Onions: Vegetable or Herb? In a Way, They're Sort of Both

Onions are one of the most popular cooking ingredients in the world. And it’s been that way for thousands of years. In fact, research suggests that long before farming was invented, humans were eating wild onions. Nowadays, whether you’re cooking American, Italian, Indian, or Mexican food, most dishes feature at least one chopped onion. There are a few reasons for this, but the biggest one is flavor—they have a unique and pungent profile, which helps to enhance the taste of many dishes.

Most of us are familiar with the flavor of onion, but how much do we really know about the popular ingredient? If you’re wondering “Is an onion a vegetable or a herb?” and “How good for us are they?” … you’ve come to the right place.

Do onions count as a herb or a vegetable?

Herbs are generally defined as plant leaves that are used for flavoring or garnishing food. Think mint, basil, and oregano, for example. Vegetables, however, encompass more of the plant, including the root, the stem, and the bulb. So with this in mind, onions are a bulb vegetable—part of their plant grows beneath the ground. That said, when cooking, onions are often treated like a herb. Thanks to their distinctive taste and aroma, they are often used for flavoring.

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Are onions good for you?

There are many different types of onion (in fact, it’s one of the largest plant genres in the world), but only a handful are usually used for cooking. These include red onions, sweet onions, white onions, and yellow onions. All are a healthy addition to most people’s diets.

Onions are generally a good source of fiber, for example. And they also offer a good amount of vitamin C, folate, vitamin B6, and potassium, too. Like most vegetables, they also offer antioxidants, which are plant compounds that help to tackle harmful, potentially disease-causing free radical damage in the body. Red and yellow onions are the best sources of these antioxidants. In fact, research suggests that yellow onions contain 11 times more antioxidants than white onions.

While onions are packed with nutrition, it’s important to note that they are not well-tolerated by everyone. People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), for example, may struggle to digest onions, due to their high content of fructans, which is a type of soluble fiber and FODMAP. Many people with IBS benefit from following a low-FODMAP diet, which you can find out more about here.

5 vegan recipes with onions as the star

Onions are present in most recipes, but they are often more of a supporting actor rather than the main character. But onions also work well as one of the main stars of the show, and these delicious vegan recipes are the proof.

VegNews.OnionBhajisDan Jones

1 Vegan Carrot and Onion Bhajis

Arguably, no dish celebrates the humble onion like an onion bhaji, which is a popular snack food in India. The crispy, delicious treat is easy to make, as this recipe—which also calls for grated carrot—demonstrates. Combine grated carrot, sliced onion, spices, and flour batter, before frying in hot oil until golden. Finally, serve hot with lemon juice, and enjoy.
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VegNews.BarbecueBurger1Quarry Books

2 Ancho-Spiced Barbecue Burgers With Caramelized Onions

These beefy black bean patties, which get their delicious kick from ancho chile powder, are best served with vegan cheese and barbecue sauce, of course. But without a doubt, the standout star of this meaty, barbecue dish is the caramelized onion topping.
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VegNews.PizzetteJan Baldwin

3 Pizzette With Roasted Pumpkin, Red Onion, and Sage

A pizzette is traditional Italian on-the-go food, which is made just like a regular pizza, only smaller. The best ones, arguably, are made with simple, plant-based ingredients. Sweet roasted pumpkin, caramelized red onions, and fragrant sage leaves make the perfect trio of toppings.
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VegNews.BhajiWrapsKaty Beskow

4 Vegan Spiced Bhaji Naan Wraps With Mango Chutney

Onion bhajis are a great side dish, but if you want to take them to the next level, turn them into a delicious, aromatic, and flavor-packed main by wrapping them in naan bread with lettuce, cucumber, cilantro, and mango chutney.
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VegNews.MalaiKoftaNeelam Pokhrel

5 Vegan Malai Kofta

These savory, crispy tofu-potato Indian dumplings (a vegan version of the meaty original) are at their best when served in a luscious, creamy gravy. The latter is made with a mixture of spices, tomatoes, and, of course, one large onion.
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For more on vegan cooking, read: