Onions are a staple of many diets around the world. Whether you’re sautéing them, chopping them up in a salad, or deep frying them for onion rings, onions can be eaten in practically any way!
The popularity of onions is actually nothing new, either. In fact, they’ve been a pivotal aspect of people’s diets throughout cultures the world over for millennia.
History shows us that onions aren’t just good for eating, though. In fact, some of their uses are absolutely shocking!
There’s no question that onions are an incredibly healthy—not to mention a tasty—addition to any meal. Humans have understood this for thousands of years. Bronze Age settlements dating back to 5000 B.C.E, for example, have been found with onion remains alongside figs and dates.
There’s also archaeological evidence of onion farming that dates back to 3000 B.C.E in ancient Egypt. Not only were onions a staple of the ancient Egyptian diet (they were supposedly fed to the builders of the pyramids, along with radishes), but they were used as symbols of worship!
Ricardo Liberato / Wikimedia Commons
Because the ancient Egyptians believed that the onion’s spherical shape, as well as the concentric circles of an its rings, represented the symbols of eternal life, they worshipped the vegetable. In fact, traces of onions were found in Ramesses IV’s eye sockets, which would mean that they were used in burial ceremonies!
Neithsabes / Wikimedia Commons
The ancient Greeks, meanwhile, were more interested in the nutritional benefits of onions. The bulbs were believed to lighten the blood’s “balance,” so athletes ate plenty of them. Roman gladiators also rubbed their skin in onions to make their muscles more firm.
The cultural value of onions persisted far beyond ancient times. During the middle ages in Europe, people prized the vegetable so much that onion bulbs were frequently used to pay rent. They were also often used as gifts!
During the 16th century, it was common for doctors to prescribe onions to women as medication to help treat infertility, just as people would regularly give onions to infertile animals at the time. That method might not fly today…
Pre-Colombian Native Americans had plenty of different ways to use wild onions for many generations before the arrival of the European explorers, including dye preparation, syrup making, and poultice forming.
BArchBot / Wikimedia Commons
Cultivated onions, however, were not present in North America until the early European settlers brought them over. According to the diaries that colonists left, onions were among the first things that the pilgrim settlers planted.
N. Currier / Wikimedia Commons
Today, we may not use onions for worship, infertility, or to pay our rent (good luck trying that), but they’re still popular and nutritious food items that are extremely common ingredients in delicious recipes around the world.
Dnor / Wikimedia Commons
There are also still uses for onions that go beyond cooking and eating them. For example, because they have particularly large cells, onions are often used to study cell structure with microscopes in science education. How cool is that?
Adrian J. Hunter
It’s amazing that our views on onions have changed so much over the years. We may not worship them anymore, but we still eat plenty of them!
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