Onions are a staple in so many dishes. When eaten raw our taste buds are zapped by the sharp astringent flavor. When cooked, especially when sautéed slowly, the astringency departs and leaves a sweet creamy flavor.
The onion belongs to the genus Allium, which includes hundreds of species with close relatives garlic, leeks and chives. Plants in this genus produce chemical compounds that give them their characteristic odor and taste.
In the US, the most common onion used in cooking is the yellow, or Spanish, onion. In fact, nearly 90% of the onions grown in the US are yellow onions. All the species from Allium are good choices for your health. Onions, garlic, chives, and leeks all contain certain flavonoids which stimulate the production of glutathione. Glutathione is a potent antioxidant, actually the liver’s most potent antioxidant. Glutathione helps eliminate toxins and carcinogens, thus helping to prevent cancer. Garlic and onions have both been shown to increase “good cholesterol” and decrease blood pressure.
But do the health benefits outweigh the tears? Yes! However, we are going to share with you our tips for cutting onions without crying about it.
Slice into this flavorful globe and within seconds tears are streaming down your face. This is due to the onion’s unique defense system. When crushed or sliced, an onion releases a sulfuric compound along with a special enzyme that converts the compound into a gas and voila! Irritation and reflexive tears. It’s actually a pretty cool defense mechanism against hungry animals.
Chefs have tried several strategies to prevent the tears. Some even resort to wearing goggles in the kitchen while slicing onions, like this young chef pictured here!
Here are our two favorite strategies to really reduce the tears.
- Place the onion in the freezer for about a half hour before slicing – this slows down the ability of the enzyme, hence less gas escaping from the onion into our eyes.
- Begin chopping the onion from the stem, where the enzyme concentration is lowest. Leave the root end until last.
“It’s hard to imagine civilization without onions” — Julia Child
We agree with Julia – below is one of our favorite recipes which highlight the sweet and smokey flavor of caramelized onions.