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Summer Food Series: Onions

Most people notice their tastes and flavor preferences evolve over time. Young children tend to be especially picky between the ages of two and five years old, and this pickiness may linger well into adolescence (and maybe even beyond). More often than not, however, by the time we reach adulthood we’ve developed a taste for foods we’d have never touched as a kid.

For me, onions were public enemy number one well into my teenage years. I’ve tried to recall exactly what the tipping point was – perhaps an inadvertent sampling of white onion in a taco changed my mind, or reading Holes romanticized their flavor sufficiently – but eventually I started eating onions in many different foods.

It’s now hard for me to imagine my diet without onions, and I’m still finding new ways to enjoy them.

Like many of the foods we’ve profiled in this series, the history between people and onions goes way, way back. So far back, in fact, that it’s difficult to pinpoint where and when that history begins. The best estimates are that people have been eating onions for 5,000-7,000 years and they likely originated somewhere in central Asia.

The history of onions touches on places like Egypt (where onions were featured in mummification), Greece (the first athletes of the first Olympics ate onions and drank onion juice), and Rome (Romans used onions for a variety of medicinal purposes).

Onions, like most vegetables, are a nutrient-rich food. One cup – which is more than most people would eat in one sitting – is around 60 calories and is a good source of vitamins C and B6 as well as folate, potassium, and fiber.

While there are many, many varieties of onions, the three general types most widely in circulation are white, yellow, and red. White onions are most often featured in Mexican cuisine and pair well with cilantro. Yellow onions have a distinctively sweet flavor and turn a light brown color when cooked; French onion soup is a common use of yellow onions. Red onions have a sharper, spicier flavor that is often featured in either Asian or Mexican dishes.

Onions are endlessly versatile and can be eaten raw, fried, grilled, roasted, or virtually any way you want to eat them. It’s worth noting that onions are not good snacks for your pet dog or cat and can make them sick in certain quantities.

Onions should be stored at room temperature in a dry, cool, dark spot. Avoid placing them near other fruits or vegetables, as they may pull moisture from other items and reduce their storage time. Any cut pieces of onion should be tightly wrapped and used within 2-3 days.

All onions are notorious for their ability to trigger tears when they’re being chopped or diced. Many methods claim to reduce this effect (chewing gum, for example), but in this dietitian’s opinion the approach recommended here by Gordon Ramsay works best (be careful with the third step!).

This is the space I usually fill with recipe ideas, but this week I’ll empower you to be creative; onions can go with almost anything! Italian, Mexican, Indian, Greek, on a pizza or sandwich, in a soup, cooked or raw, you really can’t go wrong.

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