Onions Hot and Sweet to Spice Up Your Cooking
Onion is a pungent spice that comes from the Allium cepa plant, a member of the lily family, Liliaceae. Its underground storage bulb is round to somewhat flattened and consists of several layers. Once harvested from the ground the bulbs are dried for a short time so that the outermost layer dries to a paper-thin protective covering. Allium cepa is native to Asia and it’s been cultivated since ancient times.
The green leafless shoots of the onion grow a couple of feet tall and terminate with small white and green flowers. After experiencing a couple of weeks of warm weather the bases of the shoots swell into the bulbous structure that is recognized the world over as an onion. The longer the bulb is kept in the ground the larger the onion will be.
The green shoots are also edible, and when eaten at this young stage, onions may be called spring onions, green onions, green tails or scallions. The flavor is mild and the entire shoot may be added to salads or prepared dishes and used as a seasoning or garnish.
Onions are commonly eaten as a vegetable by adding them to soups, stews, vegetable dishes, and alone as a cooked vegetable or pickled. Adding onions to any dish provides some zest although cooking mellows the flavor. Some kinds are known for being hot and others are more sweet than hot. Small cooking and many white onions are on the hotter side. Red or Italian onions are mild and decorative with their red rings, so they’re often eaten raw, in salads, or on sandwiches. Vidalia, Candy and Walla Walla cultivars are sweeter varieties that are appreciated raw.
When cutting onions a chemical is released that causes your eyes to water. You can actually feel your eyes burn a little when you’re slicing a hot one. Some cooks chill the onions before cutting into them or cut them under running water in attempts to avoid this tearful side-effect.
Fresh onions are available year round as they typically can be stored for weeks after harvest. Onions may also be dehydrated, then ground, minced or chopped and used as a spice for flavoring many savory dishes. Onion powder may be mixed with salt to make onion salt or used in other spice mixtures. Onions can also be purchased frozen, pickled, or as onion juice.
Therapeutically speaking, onions have diuretic, antiseptic and expectorant properties that are accentuated in the raw state. Some people object to the lingering onion breath that is a side-effect of eating foods with onion, especially raw. Freshen onion breath by chewing on some fennel seeds, anise seeds, whole cloves or fresh parsley.