Don't cry for the onion! This hardy, heathly vegetable is a great addition to your diet and your vegetable garden -- it grows well in many climates, and there are lots of varieties to choose from. In this article, we'll talk about growing onions, onion types, selecting and serving onions, and the health benefits of onions.

Onions
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Onions are biennial vegetables, but they are more commonly grown as annuals.
See more pictures of onions.

Onions are hardy biennial vegetables that are usually grown as annuals. They have hollow leaves, and the base of the stem enlarges to form a bulb. The bulbs vary in color from white to yellow or red. The flower stalk is also hollow, taller than the leaves, and topped with a cluster of white or lavender flowers.

Common Name: Onion
Scientific Name: Allium cepa
Hardiness: Very hardy (will survive first frost)

Are you planning to add some onions to your vegetable garden? Go to the next page for our onion-growing tips.

Want even more information about onions? Try these links:
  • Why do onions make you cry? Grab a tissue and find out just what it is about onions that brings on the waterworks.
  • Vegetable Gardens: Grow a full harvest of great vegetables this year.
  • Gardening: We answer your questions about all things that come from the garden.

Growing Onions

Onions are a good addition to most gardens, with varieties to suit most every climate. Most onions are sensitive to the length of the day. Bulb-type varieties are classified as either long-day or short-day onions. Long-day onions will produce bulbs when grown in the summer months in the North. Short-day onions produce bulbs in the mild winter climate of the South. American onions and Spanish onions need long days to produce their bulbs; Bermuda onions prefer short days.

Onions
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Long-day bulb onions need long
summer days to produce their
bulbs.

Onions are also sensitive to temperature. Generally, they require cool weather to produce their tops and warm weather to produce their bulbs. They're frost-hardy, and you can plant four weeks before the average date of last frost. In the South, onions can be planted in the fall or winter, depending on the variety.

Onions are available in three forms: sets, transplants, and seeds. Sets are small bulbs that are dormant. The smaller the sets are, the better. Sets are easiest to plant, but they come in the smallest number of varieties. Transplants are usually more reliable about producing bulbs and are available in more varieties than sets. Seeds are the least expensive and offer the greatest number of varieties, but they take the longest to develop and are most prone to disease and environmental problems.

Onions need a well-prepared bed with all the lumps removed to a depth of at least 6 inches. The soil should be fertile and rich in organic matter. Bulbing onions need full sun, but green onions can be grown in partial shade. Plant transplants or sets 1 or 2 inches deep and 2 to 3 inches apart. If you're planting onions from seed, plant the seeds 1/4 inch deep and thin to 1 to 2 inches apart. If you have limited space, you can grow onions between other vegetables, such as cabbages or tomatoes.

The soil should not be allowed to dry out until the plants have started to mature, which is marked by the leaves starting to turn yellow and brown and droop over. At this point, let the soil get as dry as possible.

Harvesting Onions

All varieties can be eaten as green onions, though some varieties are grown especially for their bulbs. Harvest leaves whenever you need. Harvest green onions when the bulb is not much larger than the leaves. Harvest dry onion bulbs after the leaves have dried. Lift the bulbs completely out of the soil. Dry the bulbs thoroughly before storing.

There are more kinds of onions than you can shake a stick at. If you're confused, keep reading -- in the next section, we'll talk about the different onion types.

Want even more information about onions? Try these links:
  • Why do onions make you cry? Grab a tissue and find out just what it is about onions that brings on the waterworks.
  • Vegetable Gardens: Grow a full harvest of great vegetables this year.
  • Gardening: We answer your questions about all things that come from the garden.

Onion Types

Onions come in bulbing and green onion varieties, although any onion type can be eaten as a green onion. Bulbing onions are divided into long-day and short-day types, as we learned on the previous page. Long-day onions produce bulbs in the summer months in northern climates, while short-day onions prefer the cool winter months of the South.

Green Onion (Scallion, Bunching) Types:
  • Evergreen Long White Bunching, harvest at 120 days, produce long silvery-white stalks in bunches and will not form bulbs.
  • Beltsville Bunching, harvest at 120 days, is heat-tolerant and has a mild flavor.

    Onions
    ©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
    Bulbing onions come in long-day and short-day varieties.

Bulbing Onion Types:
  • Southport Red Globe, harvest at 110 days, long-day, has sweet, purple-red flesh.
  • Yellow Sweet Spanish, harvest at 110 days, long-day, has large, white flesh.
  • Bermuda, harvest at 185 days, short-day, is large and produces white flesh with a mild flavor.
  • Yellow Granax (also known as Vidalia), harvest at 120 days, short-day, is large with white flesh.
  • Walla Walla Sweet, harvest at 56 days, is cold hardy with sweet white flesh.
  • Redwing, harvest at 59 days, is the best red.
Now that you have onions, what do you do with them? In the next section, we'll teach you how to select and serve your home-grown onions.

Want even more information about onions? Try these links:
  • Why do onions make you cry? Grab a tissue and find out just what it is about onions that brings on the waterworks.
  • Vegetable Gardens: Grow a full harvest of great vegetables this year.
  • Gardening: We answer your questions about all things that come from the garden.

Selecting Onions

There are many different types of onions. You'll want to select the best onion type for your cooking recipes.

Dry onions are any common onion (yellow, white, or red) that does not require refrigeration. This distinguishes them from green onions, which will perish quickly when stored at room temperature.

Dry onions come in various shapes and colors, none of which is a reliable indicator of taste or strength. The white, or yellow globe, onion keeps its pungent flavor when cooked. All-purpose white or yellow onions are milder. Sweet onions, such as Bermuda, Spanish, and Italian, are the mildest.

Choose firm dry onions with shiny, tissue-thin skins. "Necks" should be tight and dry. If they look too dry or discolored or have soft, wet spots, they aren't fresh.

Dry onions keep three to four weeks if stored in a dry, dark, cool location. Don't store them next to potatoes, which give off a gas that'll cause onions to decay. Light turns onions bitter. A cut onion should be wrapped in plastic, refrigerated, and used within a day or two.

Green onions, also called "spring" onions because that's the time of the year when they are harvested, have small white bulbs and are topped by thin green stalks. Though they are often sold as scallions, true scallions are just straight green stalks with no bulb. Look for green onions with crisp, not wilted, tops. For pungent taste, choose fatter bulbs; for a sweeter taste, smaller bulbs are your best bet. Green onions must be refrigerated. They keep best in an open plastic bag in your refrigerator's crisper drawer.

Onions
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Try chilling onions before slicing to avoid the tear-inducing fumes.

Tips for Preparing and Serving Onions

To keep tears from flowing, try slicing onions under running water. Or chill onions for an hour before cutting. To get the onion smell off your hands, rub your fingers with lemon juice or vinegar.

Onions are the perfect seasoning for almost any cooked dish. Their flavor mellows when they are cooked because smelly sulfur compounds are converted to sugar when heated. Onions saute wonderfully, even without butter. Use a nonstick skillet and perhaps a teaspoon of olive oil. Keep heat low or they'll scorch and turn bitter.

Sweet onions are ideal raw, as rings in salads or as slices atop sandwiches. They add bite to a three-bean salad or a plate of homegrown tomatoes. Wash green onions, trimming roots and dry leaves. Chop up bulb, stalk, and all. They work well in stir-fry dishes, adding an understated bite. Green onions can also be served raw with low-fat dip as part of a crudite platter.

Whether it's a shallot, a scallion, or a regular yellow onion, be sure to have onions on hand to jazz up any healthy salad, stir-fry, or vegetarian casserole recipe. This way, you'll never be bored with healthy eating.

In the next section, we'll talk about the health benefits of onions.

Want even more information about onions? Try these links:

Health Benefits of Onions

Dry onions are a surprising source of fiber and a rich source of healthy sulfur compounds, similar to those found in garlic. Research on onions has lagged behind garlic research, but onions appear to have similar cardiovascular benefits, such as reducing blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels, at least in the short term.

Onions
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Onions are a good source of fiber, flavonoids, and vitamin C.

Onions also contain phytochemicals called flavonoids, which help vitamin C in its function, improving the integrity of blood vessels and decreasing inflammation. All this spells help for your cardiovascular system. One particular flavonoid, quercetin, may inhibit tumor growth and help keep colon cancer at bay.

In addition, a newly identified compound appears to rival the prescription drug Fosamax in inhibiting bone loss in menopausal women.

Onions also contain vitamin C and chromium. Chromium is a mineral that helps cells respond to insulin, ultimately assisting with blood glucose control. Green onions, because of their bright green tops, provide a wealth of vitamin A.

Nutritional Values of Dry Onions
Serving Size: 1/2 cup chopped
Calories 46
Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg
Saturated Fat 0 g
Carbohydrate 11 g
Protein 1 g
Dietary Fiber 2 g
Sodium 3 mg
Vitamin C 6 mg
Vitamin B6 <1 mg

Nutritional Values of Fresh Green Onions
Serving Size:
1/2 cup chopped (stalks and bulbs)
Calories 16
Fat 0 g
Saturated Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg
Carbohydrate 4 g
Protein 1 g
Dietary Fiber 1 g
Sodium 8 mg
Vitamin A 498 IU
Vitamin C 10 mg
Iron 1 mg
Carotenoids 867 micrograms

Want even more information about onions? Try these links:
  • Why do onions make you cry? Grab a tissue and find out just what it is about onions that brings on the waterworks.
  • Nutrition: Learn how onions fit into your nutrition plan.
  • Vegetable Gardens: Grow a full harvest of great vegetables this year.
  • Gardening: We answer your questions about all things that come from the garden.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.