The first thing I remember about onions is that in science class, when I looked at an onion through a microscope, it looked like little bricks. That cellular structure has something to do with the way onions cook, and why they taste the way they do. Versatile, pungent, and delectable, the onion can be cooked in every way imaginable, from pickled to puree to grilled. Deep fried blooming onions (ala Outback Steakhouse) is currently a favored way people eat the onion.
But who were the first people to pick up an onion and take it for a spin?
Speculation says that onions either originated in Asia and were first used around 3500 BCE, or they grew natively everywhere. The onion is such a basic, and world wide food, that it’s near impossible to trace it’s origins to one exact point in history. The Chinese, who seem to be first at a lot of things from fireworks to paper, had onions in their gardens as far back as 3000 BCE. The Sumerians made note of onions around 2500 BCE, when someone plowed over the governors onion garden.
So what do we know?
The onion was worshiped by the Egyptians, who believed that it’s concentric rings and round shape symbolized eternity. They even went so far as to make onions out of gold for art. The Greek used onions to lighten the blood, and as with all things Roman, they stole from the Greek and made it their own, citing that onions would firm up one’s muscles. The Middle Age wacky physicians swore that onions cured headaches, snakebites, and hair loss. In our high science modern era, the National Cancer Institute reports that onions contain antioxidants that help block cancer and appear to lower cholesterol.
But enough about science and faux science, what about economy?
When the Pilgrims landed, they planted onions only to find that the locals had beaten them to it. No doubt they hoped for trade. Fat lot that did them. In Texas, onions sales account for up to $100 million per year, all thanks to a crop of Bermuda onions planted near Cotulla in South Texas, and were rather popular in Michigan. On top of that, onion related sales rack up $350 million for the Lone Star State each year. Georgia’s annual Vidalia Onion harvest brings some $50 million directly into their economy, and up to $150 million from other business. Onions are a $9 million business in Utah, with the counties producing around 100 million pounds a year, and the onion is the state vegetable of Utah.
And did you know the law came and played with onions?
Spades, Indiana: No onions can be purchased after 6 p.m. without a doctor’s prescription.
Wolf Point, Montana: A woman has the legal right to make her spouse eat raw onions when she catches him drinking.
Headland, Alabama: If a man has eaten an onion in the last four hours, he can’t hug or kiss an unchaperoned woman without “good and lawful reason.”
Nacogdoches, Texas: Women can’t eat raw onions after 6 p.m.
Columbia, Pennsylvania: Barbers can’t eat onions between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.
In summary, the onion is, as Alton Brown would say, good eats. Slice it, dice it, use it in soups or for soups, add it to your Au Gratin, shove it up your turkey’s butt for Thanksgiving, and caramelize them for your beans and rice. No matter how you eat an onion, it can’t be wrong.
Now excuse me, while I go eat mine raw.