by Dr Rupy Aujla27 Apr 2023
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The Onion Odyssey: Onions are native to central Asia and are among the oldest cultivated plants in the world. (Nicastro et al. 2015)
A Mixed History: The origin of spring onions is not clear-cut as it can refer to different types of Allium plants. It is said that farmers would harvest immature onion plants during the season between the end of winter crops and the start of new ones to cope with food shortages.
The Secret of Ancient Gladiators: Onions were used by athletes in ancient Greece for purifying their blood and rubbed down by Roman gladiators to firm up their muscles.
A Prescription from Hippocrates: Onions have a long history of medicinal use dating back thousands of years. The Greek physician Hippocrates used them to treat wounds and pneumonia. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, green onions are considered warming foods that can help combat the cold and dampness of the winter seasons.
Allium Vegetables & Cancer Prevention: Spring onions are one of your Allium vegetables. Multiple observational studies suggest protective effects against cancers, particularly of the digestive tract. (Wan et al. 2019)
Onions & Heart Health: Small human trials found that onions improved participants’ markers of cardiovascular health, including total cholesterol and arterial blood pressure. (Kim et al. 2013; Ebrahimi‐Mamaghani et al. 2014)
How much? Evidence suggests that at least 20g of Allium vegetables per day was linked to beneficial effects.
In practice: 8 spring onions or 80g counts as one of your daily veggie portions. Diversify with all the other allium veggies out there, like garlic, onions, leeks, wild garlic and chives.
But remember the nuance: More high-quality studies on larger sample sizes are needed. The tricky part is that these veggies are often part of mixed dishes in different amounts, and self-reported intakes may be unreliable.
So… What secrets are hidden inside the humble spring onion?
Spring onions contain a complex set of interesting compounds, especially:
What’s the deal with these compounds?
In lab studies, they show various biological activities that may contribute to many health functions, such as reducing oxidative stress, antimicrobial and immunomodulatory properties.
Spring onions vs common onions: Different varieties of onions (red, violet, white, green) contain different profiles of phenolic compounds. So mixing up the types of onions you eat can vary the types of compounds you get.
What does it mean for you? Remember to add some Allium vegetables to your meals and try spring onion this season. Get creative in the kitchen! Recipe inspiration at the end…
Scallions, Green, Welsh or Spring Onions? It gets confusing! The term spring onion is often used interchangeably to describe how the onion is used, rather than the species. It can include young onion plants (Allium Cepa) and mature bunching onions, aka Welsh onions or Allium Fistulosum. How to tell them apart? Young onion plants have rounded bulbs, while Welsh onions are straight and slender. Overall, they are all members of the Allium family and have a similar taste and appearance, so experiment with what you can get!
The Life of an Onion: Check out this cool 1943 British Council film showing the onion life cycle.
Growing Spring Onions At Home: Cut off the white part of the onion with the roots attached and place it in a small glass of water on your windowsill. You’ll get a constant supply of fresh, flavourful spring onions for your cooking! More tips here.
Shopping: Smaller bulbs usually indicate a sweeter taste, while larger bulbs can be more pungent as they become stronger in flavour with age and increasing size. Choose locally grown if you can.
Spring onions have a fresh, sweet, and subtly pungent flavour that is delicious raw or cooked.
Human studies: Wan et al. 2019 – Kim et al. 2013 – Ebrahimi‐Mamaghani et al. 2014 – Zhou et al., 2011
History, compounds & biological activities: Galavi et al. 2021 – Chakraborty et al. 2022 – El-Hadidy et al. 2014
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