Ode to the Onion

Books,Condiments,Cooked Vegetables,Health Tips,Vegetables

How often do you eat onions? Every day? A few times a week? If you’re not eating them at least three or four times a week, you’re missing out on good food and medicine. Onions beat red wine and tea in quercetin content. But unlike wine, eating onions won’t reduce your reflexes or get you arrested for DUI, so you can safely indulge—-any time!

6a00e552ad01da8834017c381a2aaa970b-250wiAncient food
Onions have been held in high esteem throughout recorded history and used in nearly every cuisine.  They are one of the oldest known vegetables and probably among the first cultivated crops.  Food historians estimate that man has been sowing and reaping onions for at least 5000 years and that our ancestors feasted on wild onions for thousands of years before the invention of farming and writing.

Food for life   
An onion legacy can be traced back to 3500 BC in Egypt. Illustrations of onions decorate murals in Egyptian and other ancient tombs of both the Old and New Kingdom. To the ancient Egyptians, onions symbolized eternal life (note the onion’s anatomy; it’s circle within a circle structure.

On the juice
The ancient Greeks esteemed onions.  First century A.D., physician, Dioscorides, used them therapeutically.  Greek athletes reportedly put away pounds of onions, downing them as onion juice and anointing their flesh with the same juice prior to competing in the Olympic games.

Ancient Romans also revered onions, believing they could cure vision, induce sleep, heal mouth sores, dog bits, toothaches, dysentery, and lumbago.  Emperor Nero was an avid onions and leek lover, claiming that the orb improved his singing voice and male prowess.

Ancient Chinese and Indian doctors and herbalists throughout history have highly regarded onions as medicine.

6a00e552ad01da8834017ee9bd58c5970d-320wiAncient lore legitimized

What  shall we make of this lore?  Can an onion a day really keep the doctor at bay?

Surprisingly, it may.  Modern research supports a surprising array of ancient allium-related health claims. “According to researchers in the United States and India, onions also kill the germs that cause tooth decay,” reports food historian Martin Elkort in The Secret Life of Food.

What’s the secret?  Onions contain at least 25 identified active disease combating compounds that, like garlic, posses antibacterial, antifungal, and immune enhancing properties— which may explain their efficacy in warding off colds, relieving upset stomach, and other gastrointestinal imbalances.  Onions appear to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, inhibit growth of cancer cells, reduce stroke risk, and aid in preventing heart disease.

According to researchers from the American Heart Association, avid onion eating can prevent coronary thrombosis and hypertension.  Researcher Victor Gurewich. M.D., of Tufts University, says, imbibing the juice of one yellow onion a day may raise HDL (so called good) cholesterol  by as much as 30 percent. (Oddly red onions don’t possess the same potency, though they have other benefits attributed to their red pigment.)

6a00e552ad01da8834017d42495e2b970c-320wiTake two onions and call me in the morning
“One medium sized onion contains only thirty-eight calories and as much vitamin C as two apples, one banana, one tomato, or one orange.  Onions are among one of the 10 most popular vegetables in the country,” says Elkort.  Prevention Magazine named them one of the 25 superfoods for combating heart disease and cancer.  So, an onion a day….. is a decent way to increase your odds for a healthy, well-rounded existence.

The onion’s most assertive compounds appear to be sulfur and quercetin, antioxidants able to neutralize free radicals in the body, protecting cell membranes from damage.  Onions beat red wine and tea in quercetin content. (Surprisingly, yellow onions top red onions in the antioxidant race.)  Unlike wine, onion addiction won’t reduce your reflexes or get you arrested, so you can safely indulge—-any time!   (I do… almost daily!)

Raw or cooked?  Both have benefits.  Cooking softens the bite, sweetens the pot, multiplies your options, concentrates the volume and nutrients, and allows you to eat more onions in a single sitting.  Cooking does reduce sulfur compounds slightly…. but it leaves the quercetin intact.

6a00e552ad01da8834017d42495d3b970c-320wiOh that onion breath
To avoid turning off your mate, find a consenting partner who also adores onions, suggests Elkort.  If you both consume the same amount of onions (and garlic), “the unpleasant odors will cancel themselves out.”  Whew!

I prepare onions in many ways. This recipe is one of my favorites. I like to add the cooked, caramelized onions to tossed green salads, to serve them over cooked salmon fillets, steak, beef, turkey, or lamb burgers, or over a paleo pizza crust or Chebe pizza or Chebe Focaccia. Of course you can also add them to omelets, frittatas, and many other dishes.

This recipe comes from my book, The Garden of Eating: A Produce-Dominated Diet & Cookbook. Note: If you buy two or more of my books, you’ll receive $5 off the cover price of each book when you order directly from Planetary Press.

The Garden of Eating provides plenty of onion and garlic recipes, as well as vegetable, fruit, meat, fish, poultry, nut, and egg recipes, along with tons of tips for eating produce-and protein-rich, whole foods meals, stocking and organizing your kitchen and cooking with multiple meals in mind.

6a00e552ad01da8834017c381a2bdb970b-250wiRoasted Onions

Prep: 10 minutes/ Cooking: 40 to 50 minutes/ Yield: 3 to 4 cups; 6 to 8 servings

Roasted onions add a rich, sweet taste and texture to tossed green salads and main-dish salads taht include meat. I often make this first thing in the morning (in the toaster oven during hot weather) with several days in mind. Leftovers taste great chilled or warmed in the toaster oven. Try different varieties of onions and different herbs and spices.

2 to 2 1/2 pounds white, yellow or red onions, 8 to 10 cups sliced
2 tablespoons avocado oil or unrefined coconut oil
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper or lemon pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons dried, crumbled oregano, sage thyme, powdered rosemary, or Herbs de Provence
4 shallots, peeled and quartered or 1/2 head garlic, optional

  • Preheat oven to 400˚ F. Break garlicinto individual cloves, peel, and set aside. Trim, halve, peel, and cut each onion into sixths or eighths to make wedges, into 1-inch cubes, or thin crescents or half-moons. Combine onions, oil, pepper, and herbs in a 9x9x2-inch baking pan and toss to coat. Use a 13x9x2-inch pan for a double batch.
  • Roast uncovered for 15 minutes, then stir top to bottom. Add garlic or shallots if desired. Roast for 15 more minutes and stir. Roast 10 more minutes or until lightly golden and tender.
  • Serve or cool, and refrigerate in covered glass container or jar. Use within 4 days.

1 serving: 103 calories, 2 g protein, 13 g carbohydrate (3 g fiber), 5 g fat, 37 mg calcium, 5 mg sodium


  • Roasted Pearl Onions: Plunge 4 pints of pearl onions into boiling water for 1 minute. Drain and rinse under cold water. Cut off ends and slide off skins, leaving onions whole. Arrange in 1 large or 2 small roasting pans that will hold onions in 1 layer.

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