Onions, I love them raw or cooked and I would never dream of a day without them – they are a staple in my kitchen. An onion is at the heart of every good meal, I say. And salad. And soup. And onion bhajis.

About onions

Onions belong to the Allium family and are related to garlic, shallots, leeks and chives. Onions can be traced back to 5000 BC although Egyptians cultivated them 2,000 years later into what we know today (at the same time they cultivated leeks and garlic). Roman gladiators rubbed themselves down with onion juice believing it firmed up their muscles. Hmmm.

The healthy bit

Onions are full of quercetin which is a plant pigment (flavonoid) that could be beneficial to our diet. Research is being conducted to see what effect it has on human diseases. They also contain phytochemicals (compounds) which improve the action of vitamin C and chromium that helps regulate blood sugar levels. Onions, in their raw state, encourage good cholesterol (HDL) production. And lastly onions are the enemy of free radicals… so that’s a few good reasons to make sure onions feature in your daily diet.


High in vitamin C
Vitamin B6 – provides 10% of your daily intake
Good source of fibre
Low in calories

Now about the taste

We identify onions by the colour of their skins:

Yellow onions

These are the most popular and most pungent because of their high sulphur content. I use them most days in casseroles, curries, stocks, meat balls and sautéed dishes. When roasting meat I always make a bed of chopped onions (with carrot, whole garlic cloves and a bay leaf) which gives something for the meat to sit on and adds wonderfully to the pan juices. By the way if you want a brown stock then simply leave the skin on.

Red onions

These are my favourite for salads, sandwiches and chutneys. I sometimes use them in curries too as they are milder and sweeter and their purpley red and white colours always enhances the plate. A few slices over the top of a curry for example.

White onions

Funnily enough they are white inside and out and are a mild version of their yellow cousins.

How to cut an onion

This may seem strange but the way you cut an onion influences it flavours. For example, slice an onion from pole-to-pole (top to tail) and it is less pungent than cutting across the equator (against the grain). I always slice pole-to-pole when making caramelised onions – a chef friend told me that sliced this way the onions break down more easily and release more of its natural sugars.

When sliced very thinly and cooked for a long time they will almost break down thickening your casserole or curry.

Don’t cry

When cutting the flesh of onions they release volatile sulphur compounds which react with the water in your eyes and forms sulphuric acid. That’s what makes you cry. Anyhow, you can peel them under running water, wear glasses, soak in water, etc. I do nothing, I simply get on with it as if it does affect my eyes then I usually use the tears for sympathy purposes – always works with grandkids and girlfriends.


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