Onions - history, production, trade
The onion, whose scientific name is Allium cepa, is a plant that belongs to the family of Liliaceae (also called Alliaceae), to which belong also other vegetables, such as the shallot, the leek, the garlic and the asparagus.
The onion is a vegetable largely cultivated and used as food in cuisine: in fact, the onion is used both raw and cooked, eaten alone and used as an ingredient to prepare first courses, sauces, second courses, salads and single courses. Onion is also considered therapeutic, as this fresh vegetable has many properties.
At a global level, there are many different cultivated varieties of onion , which differ for shape, size and colour, both of the internal bulb, that can be white or with violet shades, and the external “tunic” of the onion, that can be white, straw-yellow or gold-yellow, or even red, passing through the various shades of violet.
The onion is a vegetable with a very particular taste and flavour. In fact, this fresh vegetable is rich in sulfoxides: the particular taste of onions makes this fresh vegetable perfect even if used as a seasoning to exalt the taste of first courses or second courses. However, onions have the contraindication that they can make you cry: this happens because, when slicing onions, sulfoxides combine with an enzyme (called alliinase) that is released by the vacuole. These two elements present in the onion and combined produce sulfenic acids, that is ammonia and pyruvate; therefore, our eyes weep as a defence reaction to the contact with the sulphuric acid created in onions. However, sulphuric acid is present in very small quantities in onions and therefore is not harmful to our body: one of the numerous solutions to slice onions avoiding tears, is to slice them under flowing water, because this way there is less volatility of the urticant element.
The onion is a fruit and vegetable product rich in mineral salts and vitamins, above all of vitamin C, but also of vitamins A, B and E; moreover, the onion contains countless ferments, very useful in the digestion process and in the stimulation of the metabolism, and it is rich in sulphur, magnesium, potassium, iron, phosphorus and calcium. These characteristics, as said before, make the onion a fresh vegetable that has many beneficial therapeutic properties: the onion, in fact has diuretic properties and contains sulphides that have antibiotic characteristics; in dermatology it can be used as an antibacterial and an antibiotic simply pouring the onion juice on the part to be treated.
The onion contributes to control glycaemia (lowering the glucose level in blood, it permits to reduce the insulin dose for those people that need it) and cholesterol levels in blood, as well as preventing cardiac diseases and being useful in preventing tumours; the onion has anti-inflammatory properties and is used as an active ingredient in some healing creams. Finally, the onion juice can be used as a purifier, for example it is recommended to those people suffering from thrombosis, because it fluidises the blood and eases the circulation; doing gargles with onion juice is also helpful against tonsillitis
When purchasing onions, they must be compact to the touch, quite firm and free from bruises and from stains (such as mould stains).Onions must be stored in a fresh and dry place, but it is not recommended to store them in the refrigerator, because they should remain at ambient temperature, where they keep also for long periods, three weeks or more, until their sprouts begin to grow or they change their colour.
The onion is a vegetable with a strong and very typical taste: for this reason it is one of the most used fruit and vegetable products all over the world, both to season and exalt other ingredients (such as in the preparation of sauces or meat) and as a main course. Some of the most popular preparations done with onion are for example “peperonata” (where the onion is cooked with other vegetables), the onion omelette, as well as the popular onion rings, widespread above all in the American continent (the onion is firstly sliced in rings, dipped in batter and then fried in a pan), or the onion soup, very famous in France. The onion is very often used as a base ingredient for main courses such as for example “risotto” or other soups. Furthermore, the onion is used together with carrots and celery to make broth or as a base to cook meat and sauces.
The onion (above all the red onion of Tropea) is a vegetable that is largely consumed also raw, for example in salads, often combined with other fruit and vegetable products (for example with tomatoes) and legumes: onions match well with beans.
This variety of onion, however, can be served even alone seasoned with some oil and salt, preparing typically summer dishes.
Despite the beneficial qualities and even though it enhances the production of bile for stomach and intestine, helping therefore the digestion process, the onion is however not recommended to those people suffering from gastroduodenal ulcer and acid stomach, apart from bering not recommended in case of pregnancy and to people suffering from liver diseases.
A characteristic of onions, which can be considered slightly unpleasant, is the bad breath that this particular vegetable produces if eaten raw (this problem is solved if onions are eaten only after being cooked); however, a solution to this small inconvenience is to eat one or two cloves after their consumption.
The onion, being rich in essential oils, apart from vitamins and sulphur, is often used as a remedy for abscesses chilblains, or in decoctions against dry skin or skin damaged by acne; the onion is even used to give new life to the hair bulbs stimulating their growth and delaying their fall.
The onion has acquired more and more importance worldwide: nowadays there are a lot of companies that produce onions, certified companies for the production of onions, producers of onions, companies that produce organic onions, companies that deal with the trade of onions (packaging of onions), retailers of onions, importers of onions, exporters of onions and wholesalers of onions.