What is a spring onion?
Cultivated since prehistoric times, the versatile spring onion with its vivid green stem has long been a favourite to add a dash of colour to stir-fried dishes. The vegetable also gives a delicate onion flavour and crunch when eaten raw in salads, sandwiches and salsas. A sprinkling of crispy-fried spring onions adds another dimension to Asian dishes.
The Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Chinese all planted and used this vegetable. The spring onion is believed to have originated in the Far East and has been a favourite in China and Japan for centuries. Chives and spring onion appear in Chinese history records from 2000 BC.
Like its relative, the bulbous garlic plant, this plain-looking vegetable has been credited with amazing powers to cure colds, improve poor eyesight and even ward off evil.
Spring onions belong to the same family of vegetables as garlic, leeks and chives. The Straightleaf is the main variety of spring onion found in supermarkets and fresh food markets. Other selections of this variety include the Dynasty Winter King and Summer King.
Why spring onions are good to eat
- Spring onions are an excellent source of vitamin C and calcium.
- They are also a good source of dietary fibre and vitamins A and B6, thiamine, folate and minerals (potassium, copper, chromium, manganese, iron).
- Some research suggests that spring onions may lower cholesterol levels, decrease the risk of heart attacks and strokes and have antibacterial and antifungal properties.
- Energy – 100 g of spring onion provides 110 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Spring onions are easy to grow. Seeds are best planted at soil temperatures between 10 °C and 20 °C and in a sheltered position (to minimise breakage or bending of the green leaves).
Spring onions grow throughout the year, although the best quality and highest yields are produced in late spring. The plants are ready to harvest in eight to 10 weeks in summer and 12 to 14 weeks in winter. When harvesting, you should get rid of plants that have damaged leaves or those that do not have green leaves.
Choosing spring onions
When choosing spring onions you should look for those with healthy, fresh, dark green leaves. Spring onions with discoloured, wilted, dry or slimy leaves and soft bulbs are best avoided.
How to store and keep spring onions
Spring onions can be stored in the vegetable compartment of your fridge. Cut some of the green section off, wrap them in a damp paper towel, place in a plastic bag and store. They last for up to five days when stored like this.
How to use
- Spring onions (the bulb and the leaves) can be used raw in salads, as a garnish or cooked as part of Asian stir-fry dishes.
- They add a depth of flavour when used in soup, noodle dishes and in salsa.
- Chopped spring onions in soy sauce with some chopped chilli and rice vinegar makes a great dipping sauce.
- For a Greek-inspired dish, mix finely sliced spring onions with herbs, salt, pepper and olive oil. Place this mixture between sheets of oiled filo pastry and bake until golden and crisp.
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