Monday, 18 May 2009
ONION is a term used for the many plants in the Allium genus (part of the lily family). It is one of the oldest vegetables known to humankind. It is strong yet sweet and don't just add flavour but also richness and complexity to dishes. ONIONS are found in a large number of recipes and preparations spanning almost the totality of the world's cultures.
It is thought that bulbs from the ONION family have been used as a food source for millennia. In Bronze Age settlements, traces of onion remains were found alongside fig and date stones dating back to 5000 BC. However, it is not clear if these were cultivated ONIONS.
The Ancient Egyptians worshipped it, believing that its spherical shape and concentric rings symbolized eternal life. ONIONS were even used in Egyptian burials as evidenced by ONION traces being found in the eye sockets of Ramesses IV. They believed that, if buried with the dead, the strong scent of onions would bring breath back to the dead.
In ancient Greece, athletes ate large quantities of ONIONS because it was believed that it would lighten the balance of blood. Roman gladiators were rubbed down with ONIONS to firm up their muscles. In the Middle Ages, ONIONS were such an important food that people would pay their rent with ONIONS and even give them as gifts. Doctors were known to prescribe ONIONS to facilitate bowel movements and erection, and also to relieve headaches, coughs, snakebites and hair loss. The ONION was introduced to North America by Christopher Columbus on his 1492 expedition to Hispaniola. ONIONS were also prescribed by doctors in the early 1500s to help with infertility in women and even to dogs and cattle and many other household pets. However, recent evidence has shown that dogs, cats, and other animals should not be given ONIONS in any form, due to toxicity during digestion.
The characteristic appearance of the ONION is well known, but there are many variations of colour, shape and size. The colour varies from white to red to purple, the shape from spherical to almost conical, and the diameter at the largest point from 10mm (1/2in) to 8cm (3in) or 'more. ONIONS should be firm, though not rock hard. The papery skin should be tight over the surface of the bulb. Spring onions, or scallions, are immature plants where the bulb has not completely formed. They may be cylindrical, the green stem shading into the white bulblet, which may be almost spherical.
ONIONS are available in fresh, frozen, canned, pickled, powdered, chopped, and dehydrated forms. ONIONS can be used, usually chopped or sliced, in almost every type of food including cooked foods and fresh salads and as a spicy garnish. They are rarely eaten on their own but usually act as accompaniment to the main course. Depending on the variety, an ONION can be sharp, spicy, tangy and pungent or mild and sweet.
ONION’S antiseptic properties as a juice or paste have been used for wound healing, skin complaints (acne), insect bites, hemorrhoids, boils, toothache, earache and respiratory complaints. The raw juice is diuretic and the whole ONION is an appetite stimulant and digestant. It has been used as a vermifuge. It is believed to stimulate the liver and is beneficial to the heart and nervous system.
We tend to tear when peeling or slicing ONIONS because of the release of sulphenic acid in ONIONS which are produced by the reaction of the enzyme alliinase on an amino acid. These substances are normally in separate cells in the ONION’S tissues, but when the ONION is cut and bruised, the cells rupture and the reaction takes place. Sulphenic acids are unstable and spontaneously rearrange into a volatile gas called syn-propanethial-S-oxide. The gas diffuses through the air and eventually reaches the eye, where it binds to sensory neurons, creating a stinging sensation. Tear glands produce tears to dilute and flush out the irritant. Cooking has the opposite effect, preventing the enzymatic action and thus, a milder and less pungent flavour is produced. To prevent the eyes from watering, peel ONIONS under cold water or put them in the freezer for ten minutes before chopping.
Hindi: pe(e)az, piaz, pyaz
Indonesian/Malay: bawang merah, daun bawang (spring onion)
Japanese: naganegi (spring onion), negi, nira (chive), rakkyo (Chinese onion), tamanegi
Tamil: vungium, vunguim
Thai: hua horm, ton horm (spring onion)
Source: Wikipedia and The Epicentre