When you peel an onion, you find fabulous flavor and nutrients that help your body ward off inflammation, fight chronic disease and regulate blood sugar.

Food Basics

There are hundreds of varieties of onions whose flavor and strength depend on the type of soil and time of year in which they grow. In general, the thicker the layers of onion, the stronger the flavor. Onions are separated into two main categories: fresh onions and storage (or “dry”) onions.

Fresh onions arrive in spring and summer, and you should store them in the refrigerator and eat them soon after harvesting. Examples include green onions (or scallions), and “sweet onions,” like Maui, Vidalia and Walla Walla. When selecting green onions, look for those that appear crisp yet tender and have green, fresh-looking tops. Sweet onions should be firm and heavy with water.

Storage onions are harvested in fall and winter, have a stronger flavor, store longer, and should be kept in a cool, dry place (but not refrigerated). Common examples are yellow, white and red onions. Shallots are a clustering variety of storage onion that are mild and sweet. When purchasing, choose storage onions that are clean, well shaped and tightly closed, with crisp, dry outer skins. Avoid onions that are sprouting or have signs of mold or soft spots.

Nutritional Know-How

Studies have suggested that onions, which are rich in phytochemicals and the antioxidant flavonoid quercetin, may help lower the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, and many types of cancer, particularly colon cancer. Onions also have powerful anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal and anti-parasitic properties. One cup of raw onion contains more than 20 percent of the daily requirement of the trace mineral chromium, important for helping the body to metabolize sugar and lipids. When cooked, onions have a slightly lower vitamin content, but the resulting chemical reactions increase the variety of beneficial sulfur compounds.

Eat Up!

Cooked or raw, onions add depth and excitement to dishes.

  • Spring and red onions bring color and flavor to salads, salsa and guacamole.
  • Sweet onions are best when eaten raw or only slightly cooked, making them perfect additions to hamburgers, sandwiches and fresh salads.
  • To sauté onions, heat skillet over medium-high heat and add oil to coat bottom of pan. Add thinly sliced or chopped onions and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Season with salt and pepper.
  • To caramelize onions, first heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat with 2 teaspoons of butter. Add 2 pounds of thinly sliced onions and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt. Cook, stirring constantly, for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cook uncovered until onions are soft and brown, about 40 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. If pan becomes dry, add a few tablespoons of vegetable stock. Season with salt and pepper.

Kitchen Tricks

  • To prevent watery eyes when cutting an onion, chill it for an hour before chopping. This helps slow down the movement of allyl sulfate, the enzyme responsible for producing tears.
  • When cutting a dry onion, chop off the top and slice in half through the root. (Leaving the root intact makes chopping easier.) Remove skin and place halves flat-side down on a cutting board. Slice to make uniform half-moon slices.
  • To take the onion smell out of a wooden cutting board, wash it with a paste made from baking soda and a few drops of distilled vinegar. Rinse with warm water. Season the dried board with mineral oil.

Thai Onion Soup

Makes 8 cups

  • 1/4 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 cups thinly sliced yellow onions
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry wine
  • 1/4 cup port wine
  • 1/4 cup Madeira
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup unsweetened apple juice

Wrap these spices in cheesecloth sachet

  • 1 tbs. chopped lemon grass
  • 2 tsp. fresh grated ginger
  • 1 1/2 tsp. gram marsala
  • 1 1/2 tsp. curry powder
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 whole star anise
  • 1/4 tsp. whole cardamom
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 5 whole allspice
  • 1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt


  1. Heat a sauté pan over high heat and spray with olive oil.
  2. Add the onions and sauté over medium heat until the onions have caramelized, about 20 to 25 minutes. The onions need to be dark brown; you may need to add a few tablespoons of water or vegetable stock occasionally to deglaze the bottom of the pan.
  3. Add the spice sachet.
  4. Add the sherry and ignite and allow the alcohol to burn off.
  5. Stir in the port wine.
  6. Reduce wine until pan is almost dry.
  7. Add Madeira and reduce by half. A
  8. dd stock and apple juice and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes.
  9. Season with fresh herbs, salt and pepper.

Per serving:
Calories 80; protein 1 g; total fat 0 g; saturated fat 0 g; carbohydrates 14 g; dietary fiber 2 g; cholesterol 0 mg; sodium 80 mg

Carmelized Onion Flatbread With Sundried Tomato Goat Cheese

Makes four flatbreads  

For the onions

  • 2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup vegetable stock
  • 4 cups julienned yellow onion
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

For the goat cheese

  • 5 sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. fresh minced thyme
  • 8 oz. goat cheese

For the flatbread

  • 4 each Multi Grain Flatout® Flatbread*
  • 1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup shredded part-skim Mozzarella cheese
  • 4 Roma tomatoes, sliced ¼ inch thick
  • 1/4 cup basil, cut chiffonade

Directions for the Caramelized Onions

  1. Heat a large saucepan over medium heat and add the olive oil.
  2. Add onions and cook for approximately 15 minutes or until onions are nicely caramelized.
  3. Use vegetable stock as needed to keep onions from sticking and remove brown bits from bottom of the pan, about 1 tablespoon at a time.
  4. Season with black pepper.

Directions for the Cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Place the tomatoes in a food processor and puree until very smooth. Add the goat cheese to the food processor with the pureed tomatoes and mix well.
  3. Place flatbread on baking sheets. Lightly spray with olive oil.
  4. Sprinkle each with 1 tablespoon basil, 2 tablespoons mozzarella cheese, 1/4 cup caramelized onion and top with five tomato slices.
  5. Dot each with 3 tablespoons of goat cheese and bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes or until dough is crispy and cheese is melted.
  6. Cut each flatbread into eight pieces and serve on a 10-inch plate garnished with 1 tablespoon fresh basil.

*Gluten-free options for flatbread: Food for Life whole-grain brown rice tortillas, organic sprouted whole kernel flourless corn tortillas, or La Tortilla Factory’s ivory teff wraps.

Per serving (one flatbread):
Calories 430; protein 24 g; total fat 21 g; saturated fat 10 g; carbohydrates 44 g; dietary fiber 9 g; cholesterol 35 mg; sodium 1,250 mg

Recipes presented by Conscious Cuisine.

This article has been updated. It originally appeared online on October 1, 2009.

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