.. for the unnoticed and unspoken champions in the background who very rarely get any star billing unless they are at the height of a trend like the Catalan Chalcot that’s here today and gone tomorrow (in the time honoured tradition of all true delicacies) or perhaps a long established favourite like the French Roscoff that has its own museum, an annual two-day festival and regional naming protection under EU law.
I bring you of course the humble onion which has been our constant companion down through history. They are relatively small in vegetable terms and as their tissues leave practically no trace it’s been basically impossible for onion archaeologists (Alliumeonists) to agree on when and where they might first have originated. There is strong evidence of them being cultivated as far back as 3500 BC in Egypt. In fact, onions were considered to be an object of worship as they symbolised eternity in their circle-within-a-circle structure anatomy. Naturally they were included in large quantities in the Pharaohs afterlife pyramid stocking essentials.
Nowadays we generally content ourselves with the many variants on the onion theme of the yellow, red and white, which, because they store so well if kept away from moisture are available all year round. They have two seasons, summer and spring, and autumn and winter, but as they all look the same your average non-chef non-onion obsessed member of the public is unlikely to notice the difference I reckon.
However, everyone pretty much agrees that the onion (and its cousin garlic) is the bedrock of cooking and that without them dishes just taste insipid and lacking in texture and flavour. We seem to be a bit precious about our onions though as despite the monumental annual global production of more than 75 million metric tons only 8% of the onions produced are traded globally. Libya doesn’t export any and annually consumes a whopping 66lbs (30kg) per person against a global average consumption of 13lbs (6kg).
Onions have many fantastic properties to go along with their culinary indispensability. They have antiseptic qualities and a range of goodies to help with a huge range of aliments. They also have a magnificence defence mechanism (not that its saved many of them mind you) of releasing their sulphur into the air when cut, this reacts with the moisture in our eyes and forms a very mild version of sulphuric acid which then sends our teardrop production into overdrive and makes us “cry”. The solution is naturally to eat your onion whole and raw, and its apparently the secret to a long and healthy life … luckily parsley is a readily available cure to onion breath that’s required for social acceptability for those Zimmer frame trips to the shops …