Welcome back to The Naturopathic Kitchen. Living a healthy life has its roots in the kitchen. This week we will focus on a kitchen staple – onion. Onions are used to flavor foods and also boast a number of health benefits. We will wrap things up with two amazing recipes for you to try!
The relationship between humans and onions dates back many millennia. Among the best known historical references to the onion comes from ancient Egypt. Onions were a symbol of eternity and endless life (because of their roundish shape), and were staple in religious ceremonies. They were also used as part of the mummification process. Onions have even been found painted on the walls of Egyptian structures, pyramids, and tombs.
Other ancient civilizations also have historical record of onion use. Ancient Indian medical writings mention onion as an important remedy for conditions of the heart, joints, and the digestive tract. The ancient Greeks believed onion gave one the strength of the Gods. In fact, onions were eaten by athletes in an effort to bolster endurance during the very first Olympic games.
The onion is officially a member of the allium family, also home to garlic, leeks, chives, scallions, and shallots. Although it is low in calories, onions are quite rich in vitamins and other micronutrients. Onions are a good source of B vitamins, as well as vitamins C and E. They also contain minerals like potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc and sulfur.
Where does onion come from? Where can I find it?
Even though wild onions grow on nearly every continent, they are among the oldest farmed plants. Cultivation is believed to have begun around 5500 years ago but there are multiple theories regarding the early cultivation of onions. Some believe that the first instance of a domesticated onion was in Central Asia, others believe it was in the Middle East region of Iran and West Pakistan, and still others believe it was much earlier than that – even before the creation of writing and sophisticated tools.
Today, onions come in many sizes, shapes, and colors. There are over 27 types of cultivated onion, with the yellow onion the most popular. While all onions taste like onion, they do vary in their level of sweetness and sharpness. When selecting onions at the store, look for ones that are quite firm with little to no scent. Avoid any that have cuts, bruises, or blemishes. Onions should be stored in cool, dry, dark places with air movement. They should not be stored in plastic bags. Once cut, onions can be stored sealed in the refrigerator for up to seven days.
How does onion help my health?
Due to their high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, onions are beneficial for a number of health conditions. They may play a vital role in the battle for bone health, particularly for women as they transition through menopause. That’s because a peptide found in onions has been shown to inhibit the activity of osteoclasts.1 Osteoclasts are bone cells that resorb bone tissue and can cause bones to weaken.
Onions are a beneficial source of the flavonoid antioxidant quercetin. Quercetin has demonstrated potent anti-cancer abilities, particularly for those battling lung cancer. Research has shown that quercetin has the ability to not only slow growth of cancerous cells in the lung but also to suppress metastatic spread of those cells as well.2
Consuming onions or onion-derived compounds is not the only way to reap their health benefits. Topical application with creams containing onion extract have been shown to treat skin conditions like burn scars, keloids, and surgical scars with well-tolerated success.3 Topically applied onion juice has also been used in the treatment of alopecia areata, a condition of patchy, non-scarring hair loss often affecting children.4
What medical conditions/symptoms is onion used for?
- Potent anti-obesity activity
- Regulates immune balance
- Protect against blood clots
- Guard against fatty liver (NAFLD)
- Offer neuroprotection to brain cells
- Antimicrobial powerhouses
When should onion be avoided?
Barring an outright allergy or individual digestive sensitivity to onion, contraindications for dietary onion have not been fully identified. That is, unless you are a dog. Onions should not be fed to dogs. This is due to the ability of onion to lead to anemia by weakening the red blood cells, which could even result in death in severe cases.
Let’s try out onion with these tasty recipes!
Sautéed Mushrooms and Onions
2 T olive oil
1 lb white button mushrooms halved
1 onion, sliced
½ t salt
2 T balsamic vinegar
- In a medium skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add mushrooms and onion; sprinkle with salt and stir to combine.
- Reduce heat to medium. Cover and cook until liquid is released from mushrooms, about 5 – 7 minutes. Remove cover and continue to cook until liquid has evaporated and mushrooms and onions are softened and browned, about 3 -5 minutes.
- Add balsamic vinegar and stir until mushrooms and onions are coated evenly and the vinegar is heated through.
Thank you to CulinaryHill.com for this great recipe.
Vegan French Onion Soup
2 T extra virgin olive oil
3 large white or yellow onions, sliced into thin half-moons
3 large fresh thyme sprigs (about 1 tbsp), leaves stripped (or ½ tsp dried)
2 T aged balsamic vinegar
4 c vegetable stock (no salt added)
2 c purified water
1 bay leaf
3 t sea salt, divided
½ t freshly ground black pepper
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat in a large soup pot or Dutch oven.
- Add the onions, thyme, 1 teaspoon salt and drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil over the onions; lower the heat to medium low. The onions may be filling the pot completely but will cook down to about ⅓ of their mass.
- Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the onions caramelize and turn light golden brown, about 50-60 minutes.
- Add the balsamic and cook until it’s absorbed and the onions are a deeper brown, about 15 more minutes.
- Add the stock, water, bay leaf, remaining salt and pepper, then bring to a boil.
- Turn the heat to low and simmer at least 30 minutes. Remove the bay leaf before serving.
Thank you to ElizabethRider.com for today’s tasty recipe!
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