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The Onion: Tears of Joy and Sexy Too!
by Marjorie Dorfman

Where did the onion really come from and why does it make us cry when we peel them? And…did you know it has been considered an aphrodisiac since prehistoric times? Read on for more information.

"Life is like an onion that is peeled off one layer at a time and sometimes makes you weep" –Carl Sandburg

I once heard a man describe his life as an onion that he kept peeling away, one layer at a time. Whether or not he was quoting Mr. Sandburg I couldn’t say, but when he finished, there was nothing left of his life or the onion. It is not his story, however, that I am about to tell. It is the onion’s. To peel and chop one may be no fun at all, but to eat an onion is another matter entirely and one of life’s tastiest pleasures. There are many different kinds, each with its own distinct flavor and personality. Common varieties include the strong and willful red onion, the milder, more passive yellow onion, the delicately flavored Bermuda and Spanish onions and the bland white onion. The small white pearls are used for pickling and have no personality whatsoever. The most famous sweet onion is the Vidalia, which is the king (and possibly queen) of them all!

The onion plant is a member in good standing of the lily family along with its cousins, the chive, the leek, the shallot and garlic. It is said that an onion a day keeps the doctor away (and all your friends and lovers too, if you are eating a strong flavored one). If you are thinking that I am mistaken and really mean an apple, I don’t. I mean them both. Like apples, onions contain many compounds that can help prevent disease. These compounds inhibit the growth of cancerous cells, help combat heart disease and strokes, lower blood pressure and cholesterol and stimulate the immune system.

One of the most interesting aspects of the onion is not as well known as one might imagine. Since prehistoric times the onion has been considered an aphrodisiac. They are mentioned in many classic Hindu texts on the art of making love and were commonly used as an aphrodisiac in ancient Greece. (I always wondered why Alexander The Great was so named!) In the days of the Egyptians pharaohs, celibate priests were forbidden to eat onions because of the potential effects on Also in France, newlyweds were served onion soup on the morning after their wedding night to restore their libido. Consider the following recommendation
"If your wife is old and your member is exhausted, eat onions in plenty."
by the Roman epigrammatist, Martial.

Let’s move on to safer onion fields. They fall into three distinct categories; short day, intermediate and long day varieties. "Short day" onions are from the southern states mostly, where temperatures are warmer all year round. The bulbs appear early in the year when there are only 10 to 12 hours of daylight. They do not store well because of their high concentration of water and should be eaten fresh. This category includes the Texas SuperSweet, which gets as big as softballs, the Yellow Granex (Vidalia) and the White Granex (also Vidalia). "Intermediate Day" onions need 12 to 14 hours of daylight to trigger the bulbing process. Among them are the large Sweet Red onion, which adds special color and flavor to salads, and the Cimmaron, a large yellow globe-shaped onion that is mildly pungent in flavor. The "Long Days" fare better in the northern states because they need 14 to 16 hours of daylight to bulb satisfactorily. Walla Walla is the pride of Washington State and stands beside its brethren, The Spanish onion, which is available in white or yellow, and The First Edition, which is the best long term, storage onion.

Onions, onions everywhere, especially in Texas where they are the leading vegetable crop. The onion industry has an overall impact of about $350 million per year on the economy of the Lone Star state. This may not be oil (black gold), but it might as well be. Most of the sweet onions which people all over the world enjoy can trace their origins back to Texas. The sweet Bermuda onion was introduced to south Texas in 1894. By 1898 this onion claimed some 500 acres of land and by 1908 production had doubled. The Canary Islands produced most of the onion seed until the 1940s. The two types generally grown in Texas were the Yellow Bermuda and The Crystal Wax. The Vidalia is actually a Texas bred Granax in disguise. It was the unexpected crop of a Georgia farmer, Mose Coleman, whose best laid scheme to plant hot onions yielded him sweet ones instead. So much for Shakespeare!

All in all, onions have been through a lot. Maybe that’s why they make us cry! Actually, it is their sulfuric content that brings tears to our eyes. I’ve heard of two remedies. The first involves peeling the onion with an unlit match held in between your front teeth. Whether this is a détente among sulfurs or a secret bid for a circus act is unknown, but it sometimes works. The other method is to chill the onion before peeling. This works most of the time, but let’s face it, there are no guarantees for anything in life, not even onions!

Onions are here to stay for all of us to enjoy and appreciate, but they have to be respected as well. Otherwise, who knows what might happen? Results could be cataclysmic, causing the collapse of Rome, the downfall of China and the general overthrow of unhappy vegetables everywhere in the world. Stay home and peel onions. It may be a thankless task and a far cry from rising up against the world, but, I assure you, it will be a lot tastier in the long run.

Did you know . . .

Copyright 2004