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red onion and cheddar

Why The Health Benefits of Onions Are Worth Crying Over

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Onion got its name from the Latin word unio, which means ‘oneness’ as it consists of a single bulb

Onion’s Medicinal and Health Benefits Wrapped In A Bulb

Envision earth 5,000 years ago. Humans all across the world sustaining their life from what they caught and grew to eat from the land they lived on. Onions played a big part of this human diet so many years ago. An onion, named from the Latin word unio, this strong bulb grown and transported easily, less perishable than other vegetables, is (and was) best known for its tight circular layers holding a strong smell and taste.

Can you imagine back so long ago the reputation of an onion? It was thought of as magical. The smell of onions when cut, the circle upon circle structure depicting eternal life, the uses by health gurus as a healing medicine; so much power that these onions held for different cultural populations. The Egyptians buried their dead with onions and in India the celebrated medical Ayurvedic book from Charaka Samhita told of onion’s healing properties. 

Now in present day, onions still hold so much nutrition and medicinal properties within its tight circular bulb. Onions are an affordable and available food source. They add flavor to dishes and do not need refrigeration. They seem almost perfect! But they are strong and make you cry when you cut them. And that is why I wrote this article.

Here is how and why you should add a daily onion to your diet (for your kids too), just like the human population did 5,000 years ago.  And here is how to do it with making less tears in the process.

Health benefits of onions

Who hasn’t cried over an onion? It is the sulfur compounds from onions that make you cry and it is exactly those sulfur properties which help make an onion full of health benefits.

Sulfur is a powerful antioxidant which protects you against heart disease and cancer. Onions also contain high amounts of quercetin, an anti-inflammatory antioxidant. Onions are also rich in saponins and allyl sulfides, more properties that help hinder tumor growth, lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

All good reasons to eat onions. But that is not all, because onions have medicinal powers too.

Medicinal properties of onions: from a cough syrup to bee stings calmer and sinus reliever

onions and sugar

While ancient texts write about the medicinal powers of onion as a joint pain reliever, digestion aide and as a diuretic. But I have personal experience about the medicinal properties of onions.

About a month ago I was visiting my friend in Paris. She had this horrible cough that wouldn’t go away and the coughing was keeping her up at night. Voila, she found a natural medicinal concoction from onions that helped calm her cough. Onion cough syrup, simple to make (must let it sit overnight first) and it works. I tried the onion cough syrup taste myself, it was good and tasted better than a cough syrup you buy at the pharmacy. You can see the picture of the syrup above (you take a few sips of the syrup when the cough is bad). Here is the recipe: Onion Cough Syrup from Vintage Amanda.

Another way I use onions is to ease the pain of a bee sting. Hopefully you will not need to try this (!), but if you do get stung by a bee,  immediately cut an onion in half and place it on the sting and leave it there for 10 minutes or so until the pain goes down. I have used it on my kids and myself and it helps the pain and inflammation from the sting.

Eating raw onions is also a good medicinal way to clear your sinus passages. One of my favorite late night snacks is red onion and cheddar cheese (like in the picture) and I do swear that eating raw onions helps you breathe in more clearly. I have tried the raw onion therapy during a bad cold with sinus congestion and it works well too. Yellow or white onion are hard to eat raw as they are so strong, but a red or sweet Vidalia onion that has less sulfur compounds and could be eaten raw, as these varieties are more tolerable to the mouth and stomach.

red onion and cheddar

Onions poisonous or protector against the flu?

Although onions have strong basis for medicinal properties, they do not perform miracles. One of the strongest rumors circulating on the web is that onions have flu protector properties and that onions become poisonous if cut in half and left out overnight. Neither of these theories are true. The most popular article published here on the blog was written about that rumor. You can read the full article here: “Onions, Flu Protector or Poisonous?”

Cannot eat an onion because they are so strong? Here’s how to calm your crying and the taste.

Given the high health benefits of onions, these powerful bulbs should be part of your daily diet, right? But do you find the taste too strong or thought of crying over an onion too much to handle? What about wanting your kids to eat onions but they also find the taste difficult for their young palates?

Here are some solutions:

  • Marinating onions for a few hours before eating. Chez nous (my house) we eat a green salad or two a day. I add raw chopped onion to the salads but my children find the taste too strong and pick the onions out (for me to eat!). My solution that works: chop the onion in a bowl and add the same vinegar and oils you would use on your salad. Let onions sit for about three hours. Then mix these marinating onions into your green salad and serve. My kids will eat onions this way (and you might like it too) because they have become softer and more tolerable to eat. Try it and tell me what you think!

marinated onions

  • Putting sliced onions into cold water for an hour before serving. Do you like the texture of raw onions on your hamburger, salad or sandwich but find them too strong? Slice up your onions and put them in a bowl of cold water. After an hour, take them out and serve. (Thanks to this article for the idea). The cold water pulls the sulfur compounds out of the onion and into the water and makes the taste less strong. Note: the sulfur compounds contribute to part of an onions’ health benefits. By removing some of sulfur to stay in the cold water, you get less health benefits. But if this is the only way for you to eat a raw onion, then ‘go for it!’
  • Putting an onion in a freezer for half hour or a refrigerator for an hour before cutting. Can’t stand crying over an onion? Getting the onion cold before cutting will really cut down on the crying. But once the onions get to room temperature they will be strong again. This trick only helps for cutting them.
  • Sprinkle lemon or lime juice on the onion to ‘cook them’ for a few hours ceviche style. Lemon or another acid helps to ‘cook’ the onion before it is added to salads or other fresh foods. This trick makes them less strong as the onion is half cooked.

Lastly, even though the highest health benefits come from eating onions raw, you can always sauté the onions and add them to your favorite recipe. They still add high nutrition and taste and are a cost-effective way to have a fresh product in your daily diet.

Onions have a high nutrition to cost ratio

I consider the onion an essential part of any kitchen’s pantry. Onions are one of the cheapest costing fresh foods you can buy at just about any grocery store. Don’t hesitate to buy different varieties and to experiment. The best way to get onion’s health benefits is to consume the onion in its raw state and I hope this article has given you ideas and incentive to do this.

Please share your ideas and other recommendations on how you use onions. While I do not consider onions having magical properties (like preventing the flu), I do feel that onions pack a lot of nutrition in for the dollar.
Bon Appetit!

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Warmly, Mary


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