Onions. I mean, why not make the most unpopular, but used more than any other vegetable in my kitchen, first to talk about?! BECAUSE THEY’RE THE UNDERDOG! I love the underdog. They’re usually down to earth, don’t think too highly of themselves, always having to start from the bottom to get to the top. They cool. Wait, am I talking about the NC State Wolfpack or onions?
Anyways, onions. They are basically H-E-double hockey sticks to some of us. They make you cry when you’re chopping them, give you bad breath after eating them, and oh-man-I-hate-when-it’s-my-turn, HEARTBURN!
So why do we eat them other than the amazing flavors they add to most dishes? Onions, part of the allium family, were first seen as having medicinal properties dating further back than even when our great, great, great, great grandparents were alive. In the Civil War they were a staple to keeping the soldiers alive and even helped to prevent people from getting the plague (BIG deal in the 1800s). High in antioxidants, flavonoids, vitamin C, and other cancer fighting, heart healthy elements; onions are pretty great, but are not created equal.
When you walk into the grocery store you’ll find the basic three types: white, sweet, and red. Unfortunately, as great as science is, it sometimes ruins a perfectly good, tear worthy onion. Back in the hunter gather days (from what I have heard), onions were tiny, super spicy, and full of antioxidants. Over the years as farmers grew them, they picked out the sweeter and milder varieties, giving us the onions we have today. This meant losing some of the antioxidants and medicinal properties, but depending on the type, not all of them.
So here is the 411 on how to grocery shop for onions based on each basic type:
Sweet/Vidalia/Walla Walla: The newest of the onion family because they have been developed over time by constantly picking the sweetest, mildest onion in the field to repopulate. These sweet varieties are great tasting but are lowest on the totem pole for the highest antioxidants. Use these if you’re making a raw salad where you don’t want the extreme onion flavor or for sweet caramelized onions.
White/Yellow: Here is what your motto should be when buying a yellow (non-sweet variety) or white onion: the more pungent the smell the better. Which also equates to the more you’ll cry when chopping them. Whoop whoop. But through those tears, see the joy that this means this onion is full of antioxidants!! So suck it up, put a lemon in your mouth or wear some goggles, and eat those white onions!
Red/Purple Onions: You’ll learn pretty quickly that the deeper red/purple/blue a food is, the more I love it. So not only do these onions have high levels of antioxidants, they also have high levels of anthocyanins, an amazing anti-inflammatory, disease fighting property found in this beautiful onion. But before you go crazy on all the red onions in the supermarket, look for the oblong ones rather than the flattened “hamburger” shaped ones, those will have the most bang for their buck. And once again, cue the water works. It’s ok, sometimes big girls do cry.
*With all onions, look for the ones that have their outer skin more intact. This keeps the onion protected and locks in the juices. Also, a recent study suggests that buying organic onions when possible contain more of the beneficial properties than conventional.
Great! You got them home, so now what?
Sweet: These don’t last as long so store those on a fridge shelf, not in the crisper.
Yellow/Red: In the net bag they sometimes come in or in an OPEN paper bag in a temperate location.
Roast, bake, sauté, or broil those babies! Cooking them any way you want other than boiling/blanching (two forms of cooking I will rarely ever suggest for any fruit or vegetable) will actually increase onions amazing properties. Sometimes heat kills the beneficial properties but not in onions. Cooking with heat will even decrease their spicy, pungent flavors making them more enjoyable to eat.
So far my favorite healthy cooking trick with onions is sautéing diced onions of any type in olive oil in a pot before adding uncooked brown rice or quinoa. Stir the rice or quinoa with the onions for a minute or two before adding liquid to get more flavor out of the two grains.
My favorite songs about not crying that you can enjoy while chopping onions:
Grown Men Don’t Cry- Tim McGraw (TAKES ME BACK Y’ALL)
Cowgirls Don’t Cry – Brooks and Dunn
No Woman, No Cry- Bob Marley (reggae all day, everyday)
Cry Me a River – JT (no haters allowed)
Big Girls Don’t Cry- Four Seasons AND Fergie
And there we go! I hope you never look at an onion the same!
Eat like you want to live forever,
Sources: Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson and Anthocyanins-Today’s Dietitian