Knowing your onions

Published: 22nd March 2013 11:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 22nd March 2013 11:00 AM   |  A+A-


In an era when Apple is viewed as a computer, Ginger as a hotel, Onion as a satirical newspaper and Broccoli as a filmmaker, you do tend to forget your beets, shoots and leaves. In such moments, it’s good to pause and reflect on the salad days of vegetables.

Onions (possibly the oldest recorded vegetable) were treated like gods in ancient Egypt. Some say they were worshipped because they provided all the energy to the slaves who built the pyramids.

The Greeks used onions as a primitive form of steroids for preparing their athletes for the Olympics. In the middle ages, doctors everywhere were prescribing it for relieving coughs, curing headaches, healing snake bites, and solving infertility! The profound coexistence of many layers in one bulbous blob, inspired some Romans to coin a Latin word unionem (meaning ‘the one’) which later morphed into the humble onion.

Likewise, potatoes were the most precious things for the Incas.

They fought for it, prayed with it and even buried their dead with it. In 1565, when explorer Gonzalo Jiminez de Quesada didn’t find gold, he took the potato in lieu, as he found it as treasure-worthy.

If not for Sir Francis Drake’s generous act of planting the wonder tuber in Ireland, the world would never have got to taste the French Fries, the aloo paratha, the bonda and the samosa.

Curiously, the name potato (derived from the Spanish ‘batata’) was originally invented for the sweet potato!

The linguistic origins of some other vegetables are as intriguing. The cabbage draws its roots from the French word ‘caboche’ (meaning head). I suspect a Sanskrit origin as ‘kapishaka’ has almost identical connotations.

Carrot comes from the Greek ‘karaton’, thanks to its horn-shape. Ginger from Greek ‘gingibris’ which in turn is inspired from the Tamil ‘Inji ver’. Gooseberry from German ‘krausebeere’ or ‘crispy, curly’.

Yam from the West African nyami (‘to eat’). Radish from Latin for ‘root’. The big fat pumpkin from the Greek word for ‘cooked by the sun’. And zucchini from Italian for ‘little pumpkin’.

So the next time you say grace before your meal, thank the green gods from all continents.




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