The Tears Of An Onion

bd onion

No matter how you slice it the onion will never escape its association with crying. They are the butt of many a culinary joke being the runt of the produce litter bringing even the most well seasoned chef to tears. It’s simply a misunderstood edible member of the gastronomic universe with a bi-polar multiple personality disorder. It suffers from identity crisis whether yellow, red, or white, Spanish, jumbo, pearl, or cocktail, shallot, leek, or scallion. One minute its an essential flavor enhancer and the next a breath altering kiss killer. Is the onion is a taste bud joy bringer or is it a tear jerker? Both. This mood changing bulbous veggie staple is a well known in kitchens throughout the world being embraced by virtually every culture. People are often compared to these versatile ever popular alliums. “He is a complicated Person, with as many layers as an onion.” Indeed concentric in nature the royal onion is as complicated as a vegetable can be. “An onion a day keeps everyone away” That man was so ugly he could make an onion cry.” “ A cat has nine lives but an onion has seven skins.“ “An onion by any other name will never be a rose.” Okay, I made that last one up but you dig what I‘m saying.
Ranging in size from tiny pearls to giant softballs the onion can in fact be peeled one layer after another. A staple in nearly every culture despite having an essence so peculiarly strong and venomous it rivals the skunks ability to cause others to pinch their noses shut tight in an effort to avoid its foul odor. It can turn ones breath into a date breaking whiff “It’s not you baby, its your breath.” Point in fact in many an episode of The Little Rascals Alfalfa was turned away by Darla because he had recently indulged in extra curricular scallion chewing. But to infer that it is somehow evil is a disservice. The onion has a unique ability to coax salty droplets of liquid from our tear ducts which are normally saved for emotional outbursts. Only the slightest provocation of cutlery piercing its flesh brings teardrops scampering down our cheeks in a sometimes uncontrollable frenzy. This audacious vegetable permeates our olfactory senses across the entire kitchen in an all out assault that challenges the garlic’s long standing reign as king of tasty but offensive vegetables.
What’s the reason these bulbous alliums make tears come to our eyes? The official culprit is the result of a chemical reaction that is much too scientific to cover in brief format but suffice to say the onion contains amino acids in the sulfur family that get released into the air. These guilty gasses travel up into the air and rub their irritants into our eyeballs prompting the tear ducts to come to our aid and flush out the acrid acid with a tear or two. I have heard of many sure fire methods to work on these all important taste supplements without caving to the olfactory shock and awe campaign the acids wage. A gas mask will work but its rather uncomfortable and hard to find since the decline of the home bomb shelter. Besides it may frighten the children believing an alien to be cooking dinner. There are more prudent methods which involve keeping your mouth open while cutting into the alliums. In fact that will work for a while because you will inhale the noxious fumes into your lungs via your oral cavity increasing that kiss kill impulse much earlier, but eventually so much gas will enter the atmosphere you will still tear up regardless and have onion breath on top of it. Other methods such as running water, cutting near a flame or on the back burner of a stove produce even less successful results. Keeping something in your mouth is the same principle of an open mouth but for the less disciplined of us. The only real advice I have on this is to keep the onion as cold as possible or keep a small fan blowing away the fumes as you slice, dice, mince, or chop.
Once past the tear inducing cut up stage the onion performs its intended task, the enhancement of flavor to almost any dish. In Cajun cuisine they call the onion and its often present partners peppers and celery the Holy Trinity of cooking. It is the basis of nearly every soup an stew in the world, it adds umpf to pilaf, zing to zucchini and pop to popcorn shrimp. Its in sauces, dressings, dinner entrees, salads, appetizers, starches, sides, veggies and all type of combos. Fried in rings or just bloomin it makes solo appearances and it even has a starring role in cocktails. Yes the onion has a many faceted personality and it brings tremendous flavor enhancement to just about any dish. With a presence so pronounced in the culinary world you would think it deserves a huge birthday celebration, happy onion day, a day all its own. Only problem is, we have no idea exactly when the multi-faceted vegetable icon was born.
Along with its bi-polar identity crisis its origins are nearly impossible to trace, even with vegetable/ancestory.com confusion reigns. Some botanists say it was born in Iran and some say Pakistan. Still others argue it’s originally from Central America but the omnipotent onion seems to have been around forever. Many anthropologists believe it was used by our cave dwelling ancestors which could potentially have acted as a form birth control, or perhaps they used the huge onion as a weapon of ass destruction, but either way it makes determining the birthday impossible. There is evidence in ancient Egypt the onion with its potent aroma was use in an effort to revive the dead. At least until the first unfortunate soul tried shredding the much more aggressive horseradish which may very well have the ability to awaken the non living. The royal onion even found its way into Bible passages. The book of Numbers has the Israelite children lamenting of a diet filled with leeks and onions as they traveled the desert. The Romans, Greeks, and Indians all recognized the healing power of the vitamin rich veggie. The Olympians of ancient Greece fortified themselves with onions before their grueling events. Even the Middle Ages showered glory on these globes of culinary prominence. The three main foodstuffs of that era were cabbage, beans, and onions. The magnificent onion was believed to have incredible medicinal properties curing everything from mouth sores to insomnia. These ever popular kitchen necessities were even taken on board the Mayflower thereby sneaking into our history by adding their special flavor enhancement to the first Thanksgiving feast. It was one of the very first botanical treasures planted by the pilgrims on American soil. Yet still no birthday celebration even after all they’ve done for us. No wonder it seems sad.
Despite all its rich history and near mystical appearances still no mention of a birthday celebration for the used and abused reigning king of culinary staple foods. Perhaps that’s the reason noxious sulphuric vapors seep into our atmosphere. Maybe, just maybe the tears we shed are the tears of the onion itself, living in constant pain of the neglect it experiences because we never gave it a birthday to celebrate like we do. The least we can do for this loyal bulb is grant it one. No reason we can’t heap salutations on this fabulous culinary workhorse, this noxious yet tasty bulbous veggie, this fortune bringing, tear coaxing stench causing staple of the vegetable kingdom. So from this day forward, lets make today, April 4th the official birthday of Allium Cepa, the illustrious and attention deserving onion. Don’t cry for me Argentina, just slice me a few of those birthday onions to have with my champagne. Happy Birthday you many layered edible gem you……PEACE

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