrated forms. Onions can be used, usually chopped or sliced, in almost every type of food including cooked foods and fresh salads and as a spicy garnish. They are rarely eaten on their own but usually act as accompaniment to the main course. Depending on the variety, an onion can be sharp, spicy, tangy and pungent or mild and sweet.
Onions pickled in vinegar are eaten as a snack. These are often served as a side serving in fish and chip shops throughout the United Kingdom and are referred to simply as "Pickled Onions". Onions are widely-used in India and Pakistan and are fundamental in the local cuisine. They are commonly used as a base for curries or made into a paste and eaten as a main course or as a side dish.
Tissue from onions is frequently used in science education to demonstrate microscope usage, because they have particularly large cells that are readily observed even at low magnifications.
Dry and spring onions are available all year-round. As a result, there is usually little need to resort to onion powder (ground dehydrated onion), onion salt (onion powder and salt), onion flakes or onion flavoring cubes, which are of inferior quality to the real thing. Pickled onions are also available.
Choose the best
Look for firm onions, with no soft spots, damp or mouldy patches. Choose from the following, according to your recipe:
- White onion: medium to large in shape, with a white papery skin and evenly white flesh. They have a strong flavour and are good for stuffing or baking; only use raw in salads if you want an assertive onion flavour.
- Yellow/brown onion: a good all-purpose onion, with a light golden skin and yellow flesh.
- Spanish onion: has a similarly coloured skin to a yellow/brown onion, but is usually bigger, as well as sweeter and milder - good for omelettes, salsas and stir-fries.
- Red onion: varies in size, but has a distinctive red/purple skin, and the edge of each of its white rings is tinged with red. The flavour is mild and quite sweet. Good for salads, marinades, salsas and roasts.
First slice off the top of the onion (leave the root on for the moment), then remove the papery skin and any brown outer layers. To chop the onion, cut in half from top to bottom. Put the cut side down and make a number of horizontal cuts towards, but not quite reaching, the root. Then make as many vertical cuts through the onion, again not quite reaching the root. Holding the onion very firmly and with the knife blade at right angles to the first set of cuts that you made, slice down vertically - the onion will fall away in small pieces as you go. Continue cutting until you reach the root, which you can now discard.
To slice, trim the root off, then cut in slices moving from the root end towards the top. Leave as slices or separate each one out into rings.
All onions are best prepared just before you use them.
Depending on their condition when purchased, dry onions will keep for several months. Store them in a cool, dry place (not the fridge as they will go soft). Once cut, wrap them up in the fridge and use within two or three days. Spring onions can be stored in the fridge for up to a week.
Gently fry chopped or sliced onion (7-10 minutes) then use as the base for pasta sauces, soups and stews. Cut into wedges and roast (40-50 minutes). Cut into rings, batter and deep fry (3 minutes). Bake (20-30 minutes).
Onions have a variety of medicinal effects. Early American settlers used wild onions to treat colds, coughs, and asthma, and to repel insects. In Chinese medicine, onions have been used to treat angina, coughs, bacterial infections, and breathing problems.
The World Health Organization (WHO) supports the use of onions for the treatment of poor appetite and to prevent atherosclerosis. In addition, onion extracts are recognized by WHO for providing relief in the treatment of coughs and colds, asthma and bronchitis. Onions are known to decrease bronchial spasms. An onion extract was found to decrease allergy-induced bronchial constriction in asthma patients.
Onions are a very rich source of fructo-oligosaccharides. These oligomers stimulate the growth of healthy bifidobacteria and suppress the growth of potentially harmful bacteria in the colon. In addition, they can reduce the risk of tumors developing in the colon.
- Very low in saturated fat
- No cholesterol
- Very low in sodium
- High in dietary fiber
- High in manganese
- High in potassium
- High in vitamin B6
- Very high in vitamin C
- Very high in sugar
French Onion Soup
Red Onion Soup with Goats Cheese
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