Onion Fun Facts
I usually have one foot in scientific nutrition literary and the other in tradition and wisdom of our ancestors. Customs that have stood the test of time have so much to offer our impressive, yet inadequate and sometimes confused, body of knowledge.
As you may know, I love to cook and share my recipes on this blog. The other day, I wondered if we discard valuable nutrients, when draining juice of grated onions. As far as I remembered my mom kept the juice.
” A sense of curiosity is nature’s original school of education.” (Smiley Blanton). So 5 hours later, I had a compilation of some fun info on onions. Looks like the juice is a keeper, and by the way, who the hell names their kid ‘Smiley’?
The ancient names for the onion in Sanskrit, Old Persian, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin are all different and unrelated, implying that it was cultivated independently in different regions of the world as far back as prehistoric times. Turkish legend has it that when Satan was cast out of heaven, garlic sprouted where he placed his left foot, an onion where he placed his right foot.
The ancient Egyptian Pharaohs paid the laborers of the Great Pyramid in onions and garlic. Leaders took an oath of office with their right hand on an onion, and mummies were set for the afterlife with carefully wrapped stock of onions.
The Romans carried onions on their journeys, and believed it to cure vision problems, induce sleep, and heal mouth sores, dog bites, toothaches, dysentery and etc. During the Middle Ages, onions were prescribed by doctors to facilitate bowel movements, erections and female fertility. Here is a sculpture of a Roman woman holding wheat and an onion.
Russian and other orthodox churches were designed like onions, the concentric circles symbolized eternity. During World War II, Russian soldiers applied onions to battle wounds as an antiseptic.
- The pungent juice of onions is used as a moth and insect repellent for both humans and plants. It is used to polish glass and copperware and to prevent rust on iron.
- Some cultures believe it to promote hair growth, when applied to the scalp and reduce freckles.
- Indians believe onions to be aphrodisiac.
- Buddhist teachers may advise against the consumption of onions and garlic at times, because they consider it to increases desire when eaten cooked and anger when eaten raw. This I learned first hand at Ewam Garden of Thousand Buddhas retreat with Tulku Sang-Ngag Rinpoche, two years ago.
As you can see, “It’s hard to imagine a civilization without onions.” (Julia Child) or a cuisine of any country, but onion’s disease prevention and curative powers are mainly regarded as folklore. Although, with the discovery of onion’s phenols and flavenoids and their potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cholesterol, anti-cancer properties the health benefits of onion doesn’t seem so far fetched.
Raw or Cooked ?
Onion is more active in its raw state, since cooking partly destroys the organic sulphur compounds with all the assumed health benefits. On the other hand, the raw juice is a stomach irritant and hard to digest. I assume this is the reason most cultures cook their onions, but consume a small amount of it raw every now and then.
Cry me a River?
Once cut, onion’s volatile gas is released and diffuses through the air and reaches the eye, where it activates sensory neurons, creating a stinging sensation. Tear glands produce tears to dilute and flush out the irritant. Here is some tips on how to deal with the tears and do let me know if you have more:
- Cut onions under running water or submerged in a basin of water. This maneuver is a bit risky, so please use caution.
- Leave the root intact, since it has a higher concentration of sulphur.
- Refrigerate the onions before use to reduces the enzyme reaction rate.
- Use a fan to blow the gas away from the eyes.
- Use a sharp knife to slice the onion rather than crush the cells to release all enzymes.
- Breath through your mouth to bypass the sensitive olfactory nerves.
- Light a candle to draw the gas into the flame and away from you.
- Last resort, wear goggles and suffer the torment of looking like a dork in the kitchen.
- Store in a mesh bag in a dry, cool, dark and well-ventilated place.
- If stored with other vegetables, onions decay sooner, since they draw in moisture from them.
- Deadly for pets both raw and cooked form.
So that’s my scoop on onions. Let me know if you got more fun facts.