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  • Writer's pictureJenna B.

Know Your Ingredients Ep.5 Onion

Updated: May 4, 2022

Know Your Ingredients Onion by Illustrator's Kitchen

Welcome to Illustrator’s Kitchen, your visual guide to a tasty journey!

Today’s special ingredient is... Onion!

Onions are one of the most loved vegetables from all around the world because they are such a versatile ingredient yet super nutritious.

Onion is fun because it can be spicy, sweet, and even savory depending on how you cook it. However, the moment you cut the onion, it will likely make you shed tears.

“Life is an onion - you peel it year by year and sometimes cry.” - by Carl Sandburg, Remembrance Rock

Here are some interesting facts about this chameleon-like vegetable, onion!

What is Onion?

Allium cepa L.

Onions are members of the Allium genus of flowering plants that also includes garlic, leeks, and chives.

Onions like cooler temperatures and depending on the season, the flavor can be varied.

For example, during spring and summer, onions have more water content and are easily bruised, leading to shorter storage life. The flavor of these onions is sweet and mild.

However, during fall and winter, onions have less water content, leading to longer storage life. The flavor of these onions has a more pungent taste.

Types of Onions

Types of Onions

Yellow Onion

The most popular and everyday onion.

Nearly 90 percent of the U.S. onion crop is yellow onions.

Yellow onions are suitable for any kind of cooking use.

Also, yellow onions have a longer storage life than other onion types.

Sweet Onion

As the name indicates, sweet onions are larger, lighter in color, and sweeter than yellow onions.

This onion is the best type of onion for caramelizing and making onion rings.

There are a variety of sweet onions based on regions, (Washington’s Walla Wallas, Georgia’s Vidalia, and my personal favorite, Hawaii’s Maui).

Often only available seasonally.

Red Onion

Although we call red onions, the skin color of these onions is closer to purple or magenta color.

Red onions are sharper yet milder than yellow onions and often eaten raw.

Because of its beautiful magenta color, it's a perfect addition to salads or other dishes to enhance the color contrast.

White Onion

White onions have a softer and milder flavor than red and yellow onions, and they are great for salad.

They have white, thin, and papery skins.

They are commonly used in Mexican cuisine.

White onions have a shorter shelf life because they contain more water than other onions.


Shallots are small onions with brown, purplish skin.

Although its size is tiny, it’s packed with intense flavors and is more pungent like garlic than other big onions.

They are often used in minced salad dressing and sauces and are also great for roasting.

Green Onion (Scallion)

Also known as spring onions, green onions are seasonal.

Green onions are immature onions that have not yet formed a bulb.

The entire plant is used, mostly the green part for garnish and the white part for grilling and sautéing.


Leeks are a member of the onion family.

Leeks look like green onions but they’re a lot larger yet milder in flavor.

History of Onion

Onions are one of the earliest cultivated crops.

Although their exact origin is a mystery, many botanists and archaeologists believe that onions originated in central Asia.

Early documents tell us that onions were important not only as a food but for medication, art, and mummification.

History of Onions

Ancient Egypt

Because of the onions' unique shape with many layers, onions in Ancient Egypt symbolized eternity, so they were buried with pharaohs. Onions have frequently been found in other body cavities of mummies.


Early sixth century, the famous medical treatise Charaka-Sanhita celebrated the onion as medicine - a diuretic good for digestion, the heart, the eyes, and the joints.

- from National Onion Association


Greeks use onions to fortify athletes for the Olympic Games. Athletes drank onion juice and even rubbed onions on their bodies.

America (Native American)

Wild onions grew throughout North America. Native Americans also used onions in syrups, dyes, and even toys.

European Settlers in North America

The European settlers brought onions with them to be a garden crop. Onions were one of the first crops planted by the Pilgrims.

Health Benefit of Onion

Onions fight off dangerous bacteria

Fight Off Dangerous Bacteria

Onions have antibacterial properties.

They can fight harmful bacteria like S. aureus and E. coli.

(There was even a myth that putting onions in your socks may help to fight infections. However, further research is needed for this myth.)

Onions are packed with nutritions

Packed with Nutritions

Onions are low in calories but high in vitamins and minerals. They are rich in vitamin C, vitamin B, and potassium.

Onions protect heart health

Heart Health

Onions are well-known for anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels - all of which may lower heart disease risk.

Help Control Blood Sugar

Consuming onions is great for people with diabetes or prediabetes because they may help control blood sugar.

Ways to use Onion

Five ways of using onions

Food, Dye, Fuel, Cleaner, Remedy for Bee Sting


Did you know that onion skins can be used as fabric dye? You can dye your textile naturally yellow, pink, and green naturally with onions.

Natural Bee Sting Soother:

Onion’s pungent juice help soothe a bee sting!


Onions can be fed to sheep. Research has shown that feeding sheep onions help ranchers reduce feed and water costs. That means zero waste. - from national onion association


Onions are natural grill-cleaner!

Onion Storage Guide

  • Store onions in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area.

  • Keep cut onions in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

  • Do not wrap onions in plastic or store them in plastic bags because the lack of air circulation will reduce shelf life.

  • Never store onions next to potatoes! Onions emit ethylene gas and it will spoil your potatoes.

< The Revenge of The Onions >

Revenge of Onions

Onions are everyday ingredients from all around the world.

They are easy to store and go along with many types of food.

Onions are delicious, super nutritious, and have unique looks, and yet when you cut them, they do revenge on you and make you cry.

Onion Infograph

Onion Infograph

Email me if you want to use this infograph for education purposes!

What is your favorite dish using onions?

Subscribe and follow on Instagram @illustrators_kitchen for the next ingredient!

Thanks for reading, and hope you see you soon!


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