Michael van Straten
Michael van Straten


Onions belong to the same family as garlic, leeks, spring onions, chives and shallots and not only taste good but do you good. We love our fried egg and bacon breakfast and in one of my favourite experiments it was given to a group of volunteers. Half of them also got a portion of fried onions. Blood tests then measured the clotting tendency of both groups. Without the onions there was increased risk of clotting, with them a reduced. If you fancy a fry up, don`t forget the onions.

Wild onions are a traditional medicine of native North Americans for the treatment of colds, stings and bites. Chinese herbalists use them as a poultice for boils and in European folk medicine they`ve been used for anaemia, bronchitis and asthma, genito-urinary infections, arthritis and rheumatism, gout, and premature ageing. A night on the tiles in Paris traditionally ends with a steaming bowl of onion soup to prevent the next day`s hangover. In East Anglia thick onion soup was a favourite for treating chesty children.

Onions contain the enzyme allinase which is released when you slice the bulb. The reaction of this chemical with sulphur compounds in the onion used to get the blame for making you cry - but it`s not true. Japanese researchers have discovered a previously unknown enzyme which is the real culprit. Called "lachrymatory-factor synthase", it`s released when you cut the onion and reacts with amino-acids creating the irritant substance which gets into the eyes and starts the tears flowing.

Onions are diuretic (they increase the output of urine) and they also help to dissolve and eliminate urea, making them useful in the relief of rheumatism, arthritis and gout. All members of the onion family, which includes leeks and garlic too, are effective destroyers of bacterial and fungal infections. Latest research in Switzerland shows that onions decrease the rate of bone loss so eating them might help protect older people, especially women, against osteoporosis.


1. There are lots of old wives tales about ways to stop onions making you cry. If it bothers you try any of these:

- Refrigerate first and start cutting at the pointed end, finishing at the root.

- Peel onions under water

- Cut the onion in half, put face down on a double layer of kitchen paper and leave for 15 minutes before chopping

- Sprinkle vinegar on your chopping board before you start

- Put a piece of bread in your mouth with some of it sticking out under your nose to absorb the fumes before they get to your eyes

- Wear swimming goggles

- Light a candle beside the chopping board as the heat attracts the irritant vapours

- Always use a very sharp knife as a blunt one bruises the onion flesh and releases more of the chemicals

Personally I don`t bother, a few tears cleans out the ducts anyway.

2. Chew Parsley to get rid of onion breath

3. They`re very low in calories, around 30 in an average portion. They`re fat free and provide fibre, vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium and heart-protective plant chemicals.


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