That’s a Shrek reference. And this article, if you haven’t guessed, is about onions.
Onions have been cultivated for thousands of years, with traces of onions being found in Bronze Age settlements as far back as 5,000 BC. They were among the earliest cultivated crops because they are portable, less perishable than other crops, easy to grow, and can be grown in a variety of climates and soils.
Ancient Egyptians attached great religious significance to onions, with its spherical shape and rings symbolizing eternal life. Onions have been found in mummies, and on paintings in pyramids and tombs. Onions were also important in the Middle Ages, where they were often used as currency and given as gifts.
Onions were taken to the Americas by the earliest settlers. The Native Americans were already using native onions for a variety of purposes. Doctors were known to have prescribed onions for infertility, hair loss, and relieve headaches.
Onions are are a culinary all-star. They can be found in a huge range of dishes, in nearly every ethnic cuisine, and in every meal from breakfast to midnight snacks. World onion consumption is about 105 billion pounds. Americans eat about 20 pounds of onions per person per year.
Onions are grown in more than 20 states in the US, by less than 1,000 farmers on about 125,000 acres of land, and producing over 6 billion pounds. Those 6 billion pounds account for 4% of the world onion supply. Washington is the top producing state, followed by Idaho and California.
Bulb onions can be yellow, white, or red. Approximately 87 percent of the crop is devoted to yellow onion production, with about eight percent red onions, and five percent white onions. There are hundreds of varieties that fall into these three color categories.
Yellow onions have a strong, onion-y flavor, and are the workhorse of the cooking world, since they are excellent in just about any dish. Yellow onions fall under three main categories: sweet, fresh/mild, and storage. Yellow sweet onions are in season from March – September and have a mild, sweet onion flavor. Yellow sweet onions are excellent raw or lightly cooked. Fresh/mild yellow onions are in season March-August, have a more pungent onion flavor, and are best served raw or lightly cooked. Storage onions are in season August-May, and have a strong onion flavor. Storage onions are wonderful for heavier preparation, including caramelizing, roasting, grilling and sauteeing.
Red onions have gained popularity in the past decade or so because they add a pretty dash of color to dishes. They also fall under the same three categories as yellow onions. All three categories are best served raw, grilled or roasted. Sweet red onions are in season March-September, have a crisp, mild onion flavor. Fresh/mild red onions are available March-September and are less juicy and more pungent than sweet red onions. Red storage onions are in season August-May and have a sharp, spicy onion flavor.
White onions are commonly used in white sauces, potato and pasta salads, and in Mexican dishes. White onions fall in either the fresh/mild or storage category, no sweets. Fresh/mild white onions are in season March-August and have a moderately pungent onion flavor. White storage onions are available August-May and are have a fuller but cleaner and crisper onion flavor than yellows or reds. White onions are excellent raw or grilled, sauteed, or roasted.
Onions are also divided seasonally. Spring/summer onions can be yellow, red or white and are in-season March through August. They have thin, lighter-colored skins. They typically have a higher water content, which makes them more susceptible to bruising and reduces their storage life. Spring/summer onions are sweeter and milder and are best used raw or in lightly-cooked dishes. There are several specialty sweet onions, like
Fall/winter onions are in season August through May and also come in yellow, red, or white varieties. They have multiple layers of thick, darker skin, and are more pungent than spring/summer onions. They have a lower water content, allowing them to be stored for longer periods of time. These onions are better in dishes that require more flavor and have longer cooking times.
Onions range in size from creamer onions of 1″ or less in diameter to Super Colossal onions over 4 1/2″ in diameter. The Super Colossals are used by restaurants like the Outback for their Bloomin’ Onions. Yum! Most onions in the supermarket fall between 2 and 4″.
Onions add more than excellent flavor to dishes. They are a good source of Vitamin C, fiber, and a handful of other vitamins and minerals. Although you’d have to eat a cup…of onions…to get all that value.
Now, about onions and crying. I look at an onion and my eyes immediately tear up. I wear a pair of painting goggles when I cut onions. Onions have sulfuric compounds that cause the eye irritation. The National Onion Association recommends chilling the onion and cutting the root end last to help reduce crying. Or wear goggles. Another helpful tip they give is to eat parsley to get rid of onion breath.
Well, now you know all about onions! Hurray!
Information for this article was taken from The National Onion Association’s website: http://www.onions-usa.org/