Friday, July 24, 2015

Onions 101

The onion is a widely cultivated vegetable and is part of the Allium Genus. The Allium Genus also includes garlic, chives, scallions, shallots and leeks as well as several wild species. The onion is a biennial or perennial plant but is treated like an annual and harvested in its first growing season. The onion plants grow best in fertile soil that is well drained. They are highly susceptible to pests and disease. The plant is made up of the bluish green hollow leaves and a bulb that begins to swell after a certain number of growing days. The leaves die back and the outer layer of the bulb becomes dry. After harvesting the onions are dried or cured and then are either ready for use or for storage. Onions commonly are white, yellow or red and can be bred to a smaller size like a pearl onion. For information about different varieties check out this page at and Saveurs Onion Guide.

The Allium Cepa or common onion or bulb onion is unknown in the wild. It has been bred for cultivation for over 7,000 years. Bulbs from the onion family are thought to have been used as food for over a millennia. In a Bronze Age settlement, traces of onions were found alongside date stones and figs. Onions are grown all over the globe with the largest 2010 producers being China first, followed by India, United States, Egypt and Iran.

Did you know that the ancient Egyptians worshipped the onion believing its spherical shape and concentric rings symbolized eternal life? Onions have been found in Egyptian burial chambers and were found in the eye sockets of Ramesses IV. The Roman Gladiators rubbed down with onions to firm up their muscles and in the Middle Ages people paid their rent with onions supporting the notion that onions were considered a valuable commodity. New York was called “ The Big Onion” way before it was renamed “The Big Apple” as you could keep peeling away the layers but never get to the core! For more fun facts go to the website and To learn more about onions go here.

For a fun clip from Shrek about Ogres and Onions click here!

To Store

Here are some frequently asked questions about the storage of onions as answered by the National Onion Association.

Q: What is the best way to store onions?
A: Dry bulb onions should be kept in a cool, dry, well ventilated place. Do not store whole onions in plastic bags. Lack of air movement will reduce their storage life. Sweet onions have a higher water content than storage onions, making them more susceptible to bruising, and a shorter shelf life than storage varieties. One way to extend the shelf life of a sweet or high water content onion is to wrap each one in paper towels or newspaper and place them in the refrigerator to keep them cool and dry.

Q: How do I store whole peeled onions?
A: Whole peeled onions should be properly refrigerated at 40°F or below. (Source: USDA)

Q: After I cut or use part of an onion, how long will it keep?
A: Chopped or sliced onions can be stored in a sealed container in your refrigerator at the proper temperature of 40°F or below for 7 to 10 days (Source: USDA). For pre-cut fresh or frozen products, always use and follow manufactures "use by" dates.”

For more ideas about onion storage check out this page.

To Nourish

Biotin, Manganese, Cooper, Vitamins B6, C and B1, Fiber, Phosphorus and Potassium are just a few nutrients found in the onion. Onions are rich in sulfur containing compounds, while giving them a pungent smell provide an array of health benefits. These include improved cardiovascular health, the support of bones and connective tissue, anti-inflammatory properties, cancer protection, blood sugar regulation to name just a few. To find out more about the health benefits of onions go here.

To Prepare

Onions are a culinary staple utilized in countless ethnic dishes. Onions add color, texture and flavor to many dishes. They can be braised, boiled, steamed, baked, grilled, sautéed, caramelized, roasted and fried as well as preserved. Here is a helpful color, flavor and usage guide from the National Onion Association.

Below are a few tips from the pros at the National Onion Association on how to best prepare and cook your onions.

Onion Preparation Tips
•Prepare onions as close to cooking or serving time as possible. An onion's flavor deteriorates and its aroma intensifies over time.
• Refrigerate onions 30 minutes before preparation to prevent tearing.
• To remove the smell of onions, rub hands and equipment with lemon juice or salt.
• Properly refrigerated, chopped or sliced onions can be stored in a sealed container for 7 to 10 days.
• High heat makes onions turn bitter. When sautéing onions, always use low or medium heat.
• Yellow onions are considered all-purpose and best for cooking.

Cooking Tips
• The taste and texture of onions varies greatly depending on their preparation.
• Sautéing onions softens their texture and enriches their taste. Onions can be heated in broth or wine instead of butter or oil to lower the fat content.
• Mild/sweet onions are ideal for salads and other fresh or lightly cooked dishes.
• Full flavored onions are best for savory dishes that require longer cooking times or more flavor. They often have a peppery taste, characteristic of a good cooking onion.”

For a Culinary Instructors guide to cutting onions click here.

To Try

Escabeche-De-Cebolla - Yucatan Pickled Red Onions
Pickled Radishes and Onions
Port and Onion Chutney
Onion Marmalade
Bacon Onion Jam
Sweet Onion Relish
David Taniss Onion Confit
Big Batch Caramelized Onions
Homemade French Onion Dip
Charred Onion Dip
Beer Battered Onion Rings
Iraqi Stuffed Onions
Smoked Salmon with Cream Cheese Capers and Red Onion
Roasted Vidalia Onions with Herbed Bread Crumbs
Napa Cabbage and Red Onion Salad
Spicy Scallion and Onion Salad
Grilled Bread Salad with Sweet Peppers and Onions
Spelt Spaghetti with Kombu and Onion Broth
Tyler Florences French Onion Soup
Creamy White Onion Soup
Classic Sambar Onion Stew
Onion and Poppy Seed Bialys
Onion Naan
Rosemary and Onion Focaccia
Buttermilk Biscuits with Burnt Onion Butter
Onion Frittata
Deborah Madisons Fragrant Onion Tart
Onion and Bacon Tart
Swiss Onion Tart
Alsatian Bacon Onion Tart
Sweet Potato, Onion and Fontina Tart
Six Onion Pizza
Creamy Pearl Onion Gratin
Creamed Onion Gratin
Cabbage and Caramelized Onion Tart
Roasted Onion and Chestnut Compote
Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Onion
Kroppkakor- Swedish Potato Dumplings stuffed with Bacon and Onion
Lebanese Lentils, Rice and Caramelized Onions Mujadara
Tagliatelle with Yogurt and Fried Onions
Fettucine with Brussels Sprouts, Cranberries and Caramelized Onions
Caramelized Onion Lasagna
Poached Trout with Onions and Fennel Seed
Moroccan Baked Fish with Onions
Greek Baked Fish with Tomatoes and Onion
Djej Besla Chicken and Onion Tagine
Chicken with Caramelized Onion and Cardamom Rice
Vinegar Braised Chicken and Onions
Grilled Chicken with Red Onion Jam
Sids Onion Burger
Grilled Steak with Onion Sauce and Onion Relish
Strawberry Focaccia with Maple Balsamic Onions
Pear and Red Onion Gratin

To Use
With a quick press of the hinged frame, the Vegetable Chop & Measure Tool slices and dices hard and soft produce into a compartment underneath. It can prep fruits and vegetables with a quick push of the lid, and the slices fall into a handy container. It features four interchangeable cutters fitted with supersharp stainless-steel cutting grids; one grid makes slices and the three others produce 1/6", 1/4" or 1/2" dice. A clear plastic compartment below measures up to 2 1/2 cups of cut produce. (Williams-Sonoma, $23.99)