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Onions belong to the plant genus Allium. Cultivated garden or bulb onions – the ones we eat - are Allium cepa. The onion is believed to have originated in Asia, though it is likely that onions may have been growing wild on every continent.
Traces of onion remains have been found in Bronze Age settlements dating back to 5000 BC. Our ancestors must have recognized the vegetable's durability and began growing onions for food in Egypt around 3500 BC, the same time that leeks and garlic were being cultivated. Other ancient civilizations in China, India, Greece and Rome also used and consumed onions. By The Middle Ages, onion, cabbage and beans were some of the staples of the European diet. Columbus introduced onions to North America on his 1492 expedition to Hispaniola. However, early Pilgrims who followed found that strains of wild onions grew throughout North America and that Native American Indians were already using them in a variety of ways.
Today, world onion consumption is estimated at 13.67 pounds per capita per year. Onions rank sixth among the world’s leading vegetable crops and third in the US.
Learn more about onion history at the National Onion Association.