Part of the Allium family, onions are close relatives of garlic, leeks, shallots, and chives. They grow underground as bulbs, protected by a papery outer skin that can range in colour from white to yellow to red. Above ground, their green shoots can also be consumed and are often referred to as "green onions" or "spring onions."

Nutritionally, onions are low in calories but rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. One of their most notable compounds is quercetin, a flavonoid with potential anti-inflammatory properties. Anyone who has sliced an onion is familiar with its tear-inducing effect, a result of sulfuric compounds released during the cutting process. These compounds also contribute to the onion's pungent flavour, which mellows and sweetens upon cooking.


The cultivation of onions can be traced back to ancient times, with evidence suggesting they were grown in both Egypt and ancient China over 5,000 years ago. In Egypt, onions were considered sacred and were even used as currency to pay the workers who built the pyramids. Their ease of cultivation, long storage life, and nutritional value made them a staple for various civilizations, including the Greeks, Romans, and Indians.

With the exploration and colonization efforts of European nations, onions were introduced to the New World, where they quickly became an agricultural essential. In Canada, onions found a conducive environment for growth, especially in provinces with fertile soil like Alberta. Over the years, different varieties have been cultivated to suit various culinary needs and climatic conditions.

Ways To Cook

Onions are culinary workhorses, seamlessly fitting into an expansive range of dishes. Before using, it's essential to remove the outer papery skin. Depending on the intended use, onions can be finely chopped, sliced, diced, or left whole. When sautéed or caramelized, onions develop a sweet, mellow flavour, making them a foundational ingredient for sauces, soups, and stews.

Raw onions, with their sharper taste, are excellent in salads, sandwiches, and salsas. For a richer, more concentrated flavour, onions can be roasted whole in the oven, bringing out their natural sugars. Pickling onions allows for longer storage and offers a tangy crunch to dishes. In some cultures, onion rings – slices of onion dipped in batter and fried until crispy – are a popular snack or side dish.

From the sharp bite of raw onions to the soft sweetness of their cooked counterparts, they are truly versatile and indispensable in the kitchen.

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