Onion is considered as a vegetable grown from the plant that belongs to the same family as Garlic- The Allium family. The word onion is derived from Latin word ‘unio’ that means ‘single’. The reason for this name is that plant of onion produces only a single bulb in contrast to garlic that produces several bulbs. Onion has number of layers inside that are concentrically arranged. Its pungent smell and intense flavor makes it an indispensable part of all cuisines imaginable. Onion chutney, chicken with spring onions, onion capsicum pizza and crispy onion pakodas are some of the popular onion dishes that are well-liked in international cuisine.
History of Onion
Onions have been grown for over five thousand years in the regions of Asia and Middle East. Egyptians also used to give onions as a payment to the workers who build pyramids. They also used to keep onions in the tomb of Egyptian kings. During middle age, onions were an important ingredient in European cuisine and throughout history it has been revered as an inexpensive ingredient in every meal.
Culinary Use of Onion
Onion is found to be used in a number of recipes and food preparations. The sharp, spicy, tangy, mild, pungent and sweet flavors of different varieties of onion make it a very common and popular ingredient in culinary world. Fresh, frozen, canned, caramelized and dehydrated onion can be used in large number of dishes such as salads, curry dishes, baked items and pickles. Onion is mainly used as an aromatic ingredient in curry dishes. Soups and stocks also get their flavor from onion. Onion powder is also a very popular spice used as a seasoning in cooking.
Cuisines Commonly Making Onion Dishes
With huge production of onion in India, Iran and Pakistan, the cuisines here make extensive use of onions in cooking. Onion dishes are widely made with either raw or cooked onions. Onion paste forms the base for curry dishes and raw onion is eaten as a side dish. In Australian cuisine, pickled onion is served as a side dish with fish and chips. Pickled onion with cheese is a very common onion dish in UK. The classic ‘Mirepoix’(French name for combination of onion, carrot and celery) is mainly used to flavor soups and stocks.
Preferred Methods for Cooking Onion
As onion is one of the most widely used vegetable in almost all cuisines, it can be cooked or used in numerous ways. Here is the list for most preferred methods of cooking onions:
• Grounded – Grounded onion is used as a paste in making curry dishes. Chicken curry, lamb curry and mixed vegetable curry are some of the popular dishes that contain ground onion paste.
• Chopped – Most of the time onion is chopped before adding to any onion dish. Chopped onion is easy to sauté or fry. It gives intense flavor to the dish.
• Dehydrated – Onion is dehydrated and onion powder is made to be used as seasoning ingredient in various onion dishes.
• Caramelized- Caramelized onion is mainly used as a garnish in various savory onion dishes.
• Pickled – Onion pickle is a very commonly eaten snack in almost all cuisines. The taste of the onion dishes depends upon the variety of the onion used.
Nutritive Value of Onion
Onion is still a subject of research in terms of its nutritional value, as scientists agree that onions have the power to prevent and treat certain illnesses but yet to discover the exact substances that have these remarkable healing powers. Some of the health benefits of onion are as follows:
• May help to lower blood cholesterol level and reduce the risk of coronary heart diseases.
• Prevent blood clotting. It is claimed that onion contains a substance that increase the rate at which clots are broken down.
• Used as a decongestant in traditional medicines.
• May help to reduce the risk of cancer. Raw onion and onion dishes contain sulphur compounds that are helpful in preventing growth of cells causing cancer.
• The juice of onion is highly nutritious and helps in preventing infection.
• It is also claimed the application of onion may remove acne and warts, though it is not confirmed yet. Experiments show that onion, weather cooked or raw, contain sulfur compounds that act as a preventive measure in various diseases and infections. Cooked onion dishes and raw onion both contains phenols and flavonoids that are very good anti-oxidants.
Buying and Storing of Onion
• Always choose fresh and well-shaped onions. Any cavity or opening in the neck of the onion makes it low-graded.
• Dark patches and sprouts on onion are the signs of decay.
• It is recommended to buy organically produced onions as they are not processed with any chemical to avoid sprouting.
• Scallions with green and fresh leaves should be purchased.
• Room temperature is best for storing onions. Properly ventilated place is well-suited for keeping onions, such as a wire hanging basket or a vegetable rack.
• Scallions should be stored in refrigerator for at least one week.
• Always store onions away from potatoes as potatoes may absorb the moisture from the onions and spoil them.
• Onion dishes and cut onions can be stored in refrigerator for at least 2-3 days.
Types of Onion
There are almost 10 varieties of onions existing. Some of them are as follows:
• Shallots – Also popularly known as ‘multiplier onion’ and it is usually formed in clusters like garlic. ‘Kanda’ is the Indian name for shallot.
• White onion – It is a kind of dry onion that has pure white flesh. White Onion is widely used in Mexican cuisine.
• Spring onion – This type of onion is mainly used in salads and it is a sweet variety. Also known as scallion.
• Spanish onion – It has mild and sweet flavor and best suited for eating raw.
• Red onion – These types of onions are also called purple onions that has red outer skin with white flesh inside.
• Vidalia – This type of onion is sweet in taste and gets its name from the region where it is grown in Georgia.
• Empire sweet – This is a kind of mild onion with sweet flavor. Often used to flavor soups and dried to make onion powder. All varieties have their own characteristics and flavors but the nutritional value of all the onions is almost similar.