Produce of the Month: Alliums!
2.16.19—This month we are highlighting a category of plants that are often overlooked. They’re not that fancy or exciting—despite this, we don’t know how we would cook without them. We are talking, of course, about alliums, the genus that includes onions, garlic, and scallions.
Background & History
Alliums have been cultivated as food for a very long time, and most historians agree that onions have been domesticated for at least 6000 years. Onions and garlic are staples in cultures around the world—they are the basis for many Indian and Asian dishes, and are also frequently found in South and Central American cooking and many European cuisines. This is in part due to the fact that they last for a long time once harvested, making them readily available and easily integrated into the diet.
In certain religious practices, eating garlic and onions is disapproved of. In the Hindu and Jain religions, they are thought to stimulate the body and increase one’s desires. Similarly, in some Buddhist traditions, garlic is thought to stimulate lustful and aggressive drives, thus disrupting the meditation practice. While people today still follow these guidelines, there are also members of these religions who consume alliums.
Alliums aren’t just tasty, they also have many health benefits! Some studies have shown that consuming garlic, leeks, and onions can reduce the risk of cancer, due to their sulfur-based compounds. Alliums are anti-inflamatory due to their high flavonoid content, and good for cardiovascular health as they prevent blood clot formation and lower blood pressure. Onions are garlic are also anti-bacterial, and have been shown to inhibit the growth of E. Coli and MRSA, or staph bacteria. As a whole, the allium genus of plants are rich in Vitamin C, B vitamins, manganese, iron, and potassium.
Why does chopping onions make you cry?
We’ve all experienced the painful sting of chopping onions. So, what’s the cause of that pesky irritation? It’s the result of the onion’s defense mechanism—cutting onions damages its cells, which triggers a chain reaction resulting in the release of syn-propanethial-S-oxide. This gas activates sensory neurons in the eye, causing irritation and prompting the eye to produce tears to flush out the irritant. One way to reduce irritation is to refrigerate onions before you cut them, which slows down the enzyme reaction rate.
Pickled red onions are easy to make and super versatile! They add flavor and texture to sandwiches, salads, tacos, and more.
Makes about 2 cups.
- 1 medium red onion, about 5 ounces
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup rice vinegar, white vinegar, or apple cider vinegar
- 1 small clove of garlic, peeled and halved
- 5 black peppercorns
- 5 allspice berries
- 3 small sprigs of thyme
- 1 small dried chili
- Slice the onions: Start 2 or 3 cups of water on to boil in a kettle. Peel and thinly slice the onion into approximately 1/4-inch moons.
- Dissolve the sugar and salt: In the container you will be using to store the onions, add the sugar, salt, vinegar, and flavorings. Stir to dissolve.
- Par-blanch the onions: Place the onions in the sieve and place the sieve in the sink. Slowly pour the boiling water over the onions and let them drain.
- Add the onions to the jar: Add the onions to the jar and stir gently to evenly distribute the flavorings.
- Store: The onions will be ready in about 30 minutes, but are better after a few hours. Store in the refrigerator. They will keep for several weeks, but are best in the first week.