Raw onions in basket

12 Interesting Facts About Onions

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Onions are one of the most widely used vegetables in cuisines around the world. Their versatility, flavor, and health benefits make them a staple in many kitchens. Read on to learn some fascinating tidbits about this pungent bulb.

1. Onions are Very Old Vegetables

There is evidence that onions were first grown in central Asia over 5,000 years ago. Ancient Egyptians worshipped onions and even placed them in the tombs of kings so their souls would have onions in the afterlife.

2. Onions Make You Cry for a Good Reason

When you cut into an onion, sulfuric compounds are released which then mix with the air to form sulfuric acid. This acid irritates your eyes, causing them to water. These sulfuric compounds provide many of the health benefits of onions.

3. There Are Many Types of Onions

Common types of onions include yellow, white, red, green, pearl, cipollini, shallots, leeks, scallions and more. The variety differs in taste, size, color, and nutritional value.


4. Onions Have Layers Like Ogres

Onions grow as several layers wrapped around each other. Each layer is called a tunic. Together the tunics form the bulb shape we recognize.

5. Onions Are Biennial Plants

The onion plant uses its first year to grow vegetation and then flowers and produces seeds in its second year. Certain varieties only take one year.

6. U.S. is One of the Top Onion Producers

The United States is among the leading onion producers worldwide, along with China, India, and Russia. Major U.S. onion states include Oregon, Idaho, and Washington.

7. Onions Are Nutrient Powerhouses

Onions contain vitamin C, vitamin B6, folate, potassium, and other key vitamins and minerals. They contain antioxidants that may help reduce inflammation, decrease triglycerides, and lower cholesterol levels.

8. Egyptians Worshipped Onions

Ancient Egyptians saw the spherical shape and concentric rings of an onion as representing eternal life. They buried onions along with their pharaohs.

9. You Can Determine an Onion’s Age by Its Skin

Organic onions

You can estimate how long an onion has been stored by checking its skin. The more papery and cracked the dry skin, the older the onion.

10. Cut Onions Can Be Used to Repel Pests

If you leave cut onions in areas where you want to repel pests like mice, rats or insects, the strong sulfur compounds will help drive them away.

11. Onions Inspired the Design of the Sydney Opera House

Architect Jørn Utzon modeled the iconic roof shells of the Sydney Opera House after the layers and shape of cut onions.

12. World’s Largest Onion Weighed Over 17 Pounds

According to Guinness World Records, the largest onion ever grown weighed 8.23 kg (18 lb 1.8 oz) and was grown by Tony Glover of England in 2014.

Key Takeaways

  • Onions have been cultivated for over 5,000 years and were worshipped in Ancient Egypt
  • Cutting onions releases sulfuric acid, causing eye irritation when chopping
  • Many varieties exist like yellow, white, red, green, shallots, scallions, leeks
  • Onions grow in papery layers called tunics that form the recognizable bulb-shape
  • The U.S. is a top global onion producer along with China, India, and Russia
  • Onions provide nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin B6, folate and potassium
  • Onions inspired the roof design of the iconic Sydney Opera House
  • The world’s largest onion weighed over 17 pounds!


onions on the table

Why do onions make you cry?

It’s caused by sulfuric acid released when onion cells are damaged from cutting, which irritates the eyes.

What’s the difference between white, yellow, and red onions?

White onions are the mildest, yellow onions are moderately pungent, and red onions have the strongest flavor. The color comes from their sulfur content.

How do you store onions properly?

Store whole, dry bulbs in a cool, dark, well-ventilated area. Once cut, onions should be tightly sealed and refrigerated.

Can dogs and cats eat onions?

No. Onions contain compounds that can be toxic to dogs and cats if ingested. Contact your vet if your pet eats onions.

What type of onions should I use for cooking vs. raw?

Sweet onions like Vidalias or Walla Wallas are best raw. Regular yellow, white, or red onions are better cooked, since heat mellows their pungent flavor.

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