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Thursday, August 15, 2013



The onion (Allium cepa) also known as the bulb onion or common onion is used as a vegetable and enjoyed around the world.  While native to central Asia and the Middle East, it is cultivated  around the world.   The onion has been in cultivation for at least 7,000 years.   In ancient Greece athletes ate large quantities of onions because it was believed to lighten the balance of the blood.   Roman gladiators were rubbed down with onions to firm up their muscles.  Doctors were known to prescribe onions to facilitate bowel movements and erections., and to relieve headaches, coughs, snakebite and hair loss.   Today the consumption of onions has risen over 70% in the last two decades.   In the U.S. the per capita consumption of onions in 2009 was 20 pounds.

Common onions are normally available in three colors: yellow, red, and white.  Yellow onions, also called brown onions, are full-flavored and are the onions of choice for everyday use.  Red onions are a good choice to liven a dish with color.  They are also used for grilling, char-broiling, and roasting.  White onions have a golden color when cooked and a particularly sweet flavor when sautéed. .  White onions are traditionally used in Mexican cooking.  The large mature onion bulb is the most eaten, but also can be eaten in immature stages.  Young plants harvested before bulbing occurs are used as scallions (green onions).  Sulphuric compounds in onions are released when the onion is cut bringing tears to your eyes.  To reduce this effect you can chill the onions beforehand and cut the root end last.  Another strategy is to cut the onions under running water.   Eating parsley helps to reduce onion breath.

One of the first jobs I did in the grocery store was separating the onions from their loose skins.   The onions came loose in fifty pound bags and there were always a lot of loose skins in the bag .  I would dump the bag into a box and then take each onion separately, remove any loose skin,  and put it in another box, so they were ready to go on display.  It always amazed me how dirty my hands would get from dirt and yellow staining.   Many years later one supermarket chain I worked for  insisted that we peel the onion "down to the shine" , so it would look better on display.   They cut that out, though , when they figured out it was making the onions deteriorate faster.

Onions can be baked, boiled, braised, fried, roasted, sautéed, or eaten raw in salads.  They are an integral part of many recipes.   Onions are available fresh, frozen, canned, caramelized, pickled, and chopped.  Onions are high in vitamin C, B6, folic acid, and are a good source of dietary fiber.   Onions contain phenols and flavonoids that have potential anti-inflammatory, anti-cholesterol, anti-cancer, and antioxidant properties.  They vary in antioxidant content by variety with shallots having the highest amount and Vidalia the lowest.   Flavonoids in onions tend to be more concentrated in the outer layers of flesh.  Peel off as little as possible of the edible portion.   Most onion varieties are 89% water.

Choose onions that are clean, well shaped, have no opening at the neck, and feature crisp dry outer skin.  Avoid those that are sprouting or have signs of mold.  Cooking onions and sweet onions are better stored at room temperature.   Cooking onions have a shelf life of 3 - 4 weeks.  For sweet onions it is 1 - 2 weeks.   Sweet onions have a greater water and sugar content that reduces their shelf life.  Sweet onions can be stored in the refrigerator for about a month.  Scallions or green onions should also be refrigerated.        

So...... Don't cry! (Couldn't help it!)     Eat up, Enjoy!  I'll show you how.


Simple but good:      

Onion Rings:

Canola oil for frying
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
3 large yellow onions sliced into thin rounds

Heat oil in a deep frying pan (350 degrees).  Mix together garlic powder, basil, oregano, black pepper, and salt in a small bowl.   Whisk together flour and cornmeal in a medium bowl.  Toss onion rings in flour to coat.  Deep fry onions in two batches until crispy and lightly golden.  Drain on paper towel.  Add a large pinch of spice mix and toss.