Why Do So Many Dishes Use Onions?

Onions are among the most important staple foods in the world, and many ways of using them have evolved over the millennia. Have you ever wondered why are onions present in so many cuisines, and how they became so popular?

The main reasons for the frequent use of onions in various dishes are, among others, the following:

• Onions are easy to grow in almost all parts of the world, which is why they have been a staple food in many cultures since ancient times.

• They are a very versatile ingredient, which is why onions are suitable to form the basis of many dishes, boiled, fried, caramelized, stuffed, sauteed, marinated or raw.

• Another reason for the widespread use of onions is that they were among the cheapest vegetables throughout history, so everyone could afford them.

• Onions are also popular because they are healthy. They are used as medicinal plants in many cultures.

Why are onions so incredibly common?

Onions are probably one of the most common crops because they are easy to grow. They don’t require a lot of water to grow and don’t have many pests. They can also be easily grown in home gardens.

Due to their good cultivation, storage, and transport properties, onions are widely and cheaply available worldwide. Onions can be successfully stored throughout the year, in a dry, cool place, and can also be transported well.

Why do onions make food taste better?

Onions typically have a pungent taste, but they are also sweet due to their sugar content.

The taste and smell of onions come largely from the sulfur compounds that are released during slicing or chewing. The sulfur content depends on the type of onion and the quality of the soil. The more sulfur an onion contains, the stronger its taste and smell.

Raw, crispy onions are a common ingredient in salads. Raw onions are an excellent side dish for grilled meats. By cooking, the pungency of the onion ceases, and the taste becomes sweeter as the sugar caramelizes. With longer cooking, the onion will soften and thereby thicken and give bulk to the dish.

onions in the soil
Onions in the field

When did humans start eating onions?

  • Based on archaeological findings and ancient written records, onions were already present in Asian cultures thousands of years ago. They were traded along the Silk Road.
  • Archaeological excavations prove that onions were already consumed in China in the Bronze Age.
  • In ancient Egypt, onions were a popular vegetable, but they were also used for ceremonial purposes. Due to their antiseptic effect and smell, they also played a role in the process of mummification.
  • Cuneiform tablets from ancient Babylon, dating back to 2000 BC, contain descriptions of sophisticated recipes made with onions.
  • In ancient Rome, onions were grown and used both as food and as a medicinal plant.
  • Wild onion varieties were used in the cuisine of the native American population before the arrival of the Europeans.

Are onions used in every culture?

Onions are a staple food in many national cuisines, as they can be grown almost anywhere in the world and are cheaply available. According to UN data, there are at least 175 onion-growing countries.

According to BBC.com, the largest amount of onions, more than 30 kg per person per year, is consumed by the population of Libya. It is followed by Albania and Tajikistan.

Onions in European and Mediterranean cuisines

Onions play an important role in the Mediterranean diet, both raw and cooked. They are an important element of Sofrito, which forms the basis of many dishes, together with other aromatic vegetables. Mirepoix is ​​very similar to sofrito and is used in French cuisine.

In Central and Western European countries, onions are a common ingredient in many dishes, such as Hungarian goulash or German onion cake (Zwiebelkuchen).


The dishes of French cuisine are among the most refined in the world. Larousse gastronomique lists several French onion dishes, including onion soup and puree, as well as a variety of stuffed and fried onions.

In southern Europe, including the cuisines of the Balkan countries, onions are among the most common ingredients. One of the well-known dishes of Turkish cuisine is Sogan Dolma, which is actually an onion stuffed with minced meat and rice.


Onions in Asian and African cuisines

The most commonly used types of onion in Chinese cuisine are scallions and chives. In Taiwan, the shallot is a basic ingredient in many dishes.

Onions also play an important role in Indian cuisine, for example as an ingredient in soups, chutneys, or curry.

In West African gastronomy, together with tomatoes and chili peppers, onions form the basis of several classic dishes, such as Jollof rice.

Onions in the American cuisine

Native American people used wild onions for baking and cooking before the arrival of Europeans. They also dried onions, preserving them for the winter season.

We have already mentioned sofrito, which is common in Mediterranean cuisine, but its variations are also popular in Latin America. It is made from onions and other aromatic plants and forms the basis of many dishes.

Onions are growing in popularity in the United States, and fried onion rings are among the most popular onion dishes.


Final thoughts

Onions are among the crops cultivated by mankind since ancient times. They are cheap and therefore available in large quantities to anyone. The fact that onions can be used in many ways and are also healthy also contributes to their widespread use.

What do you think about the popularity of onions? Please feel free to leave your comments in the section below.

You may also wish to read why baby carrots often taste like chemicals.



My name is Debora, the founder of My Delicious Sweets, and a qualified confectioner with broad experience in the confectionery industry. On my blog, I will share important, interesting, and fun facts about food, along with some of my favorite recipes.

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