The onion or the Allium cepa of the Allium family loses out to its close cousin the garlic in terms of importance of health benefits because it has been poorly researched. As for me, the onion is one indispensible item in my kitchen and I cannot imagine cooking without onions. They make the base of my curries and add that extra zest to my main dishes.
The thought of slicing of onions can only conjure up one image, tear filled eyes. Though the onion is one vegetable that makes you cry, it is filled with loads of good health and good taste. The odour of onions and its pungency could be repelling to some and aphrodisiac to others. This odour is comparatively better than that of garlic. You could use any amount of onion in your food, but a few extra cloves of garlic could spoil the flavour and the taste of your dish. The onion is a winner on all counts for me.
History of Onion
The word onion comes from the Latin word ‘unio’ meaning unity, because it grows as a single bulb. Onions are thought to be a native of Asia and Middle East, specifically Iran and Pakistan. They have been cultivated in these regions for over 5000 years. The Egyptians considered onions precious and placed them in the tombs of the Pharaohs. They also used onions as currency to pay workers who built the pyramids. Today China, India, Spain, Russia and the US are among the leading producers of onions.
Onions are rich in carbohydrates, sugar, soluble and insoluble fiber, sodium. They are a very good source of vitamin C and so good for building your immunity. They are also a good source of enzyme-activating manganese and molybdenum as well as heart-healthy vitamin B6, fiber, folate, and potassium.
Health benefits of Onion
The Onion is surprisingly high in flavenoids, and is one of the top ten vegetables with Quercetin content. If you want to retain the flavonoid peel off only the outer dry skin, as the outer layers are more concentrated with flavenoids. The unique combination of flavonoids and sulphur makes the onion a highly recommended item in your regular diet.
Onions have been found to have anti-inflammatory properties and help in problems like rheumatoid arthritis or allergic airway inflammation. Studies show that onions help balance blood sugar levels.
Onions also have anti bacterial properties. There are many stories and folklore regarding anti bacterial properties of onions. It is supposed to have saved families from plague and other infections. The flavonoid, Quercetin in onions is what contains these anti bacterial benefits.
The anti bacterial effects of the onions act against the streptococcus mutants that cause various dental cavities and gum diseases. Thus the consumption of onions reduces dental problems and gum diseases.
Reduces the risk of cancer
Onions have also been known to reduce the risk of several cancers. The risk of colorectal cancer, laryngeal cancer and ovarian cancers is reduced even with moderate consumption of onions. A daily intake of onions is required before a significant risk reduction is seen in other cancers. What one can understand from these researches is that the regular intake of onions effectively reduces the risk of cancer.
Cardio vascular benefits
Onions in combination with a diet that is rich in other vegetables and fruits especially those that contain flavenoids protect the heart and the blood vessels. They help prevent heart attack. The problem with some of these studies is that onions are consumed in small quantities with other foods and they are never eaten by themselves. Therefore, it has been difficult to attribute some of the benefits to onions alone.
Studies suggest that the consumption of onions enhances the anti clotting capacity of blood.
Research has also shown that the sulphur compounds in onions and garlic can help reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood. These are some of the cardio vascular benefits of onions.
Health benefits for menopausal women
Women at the menopausal stage could benefit from consuming onions, as it has been known to increase bone density thus reducing the risk of fractures. The sulphur content in onions is excellent for the connective tissues as well.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) supports the use of onions for the treatment of poor appetite and in the prevention of atherosclerosis.
Onions are also used in the treatment of piles or haemorrhoids. The juice of 30 gms of onion mixed with water and sugar is administered to the patient twice a day.
In alopecia or hair loss, a topical application of onion juice has been said to initiate the re-growth of hair.
Cough, cold and asthma is often treated with a good serving of onions, as it is known to decrease bronchial spasms. Onion juice mixed with honey helps cure bronchitis and influenza.
Onions are also known to stimulate the growth of good bacteria while suppressing the growth of harmful bacteria in the colon thus reducing the risk of colon cancer.
The juice of Tulsi leaves (holy basil) with equal quantities of lemon juice and onion extract applied on the skin takes care of many skin diseases.
A slice of cut onion rubbed over acne is supposed to clear up the skin quickly by taking off the bacterial infections.
Naturopaths recommend eating onion and jaggery to increase body weight.
Eating one raw onion a day reduces cholesterol in the blood.
An excellent remedy for warts is the topical application of the juice of one finely chopped onion sprinkled with salt and left for a few hours. This needs to be repeated 3 to 4 times a day until the wart dries up.
The cure for cholera in Indian household for ages has been- one onion pounded with 7 black peppers. It lessens vomiting and diarrhoea immediately, a little sugar could be added to the mixture to increase its effectiveness.
A tea made of onions boiled in water, cooled, strained and given to patients suffering from urinary infections gives immediate relief.
In India, we would slice an onion and rub it over the sting of a bee, wasp or a mosquito to ease the discomfort.
In the treatment for chicken pox, Indian women would serve the afflicted person a bowl of curd rice with chopped onions.
According to the Guinness book of world records, the largest ever grown onion weighed 10 lbs and 14 ounces and was grown by a company in England.
Why do you cry while cutting onions? When you chop onions the sulphur contained in the onion is released into the air, this reacts with the moisture in your eyes forming mild sulphuric acid that irritates your eyes. The eyes trying to flush out the irritant is why you tear when you chop onions.
To reduce this irritation you could chill the onions before you chop them. Stand while you chop onions so that your eyes remain farther away from the onions. Use a sharp nice cuts cleanly.
Onions should be stored in well-ventilated spaces or in wire hanging baskets or perforated containers to keep them fresh for months.
I have often heard as a child that it is not good to use leftover onions. It has been found that onions stored in airtight containers and refrigerated could be used within a day or two and they do not lose their nutrient content. Storing onions in metal containers should be avoided. You could also store peeled and chopped onions in the freezer for later use.
No amount of washing seems to remove the smell of onions from your hands, but that is fine compared to your breath reeking of onions, this could be a source of embarrassment. To get rid of the smell of onions from your hands, there are various remedies – wash your hands in cold water after rubbing a little bit of salt and vinegar on to it. Some others suggest that a pinch of soda bi-carbonate would do the trick. Chewing a small sprig of parsley after eating onions could help remove the odour from your breath.
The pungent smell and rather strong flavour of the onions tends to put people off this healthy food item. Sautéing onions until they are translucent can make the pungent onions taste sweeter. A pinch of sugar not only adds to the taste of the onions but also gives it a golden brown colour.
The poorer farmers in the North of India spice up their pan cooked bread with a few slices of onions and a couple of hot green chillies, this might be for most of them all the nutrition they get through the day.
Indian curries use large quantities of onions. In fact, the base of most curries is made of a paste of onion and tomatoes. So much so, that in the rainy seasons when the onion prices go up, the government goes into a tizzy.
A huge amount of raw onions finds their way into salads every day in the Indian household.
Finely sliced onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, mixed in a cup of curd with a dash of lemon juice and salt is served with Biryani, Pulav, Roties and any kind of Indian bread.
- 4 onions finely chopped
- 6 tomatoes finely chopped
- Chilli flakes to taste
In a pan add 1 tsp of olive oil, heat it and add a tsp of mustard seeds, curry leaves. Sauté the onions add the tomatoes until they turn thick and pulpy, add chilli flakes, salt to taste. You could eat this with any Indian breads, naans or rice.
Toast 2 onions in a pan. Add 3 chopped tomatoes to the pan when the onions are sautéed. A tsp of chilli flakes and salt could be added before blending them together in a blender. This could be served with Roties.
Raitha (A salad in curd)
Chop 4 onions finely, one small cucumber peeled and diced, two tomatoes diced, one bowl curd, a handful of chopped cilantro leaves, half a tsp salt. Mix the ingredients and leave them for 10 mts before serving with Biryani, Pulav or Roties.
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