We use it in many food recipes, almost every gardener grows it in his garden, we can eat every part of it, is healthy whether it is raw or cooked, plus consuming it brings us numerous health benefits. What is it?
You guessed, it is the onion.
I don’t know if you have realized the importance of onions in our lives, but these vegetables are indispensable in the home of each of us.
Wait! Did I just refer to onions as vegetables? Aren’t onions actually fruits? Or roots, or bulbs?
Well, that’s the great question of today.
Is an onion a vegetable or a fruit? Or something else?
But before diving into the facts, let me tell you how I got into this dilemma.
While I was randomly browsing the vast Internet a few days ago, I stumbled upon a discussion forum where a few people were heavily debating whether onions are vegetables or fruits.
I found this subject pretty intriguing since I have always referred to onions as vegetables.
I don’t know about you but I have always associated the onions with the vegetables and I find onions in the vegetable section of the grocery store when I go shopping.
But just as the tomatoes are considered fruits from the botanical point of view and not vegetables because they are formed from a flower and contain seeds, I might also be wrong about onions.
To help us understand whether we should classify onions as fruits or vegetables, we must first see what are the differences between fruits, vegetables, roots, and bulbs.
Is An Onion A Root?
It must be root, right? After all, it grows in the ground, isn’t it?
Kidstir, a website about kids cooking, refers to onions in one of its articles as root vegetables.
So what exactly is a root vegetable?
Here’s Wikipedia’s definition of root vegetables:
Root vegetables are underground plant parts eaten by humans as food. Although botany distinguishes true roots (such as taproots and tuberous roots) from non-roots (such as bulbs, corms, rhizomes, and tubers, although some contain both hypocotyl and taproot tissue), the term “root vegetable” is applied to all these types in agricultural and culinary usage.Wikipedia
Consequently, it seems ok to refer to onions as “root vegetables” if you are a chef or a gardener, but I’m more interested in the botanical point of view.
So let see if from a botanical standpoint we can categorize onion as a fruit.
Is An Onion A Fruit?
First, let’s see what is the definition of a fruit. Let’s head to our friend, Wikipedia for that.
In botany, a fruit is a seed-bearing structure in flowering plants formed from the ovary after flowering.Wikipedia
So based on the above definition, can an onion be actually a fruit?
Onions (the part inside the ground) do not include seeds, nor they form directly from a flower.
Here’s what the Onion page on CreationWiki says about the reproduction process of onions.
Onions reproduce either with seeds or by bulbils (little bulbs) that form from lateral buds.CreationWiki
Therefore, none of these definitions seem to include onions in the fruit category.
So maybe an onion is a vegetable after all.
Is An Onion A Vegetable?
Let’s see what we can find out from the definition of a vegetable.
The Vegetable Research and Information Center of the University of California, Davis defines a vegetable as following:
A vegetable is the edible portion of a plant. Vegetables are usually grouped according to the portion of the plant that is eaten such as leaves (lettuce), stem (celery), roots (carrot), tubers (potato), bulbs (onion) and flowers (broccoli).VRIC UC Davis
Although I think this definition of a vegetable is a bit vague, they give us the perfect example of onions as bulbs.
Let’s get back to our main enigma though.
So, a simpler definition of a vegetable would be “a vegetable is any edible part of a plant, except for the fruit.” Otherwise, we might assume that fruits are also vegetables.
Therefore, from what we know so far, we can say that onion is a bulb.
Still, there is one problem left. We can also consume the leaves of the onion. Therefore, we cannot categorize the full plant as a bulb.
Is An Onion A Bulb?
I found an interesting answer from Abhishek Mishra on Quora.
Basically, Abhishek stated that onions are actually a combination of stem and scale leaves.
He also said that the stem of onion is discoid (disc-shaped) and it is an underground alteration of the stem which falls under the classification of a bulb.
This answer confirms the fact that the fleshy edible part of an onion that grows in the ground is a bulb.
That was a great explanation of the structure of the bulb, but I think it would be wrong to refer to the onion plant solely as a bulb.
After all this research, I think it’s time for conclusions.
So, is onion a fruit, a vegetable, a root, or a bulb, or anything else?
Well, I think it depends on the context. Root and bulb are just parts of the full onion plant, just like the leaves.
I see “fruits” and “vegetables” like broader classifications of the edible plant parts.
Therefore, because the leaves are also edible, I think it would be wrong to refer to the onion (the entire plant) as a bulb, but we can say a bulb of onion when we refer particularly to the fleshy part of the onion plant that grows in the ground.
In conclusion, because it does not meet the definition of fruit and we cannot say that the whole plant is a bulb (as it also has edible leaves), we can categorize onions as vegetables.
What is your opinion? Leave a comment below.