Onions are believed to have originated in Asia. When the Israelites were in the wilderness after being led out of Egypt by Moses, they yearned for onions and other vegetables they were used to eating. Onions were used by the Egyptians as offerings to their gods. They were fed to the workmen who built the pyramids, and Alexander the Great gave onions to his troops to promote their valor.
The odoriferous onion and the dainty lily are members of the same family, Liliaceae. The substance that gives the onion its distinctive odor and flavor is a volatile sulfurous oil which is about half eliminated by boiling. This volatile oil is what causes tears. Holding onions under cold water while peeling them prevents the oil fumes from rising, so use water and spare your handkerchief.
Onions lose approximately 27% of their original ascorbic acid (vitamin C) after five minutes of boiling.
There are two classes of onions—strong and mild. The early grown onions are generally milder in flavor and odor and are preferred for raw use. Each of these two classes can be again categorized into four colors—red, brown, white and yellow. The white onions are the mildest. Each has many varieties.
Onions are also further divided by size for different uses. The smallest size is the pickling onion, also knows as pearl or button onion, and is not more than one inch thick. The next size is the boiling onion, which is usually an inch to two inches in diameter. The next larger size is preferred for chopping or grating. The very large Spanish or Bermuda onions are mild and sweet and good for slicing. They average two and one-half to two and three-quarters inches in diameter. In the trade, the term Valencia is used to mean Spanish-type yellow onions. The globe and flat-type yellow onions are generally referred to as yellows, and white onions of the globe and semi-globe types are generally referred to as whites.
Texas is the main early spring producer; California and Texas the main late spring states; California and New Jersey the most important early summer producers; and New York, Michigan, Minnesota, Colorado, California, Idaho, and Oregon the principal late summer states.
Onions are one of the earliest known food medicines, and were used for hundreds of years for colds and catarrhal disorders and to drive fermentations and impurities out of the system. The liquid from a raw onion that has been chopped up fine, covered with honey, and left standing for four or five hours, makes an excellent cough syrup. It is wonderful for soothing an inflamed throat. Onion packs on the chest have been used for years in bronchial inflammations.
Onions contain a large amount of sulfur and are especially good for the liver. As a sulfur food, they mix best with proteins, as they stimulate the action of the amino acids to the brain and nervous system. Whenever onions are eaten, it is a good idea to use greens with them. Parsley especially helps neutralize the effects of the onion sulfur in the intestinal tract.
NUTRIENTS IN ONE POUND
Protein: 6 g
Fat: 0.4 g
Carbohydrates: 36 g
Calcium: 111 mg
Phosphorus: 149 mg
Iron: 2.1 mg
Vitamin A: 160 I.U.
Thiamine: 0.15 mg
Riboflavin: 0.10 mg
Niacin: 0.6 mg
Ascorbic acid: 38 mg