All About Onions | Know Your Vegetable & Spice Pyaz (Allium cepa Linn)


Onions are one of the oldest cultivated vegetables in our history, originating in central Asia from where it spread across entire world.

It’s impossible to know exactly when they first popped up on the culinary scene; most historians agree that they have been domesticated and cultivated for at least 6000 years, possibly longer.

Onions were grown in Ancient Egypt 5,500 years ago, in India and China 5,000 years ago, in Sumeria 4,500 years ago.

It is probably a native of Asia comprising North West India, Balochistan and Afghanistan. It probably acquired its name from the city built by ONIA in 1703 B.C. near gulf of Suez.

In the oldest recorded history, onions were depicted as food in Egyption tombs as early as 3200 B.C. It is believed that Egyptians fed them to workers for strength to build pyramids.

The ancient Egyptians worshipped the onion, believing that its spherical shape and concentric ring symbolizes eternity.

Of all the vegetables the images created by Egyptian artists, only the onion was made out of gold.

Paintings of onions appear on the inner walls of the pyramids and in the tombs of both the old Kingdom and the New Kingdom.

The onion is mentioned as a funeral offering and depicted on the banquet tables of the great feasts – both large, peeled onions and slender immature ones.

They were shown upon the altars of the gods. Frequently, Egyptian priests are pictured holding onions in his hand or covering an altar with a bundle of their leaves or roots.

In Pompeii, remains of an onion basket were discovered in a brothel – apparently, back then they were thought to encourage “Carnal desire”.

Dioscorides, a Greek physician in first century A.D., noted several medicinal uses of onions.

The Greeks used onions to fortify athletes for Olympic games. Before competition athletes would consume pounds of onions, drink onion juice and rub onions on their bodies.

Additionally, the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates wrote in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. that a broad variety of onions were eaten regularly in Greece.

After Rome conquered Greece, the onion became a staple in the Roman diet. Onions have a long medicinal history.

Ancient Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder believed that they healed sores, vision problems, toothaches and dysentery.

Gladiators were massaged with onion juice before walking into the arena believing it promoted strength.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Europe entered into Dark and Middle ages where main sources of food for entire population were beans, cabbage and onions.

During that time, onions was heavily used as both food and medicinal remedy and was often more valuable than money.

With the arrival of Renaissance and the New trade routes of the Golden Age of Sail, onions were carried to all four corners of the world.

This enabled European colonist and native people from new found continents to grow this incredible vegetable on countless soil types.

During the fourth century B.C. Alexander the Great transported onions from Egypt to Greece, where they spread to other parts of Europe following Alexander’s conquests.

For centuries thereafter, Europeans cultivated onions, which became especially popular in cooking in places such as present day Germany at the start of the Middle Ages.

By the fifteenth century, Europeans began introducing different cultivars to parts of the New World.

Christopher Columbus crews planted onions in Hispaniola as early as 1494 and the Vegetable was mentioned as cultivated in the present day United States as early as 1629.

By the nineteenth century, various types of onion were growing all across the USA. The first Pilgrims brought onions with them on the Mayflower.

However, they found that strains of wild onions already grew throughout North America. Native Indians used wild onions in a variety of ways, eating them raw or cooked as a seasoning or as a vegetable.

In India onion has been grown from ancient times as mentioned in a famous early medicine treatise charaka Samhita (6 B.C.).

In ancient India, there was a fair amount of revulsion to onions. Orthodox Brahmins, Buddhists and Jains regarded onions as forbidden vegetable because of their strong odor & stimulating action.

In 6th Century India, onions were deemed helpful for the heart, joints and indigestion.

Ancient Sumerians widely grew and cooked onions 4000 years ago, the plant has been discovered at the royal palace at Knossos in crete. References of onion as food are also found in Bible and Kuran.

The basic abilities of onion proved to be very useful to Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindu and ancient Chinese civilizations who had problems to create large sources of food.

Onions prevented thirst, were great source of energy, had very useful medicinal properties, and could be easily dried and preserved for times when other perishable sources of food were scarce.

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