Monday, July 1, 2013

The Truth about Onions (and a quick tip)

So most of you will notice that Garlic and Onions are used in a lot of my recipes. Garlic is a food group in my house. I was once accused of putting garlic in everything, including pancakes. My kids will disagree, although if it's mashed potato pancakes I'll agree. But *only* if it's mashed potato pancakes.

When I met my husband he didn't like onions. He still doesn't like them much, but admits begrudgingly they can be good in some things, and will either eat them or pick them out, depending on how small they're cut. I like the flavor of onions, and I love what onions and garlic do for my cholesterol and blood pressure. In fact, I'm afraid what my blood pressure would look like if I didn't eat as much of them as I do, I am already on medication to keep it from being 187/93 or something. But then I often have a lot of stress in my life, and I'm often in pain from my back. They're always surprised my cholesterol is low for someone of my weight though.

Onions have a bad reputation, and it's simply not true that vampires dislike them. Onions and Garlic are both blood purifiers, and if there is one thing vampires love, it's good, rich healthy blood. But that's beside the point. Most people hate onions because of two things: the tears and the smell on their hands.

These are both caused by the same thing.
Propanethial S-oxide
This is the colorless (but obviously NOT odorless) acidic gas released from the combination of various chemical compounds from the cell walls of the onion when you cut it. It wafts up to your nose, making it crinkle, and your soft tissue in your eyes, and it starts to burn them. The natural reaction is to tear-up to wash the irritant out. And this is why you cry with some onions. There's some tricks to prevent it though.

  • Run the onion under running water as soon as you cut it in half. The water mixes with the acid from the onion, and thins it out. Also, water tends towards the base/alkaline side, so it is double good. 
  • Refrigerated onions are supposed to release the chemicals slower, but don't freeze them, that just makes the onions mushy (although you could maybe freeze the onion for 10 mins before cutting, just don't let it actually *freeze*) 
  • Baking soda is a base/alkaline, and can be used to wash down the knife, cutting board, onion, you name it. Mix a little baking soda with some water, and dip the knife in it as you chop, if you wanted to take a really *sharp* onion and make it milder, you could soak the onion in the baking soda/water mixture for like 5 mins., then rinse it really well. It should leach out the acids from the onion and make it milder.
  • Speaking of Baking Soda, did you know that just a teeny tiny (and I do mean teeny tiny!) dusting of baking soda will make carmelizing onions take 1/2 the time? It's a chemical thing. Also never carmelize onions on high, it releases chemicals that make you burp - cooking them slower on medium heat neutralizes the chemical and makes them taste better and more caramel-y.
  • Use a very sharp knife. The sharper the knife, the fewer tearing of the cell walls, so less gas is formed. 
  • Cut the onion so that the cut part of the onion is against the cutting board as much as possible. Watch cooking videos on you tube or cooking shows to learn how to cut them without shuffling them around too much. The more you move them around, the more the chemicals mix and the gas is formed. Try to chop so that when you move it, it's straight into a bowl or your skillet. 
  • If holding chopped onions for something like tacos, cover them with water, or cover the bowl with plastic wrap (but if you do the later, be warned - it's just holding the gas in, and it WILL come out when you remove the plastic.)
  • Cut where there is good ventilation. This is kind of a "duh" but sometimes it's too cold or hot to have your windows open.
Whenever I'm cooking with onions, I typically cut them as I need them, so they go straight from chopping to cooking in one step. It doesn't always work, and cooking things all at once can definitely be a challenge. It just takes practice. Keep practicing!

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