We eat them in many different dishes, raw, cooked, and roasted. Sometimes, cutting them up makes you cry.
Onions are a staple in almost every kitchen, but still, most people know very little about them. Let us start with the basics.
Is onion a vegetable?
Onion is indeed a vegetable of the species Allium. It’s vegetable because vegetables are edible parts of plants that include the leaves, as with lettuce, the stem (celery), the roots (when it comes to carrots), and of course bulbs – which is what the edible parts of onions are, the round part, not counting the leaves. Onions produce balls covered with tiny flowers ready for pollination, and their seeds are ready for harvesting during the second year.
The species Allium also includes, for example, garlic, shallots, chives, and leek.
What Kinds of Onions Are There?
There are over twenty kinds of onions, all with different sizes, colors, and tastes. The most popular onions are:
- White Onion
- Red Onion
- Vidalia Onion
- Spanish Onion
- Cippolini Onions
- Maui Onion
The popular, everyday onion most people go for in the supermarket is the white onion.
While you can hardly go wrong with white onion, it is worth considering whether there might not be a variety that fits better with the dish you plan to prepare.
The second-most popular variety that most people know is the red onion – those are best when eaten raw and are therefore a beloved ingredient of sandwiches and salads.
Another onion that is perfect when eaten raw is the Vidalia onion. It has a sweet taste and works well on top of burgers.
Another variety that belongs to the so-called sweet onions is the Spanish onion.
It is unique because it has a lower water content than most onions. As such, it is especially well suited for making onion rings that are deliciously crispy instead of soggy!
There are also Cipollini onions, a name that is a bit superfluous since “cippolini” already means “little onions” in Italian.
As the name says, they are smaller than the red or white onions you know and they also have a higher content of residual sugar which makes them especially good for caramelizing.
Another specialty onion is the Maui onion.
They are grown on the slopes of a dormant volcano on the island of Maui, Hawaii, and are thus very rare, since they are only cultivated in the volcanic soil of about 400 acres of land.
This has only been a small glimpse into the world of specialty onions – it is definitely worth looking deeper into and starting to experiment a bit more when it comes to cooking and roasting onions.
Why Are Onions Good For You?
All plants of the Allium species have an array of helpful health benefits. Onions are good for you as they belong to so-called nutrient-dense foods, which means that they are low in calories but high in minerals and vitamins. Onions are particularly high in vitamin C, which boosts the immune system and acts as an antioxidant in your body, which means that they protect your cells against unstable molecules.
Vitamin C also helps with iron absorption – your body needs iron to make hemoglobin, a protein in the red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to the other parts of your body.
Onions also are rich in B vitamins, which are necessary for a healthy metabolism, nerve function, and cognitive function.
Potassium is also contained in onions, which the human body needs, for example, for the kidneys and muscles.
The antioxidants onions contain can also help lower cholesterol levels and could thus possibly prevent heart diseases.
While dairy is the most commonly known source for healthy and dense bones, onions are also known to help with bone density and thus prevent osteoporosis, making them a supportive staple food especially for lactose intolerant people or those who go without dairy for other reasons.
There also have been studies about how certain examples of Allium like onions and garlic might prevent cancer, especially intestinal cancer, but even though the findings have been positive so far, the question has not been widely researched enough to be stated as a fact, so we have to await further studies.
Aside from the nutrients they contain, onions can also help people who want to use less salt and sugar in their cooking, because they add, depending on the kind of onion and preparation method, a more salty, savory, or sweet flavor.
Alicia is the senior content editor and writer here at Food FAQ. She has extensive experience with acid reflux, heartburn, GERD, and various supplements. When not eating food for “research”, she’s watching “Friends” for the 100th time.