Ingredient focus... onions
Healing properties abound - nutritionist Jo Lewin divulges the nutritional benefits, medicinal properties and teary secrets of the humble onion.
An introduction to onions...
The humble onion is found in every kitchen, but its curative powers make it an important medicinal plant too. Like garlic, it is a member of the lily family. There can be no doubting the power of the juices contained in onions; anyone who has ever sliced one and shed a tear is only too aware that they hold something special. Quite apart from its medicinal properties the onion is simply delicious. It forms the basis of so many dishes - whether raw, sautéed, baked, steamed or boiled, that it would be difficult to imagine the cuisine of any country without it.
Onions were historically as a preventative medicine during epidemics of cholera and the plague. They were apparently eaten by Roman emperor Nero as a cure for colds, and its reputation has made onions a popular component in the diets of many countries.
...The onion's revenge: The smell of onions can be a problem, both on the hands and on the breath. After chopping onions, try rinsing the hands with cold water, rubbing them with salt, rinsing again and then washing with soap and warm water. To remove the smell from breath, eat a few sprigs of parsley or an apple to help conceal the odour.
More than just a tasty culinary plant, the onion contains natural sugar, vitamins A, B6, C and E, minerals such as sodium, potassium, iron and dietry fibre. In addition, onions are a good source of folic acid.
The power of raw...
The reason that the onion is so much more active in its raw state than when cooked, is that it contains a variety of organic sulphur compounds, contained in a volatile oil, that provide the health benefits. These are partly destroyed by heat. When eaten raw, its juice can act as an irritant and some people find it difficult to digest. Those who are not tempted by the idea of eating raw onions can follow simple cooking methods that may make them more palatable. For people with sensitive stomachs, this is a far suitable way to enjoy the healthy benefits of onions. Onions baked in their skins, in a similar way to baked potatoes, are also delicious. This method of cooking keeps all the goodness inside, but the resulting flavour is milder and more aromatic than that of raw onions.
...Red onions: rubbed on warts or verrucas are thought by some to encourage them to disappear. In some Arab countries onions mixed with salt and pepper are applied to the scalp as a remedy for hair loss.