Onions have been a part of the human diet for thousands of years and are still enjoyed today for their distinctive taste, smell, and crunch. They’re also a great source of nutrients and vitamins, and they can help prevent heart disease, fight inflammation, and promote hair growth.
From understanding the history of Onions to learning why they make you cry when you cut them, we’ve gathered below plenty of fascinating facts about onions that your kids will find both informative and entertaining. We hope these facts about onions help kids understand why this crunchy vegetable is an essential part of many different cuisines – and why it deserves a spot in gardens, grocery stores, pantries…and our hearts!
Let’s get started!
1. Onions have been cultivated in China since 5,000 BC!
Although the origins of Onions have not been well-traced yet, the earliest evidence of their use dates as far back as 5,000 BC. Historians suggest that the Chinese have been cultivating onions since the Bronze Age.
2. Onions occur in 3 different colors
Because the Allium genus ranks among the largest plant genera in the world, there are bound to be diverse onion varieties cultivated in different parts of the world.
To make their distinction easier, they are divided into three broad categories based on their color: Yellow, White, and Red Onions. Of all three, yellow onions are grown most commonly and account for roughly 75% of global onion production.
3. Onions are the second most popular vegetable used globally!
Did you know that onions are placed second on the list of the most popular vegetables used in the world? Yes, that’s right.
Placed right after tomatoes, these vegetables are grown in almost every part of the world and can be consumed raw, roasted, grilled, deep-fried, pickled, and caramelized. They’re consumed equally widely, with their global production touching 93 metric tonnes every year!
4. Water makes up for over 80% of an Onion’s mass
Onions appear to be tough, fleshy vegetables, don’t they? Would you ever have guessed that over 80% of their mass is made up of water? We’re not lying!
According to the data provided by the USDA, water accounts for 89 grams of mass in 100 grams of onion.
5. Native Americans used onions for dyeing clothes
We’re all familiar with onions’ widespread culinary use, but did you know that they can also be used as a dye? We’re not talking about all onions but just the red ones, whose peels are rich in tannin and can, thus, be used as a natural dye.
Using onion skin as a dye will give your clothes a brownish-red wash.
6. Onions are toxic to your pets!
We understand why you love onions, but just because they’re your favorite doesn’t mean you can share them with your furry companions. In fact, you must ensure that they don’t even come near these veggies.
Wondering why? Well, it’s because onions are toxic to most animals, especially the ones that are kept as pets (dogs, cats, horses, cattle).
Onions contain a compound named N-propyl disulfide, a compound that causes oxidative damage to your pet’s red blood cells, often leading to Anemia. Therefore, if your pet ever finds and eats an onion even by themselves, you must rush with them to the vet immediately!
7. Chopping onions makes you cry due to Sulfenic acid!
It is common knowledge that chopping onions make people cry, but have you ever wondered why? When an onion’s skin is broken, it releases sulfenic acid and enzymes, which then combine to produce propanethiol S-oxide. It is an irritant gas that generates tears upon touching our eyes. So, now you know why chopping onion is a teary task!
8. Scallions and Spring Onions are not as different as you might think
There is a lot of confusion between Scallions and Spring Onions in the culinary world. These vegetables are both members of the same Allium family and have similar appearances as well. So, how are they different?
Well, just like spring onions are the immature form of regular onions, scallions are the younger form of spring onions. In other words, scallions grow into spring onions, which later grow into fully mature, regular onions.
If you want to distinguish between the two in terms of appearance, just keep in mind that scallions are spring onions without bulbs.
9. Onions were used as a currency in medieval Europe!
Can you imagine onions being used in place of money? While such a thing is difficult to imagine for you right now, in the Middle Ages, times were very different.
The period between the 15th-16th century was termed The Dark Age in Europe. During this time, the entire European population was dependent solely on three vegetables as major food sources: onions, cabbages, and beans. Out of these three, onions were most valuable due to both their culinary and medicinal uses.
Because of this reason, onions were used as currency in Europe, often exchanged for rent and given to newlyweds as wedding gifts. In Siberia, this practice continued for much longer, throughout the 18th century.
10. Onion juice can soothe mosquito bites
Did a mosquito bite you in sleep, and the affected area is now itchy? You can always run to the nearest drug store to get an ointment for it, but if you’re looking for a quick fix at home, try using onions!
When you slice an onion and rub one half on the bitten area, it will not only stop itching but also prevent inflammation.
11. Onion juice spray can keep pests away from your plants
Mosquitoes aren’t the only insects that run (or fly) away from onions. If you have a garden at home, it’s bound to attract all kinds of pests. And while some pests might be harmless, there are others, including caterpillars, that can munch away entire plants within days.
If you’re looking for a home remedy to keep your precious plants safe from such pesky pests, onion spray is the answer! The odor of onions is found to be strongly repulsive to most pests, which is why spraying them on your plants can make them pest-free.
Making onion spray is fairly simple. All you need to do is soak onion skin in a water container overnight, strain out the onions the next morning, and put the remaining water into a spray bottle. Your pest-repellant spray is ready!
12. You can use onions to clean your barbeque grills and ovens
Barbeque nights are undoubtedly fun, but if you’re the one organizing them, you’re going to worry about scrubbing the grill for hours the next morning. What if we told you onions could make your job much easier?
All you need to do is turn your grill on. As it begins to heat up, cut an onion in half and stick a long fork to it. Now, rub the cut half on the dirty grill grates. The increasing temperature will activate the onion’s natural fluids, and the acidity of its juice will loosen all dirt particles and grease from the surface.
The best thing about using onions? They’re completely organic, unlike the chemical cleaners you buy from stores, and are, therefore, safer.
13. Onion juice is an effective rust remover
Do you also have rusty knives stored at the back of your kitchen cabinet that you plan on throwing away someday? What if we told you they could be good as new in a few minutes?
Yes, you read that right. Onion juice works as an effective rust remover; rubbing the juice on rusted iron knives can work wonders.
But how does onion juice do it? Well, onion juice contains sulfenic acid, which reacts strongly with rust by breaking it down, making your knife clean, sharp, and usable again.
14. Onions can get rid of fresh paint’s smell
If you’ve ever moved into a freshly-painted home or gotten yours painted, you must know how nauseating paint fumes can be. With onions, you can get rid of these fumes safely and efficiently!
Wondering how onions can do that? Do you know how onions have quite a strong odor of their own? The compound that causes this smell, propanethiol, reacts strongly against aldehydes – which cause paint fumes – and subdues them. Just cut an onion in half and place it in the room where the paint smell is strongest. The onion will absorb the paint fumes and help to freshen the air.
15. Onion in socks was a popular traditional home remedy in the past
Onions can soothe mosquito bites, scare away pests, clean ovens, fight rust, and get rid of fresh paint odor; is there anything these vegetables can’t do? Well, if you were thinking they can’t cure fever, onions have proved you wrong once again!
In the ancient folk remedy, putting onions in one’s sock was believed to cure all infections overnight. This remedy had come into practice as early as the 1500s and is still used in some parts of the world. But how does it work? Here’s how:
Traditional eastern medicine believed the nerves of our feet to act as access points to our internal organs. When sliced onions were placed on one’s feet and enclosed with socks, the sulfuric acid present in them would infiltrate the body and fight the infection-causing bacteria, healing the victim overnight.
16. Serving the newlyweds onion soup is an age-old French custom
It’s an age-old custom in France to serve onion soups to the newlyweds the morning after their wedding night. The traditional reason behind this was that onions were believed to be an aphrodisiac remedy. Even the present, onion soups are an important addition to all French wedding menus.
17. The Egyptians saw onions as an object of worship
In the Egyptian civilization, onions held a very special place. To the Egyptians, the layered anatomy of these vegetables was considered symbolic of eternal life, which is why they buried their Pharaohs with onions.
Onions were not just included in their funeral offerings but were also offered to their gods. King Ramesses, the third king of the New Kingdom of Ancient Egypt, was buried with onions placed on his eye sockets. Moreover, paintings of onions are also found on the inner walls of tombs and pyramids.
18. The Beatles released a song named after onions in 1968
We discussed above that onions are one of the most widely used vegetables in the world. But who would’ve thought these veggies would find their way into a song by The Beatles, which is considered the most influential rock band of all time?
In their 1968 album titled The White Album, the band recorded a song named Glass Onion, written by one of the band members, John Lennon.
Now, you might be curious about the lyrics of this song, but if you’re expecting it to be a tribute to these vegetables, you’re poorly mistaken. Although named after onions, this song had little to do with them.
After its release, Lennon revealed that the song’s lyrics had no meaning and were written that way to confuse the fans who read too much into the songs of The Beatles.
19. Pickled pearl onions are used in a Martini cocktail!
Pickled onions are widely consumed as a snack, but did you know that they could also be used in cocktails? Believe it or not, the Gibson cocktail, which is a famous martini-based cocktail invented in the 1900s, is garnished with pickled pearl onions.
20. Rubbing onions on glass can prevent frost formation
Frosted windscreens are one of the most painful problems one faces during winters. Cleaning the frost every morning before work can get really annoying really quickly, which is why we’re here to make your winter mornings easier.
If you cut an onion in half and rub it on your windscreen at night, you’ll wake up to a frost-free windscreen the next morning! Yes, we’re absolutely serious about it.
Are you wondering how this works? This is because when you rub onions on the windscreen, it leaves behind a layer of sugar on it. And since sugar boosts the melting process by breaking down the ice molecules, there’s no frost left by morning.
21. The myth of sliced onions being poisonous has no truth!
As a netizen, you might be familiar with the myth that had once spread like wildfire on the internet: sliced onions are a hotbed for bacteria and shouldn’t be consumed later.
This resulted in many people throwing away residual onions for fear of suffering from their toxicity. But when we asked an expert about it, here’s what we found out:
Onions have a low protein content and pH level, which makes them unsuitable for the breeding of viruses and bacteria. In fact, when sliced, these vegetables release compounds that have quite the opposite effect. Even the juice of onion is recognized for its ability to kill various kinds of microorganisms, including those that cause food poisoning in humans.
So, the next time you have some onions left over from dinner, you can store them in the refrigerator for tomorrow’s use without a second thought.
22. According to folklore, an onion’s skin could predict the gravity of winters
Are you a believer in omens and folklore? Then you might find this fact quite interesting.
According to ancient folklore, the outer peel of onions could predict the gravity of the upcoming winters. The thicker the skin of these veggies, the harsher the winter months would be.
There’s an Old English proverb that talks about it:
Onion’s skin very thin,
Mild winter coming in;
Onion’s skin thick and tough,
Coming winter cold and rough.
23. The heaviest onion in the world weighs over 18 pounds!
Many of you might already know this, but the weight of an average-sized onion is around 3 pounds. Now, take a wild guess how much would the largest onion in the world weigh. It’s more than 90 times the normal size!
Yes, you read that right. In September 2014, Tony Glover, a professional onion cultivator from North Yorkshire, UK, set the world record for growing the heaviest onion. This onion weighed 18 pounds and 11 ounces (8.5 kilograms), and was entered in the Guinness Book of World Records.
24. China is the leading onion-producing country in the world
Since China is the country where onions once originated, it makes sense that this Asian country still leads the world in terms of onion production. China is closely followed by India, Egypt, and the United States of America on the list.
25. Libya is the leading consumer of onions in the world
Considering how China, India, and Egypt are the largest onion producers, anyone would assume one of them to be its largest consumer as well. However, you’d be surprised to learn that none of these countries consume as many onions as Libya.
Libya, a North African country that hasn’t even made it to the list of top 10 onion-producing countries, is the largest onion consumer in the world, with an average per capita onion consumption of 66.8 pounds!
26. An average American eats 18 pounds of onions in a single year!
While the United States of America might rank fourth on the list of onion-producing countries, in terms of its consumption, it does quite well. The country’s per capita onion consumption, which is 19.9 pounds, is significantly higher than the global count, which lies at 13.6 pounds.
27. New York City is also called “The Big Onion”
Many of you might be familiar with how New York City came to be called The Big Apple, the nickname a sportswriter of the New York Morning Telegraph used for it in the papers. However, what you might not know is that another writer has given this city another food-based nickname in her work.
Patricia Schultz, the author of the bestselling travel book 1000 Places to See Before You Die, has called New York The Big Onion. Schultz has also explained this reference, stating how the city was like an onion in the sense that no matter how many peels one might remove, they’d never get to the core.
28. Georgia and Texas have declared onions as their state vegetable
For a vegetable that has such widespread usage (both inside and outside of the culinary world), it’s quite surprising how onions have not been named the national vegetable of any country in the world yet.
However, two states within the United States have managed to do what no country could. Georgia and Texas have both declared two separate onion varieties as their official state vegetable. It should come as no surprise that both states have chosen varieties developed within their borders.
Georgia’s state vegetable is Vidalia Onion, while Texas’s state vegetable is Texas Sweet Onion.
29. Georgia also celebrates Vidalia Onion Festival in April every year
We just learned about Vidalia Onions being the official state vegetable of Georgia. But did you know that there’s an elaborate festival celebrated to honor these onions as well?
First, you need to know that these onions have been named after the city of Vidalia in Georgia because it was in this city that they were first cultivated. It is in this very city that the Vidalia Onion Festival was first celebrated in 1978. The first celebration was so captivating that it became an annual celebration soon and is ongoing even today!
The festival is celebrated in spring every year, from the 22nd to the 24th of April, and includes concerts, elaborate handicraft fairs, airshows, carnivals, parades, and fireworks.
30. June 27th is celebrated as National Onion Day
Would you like to know how the concept of National Onion Day came into existence?
It all started in 1913 when a group of five onion cultivators of Ohio came together to form the National Onion Association (NOA) to promote the onion cultivation industry in the United States.
In 2019, the NOA founded National Onion Day on June 27th to honor these vegetables as well as their foundation on their 106th anniversary. From that day onwards, this day is used to celebrate the spirit of onions, one of the most versatile members of the culinary world.