Where did onions originate from? And how did they become popular around the world?

Onions were initially cultivated 4,000 years ago in the regions of Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. The word onion has been derived from the Latin word unio. Due to the natural composition of onion with many layers bonded together, the Romans had named it unio, which means oneness. 

Onions are commonly used in all types of cuisines, especially Asian cuisines. However, onions have not always been so popular. For instance, most of the Indians did not consume onions due to certain religious beliefs that insisted people to refrain from its use, as it was believed to create evil qualities that lead one to become angry, resentful, arrogant and destructive. 

Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan

This ancient Hindu belief is still strictly followed by many. They regard onions and garlic as belonging to the same plant family, which is believed to form of nature that hinders the spiritual advancement of the followers. A little dig into the matter reveals that the plant family alliums – to which onions and garlic belong – is claimed to instill emotional and sexual excitement in people. This belief can be commonly found in Buddhists as well as Taoists. 

While on his visit to the 110 states and provinces of India from 629 AD to 645 AD, the Chinese traveler, Hiuen Tsang, witnessed that people who consumed onions were asked to stay on the outskirts of the town and were not allowed to mingle with other people. After the ancient Indian physicians like Charak, Vagbhatt, and Shushrut mentioned about the exceptional medicinal qualities of advantages of onions in Ayurveda, it slowly started getting popular among Indians.

On the other hand, onions were placed on a very high pedestal among Egyptians. They almost worshipped onions as they considered them holy because of their spherical shape and concentric circles. Also, the laborers of the Egyptian pyramid consumed onions as their main food. It was a cheap source of energy for them. The Egyptians’ love for the onions is heavily depicted in their ancient paintings. Onions were hung on the altars and entrances because it was considered holy. 

Romans also loved the onions, and they were the ones who introduced onions to the Europeans. The daily diet of Romans significantly included onion and its juice.

For many years, the British, too, had shunned onions from their menu owing to its pungent smell. It was the outbreak of plague in 1350 that transformed their disliking towards onions. It so happened that during this epidemic termed as ‘Black Death,’ thousands of British lost their lives. Surprisingly, onion traders were somehow miraculously saved from this epidemic. This incident established a strong belief in the minds of the populace that onions were good for health. Gradually, onion was added as an ingredient in various cuisines worldwide.

Moreover, scientific evidence also documented that besides the medicinal treatments and prevention, using natural ingredients such as onions helped prevented the plague. Derived from the ancient religious beliefs that onions were somehow related to supernatural spirits working their way into the bodies, rubbing onions on the head was also used as a cure.

Onions made their way into the daily diet of people as more and more research was conducted to uncover its health benefits. Onions have proved to be a powerful natural ingredient that helps in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases. They are also highly recommended for lowering the risks of blood clots. Stomach cancer is also one of the diseases that is claimed to be prevented by the regular use of onions. Onions are filled with Phytochemicals that help promote our health and improve lung function.

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