Veg of the month for September: Onions
* Onions have an ancient history. They are mentioned in the Old Testament (e.g. Numbers 11:5) and have been found carved on 5000-year-old Egyptian tombs, and buried with Tutankhamen. In fact Egyptians revered the onion as they saw its concentric rings as a symbol of eternal life.
* Onions were first cultivated in Asia, from wild relations with hollow stems and small bulbs. By Roman times both the flat and round shapes we know today, and the three main colours – brown, red and white – had been developed.
* Onions smell strongly, and make us cry, because of sulphur compounds released when the onion is cut. These compounds also help fight bacterial infection, and heart disease, giving onions their reputation as medicinal plants.
* Onions are members of the large allium family, which includes shallots, garlic, leeks and chives, as well as a range of ornamental varieties some with spectacularly large, spherical flower clusters.
* The expression to ‘know your onions’ meaning to be well informed or knowledgeable doesn’t seem to have anything to do with onions as such. It was coined in the USA in the 1920’s as a playful expression with no meaningful origin, similar to bee’s knees or cat’s pyjamas.
* To get rid of the taste of raw onions, you should chew parsley or fennel seeds.
* Onions are a truly international vegetable and feature in all major cuisines. The world’s annual harvest of onions amounts to 64 million tonnes with China growing most at nearly 10 million tonnes. In Europe the largest producer is Spain with over 1 million tonnes, and the UK grows around half a million tonnes. Visit the British Onion Producers Association website www.onions.org.uk for more.
* Onions are high in fibre, Vitamins B1, B6 and C, and a range of important minerals including folic acid.
* Onion skins can be used to make an attractive, golden-brown dye.
* Be inspired by poems surrounding the onion.