Have you ever thought, as you wipe away the tears, how wonderful the onion is? Well, OK, perhaps you haven’t… but really, you should!
The allium, such a popular flower and one that I personally love in my borders, is the flower of the onion family. Then of course, there’s the onion itself. How many meals do we cook that don’t involve onions? Not that many I imagine. Its flavour, whether sweet and mild like a Spanish onion, or tear–inducing like a red onion makes a huge difference to the flavour of a recipe. I really can’t imagine my diet without them.
Onions are eaten and grown in more countries than any other vegetable but rarely receive much acclaim. The UN estimates that at least 175 countries produce an onion crop, well over twice as many as grow wheat, the largest global crop by tonnage. And unlike wheat, the onion is a staple of every major cuisine and is arguably the only truly global ingredient.
The onion has been around for a very, very long time. Scientists think that, based on genetic analysis, onions came from central Asia and there is very early evidence of their use in Europe back to the Bronze Age. Historians say there is no doubt that onions would have been traded along the Silk Road as far back as 2,000BC. Today, though, there is little global trade in onions. About 90% are eaten where they are grown. This may be why, in most parts of the world, onions are so much taken for granted
China and India dominate production and consumption – between them they account for about 45% of the world’s annual production of more than 70 million tonnes. But neither country is among the top onion-eating nations, however, measured by the quantity of onions eaten per head of population. The global champion in this regard is Libya, where in 2011 each person ate, on average, 33.6kg of onion, according to the UN.
UN data estimates that we Britons get through around 9.3kg per head, that’s just over 20lbs a year. The French, whom we rather like to think of as big onion eaters, in fact made do with a modest 5.6kg or 12lbs each! So that’s another myth shattered!
Some facts about the onion:
- The onion family belongs to the much bigger family of lilies
- The biggest onion on record weighed 18lb 11½ oz (8.49kg) and was grown in Leicestershire
- An onion is 85% water
- Onions make you cry because chopping them creates the ‘lachrymatory agent’ Syn-propanethial-S-oxide
- Eating parsley after eating onions makes your breath less oniony
- New York City, now known as the Big Apple, was once known as the Big Onion – but today the name is more commonly used to refer to Chicago