The onion (Allium cepa), also known as the bulb onion, common onion and garden onion, is the most widely cultivated species of the genus Allium. The genus Allium also contains a number of other species variously referred to as onions and cultivated for food, such as the Japanese bunching onion (A. fistulosum), Egyptian onion (A. ×proliferum), and Canada onion (A. canadense). The name “wild onion” is applied to a number of Allium species.
The vast majority of cultivars of A. cepa belong to the ‘common onion group’ (A. cepa var. cepa) and are usually referred to simply as ‘onions’. The ‘Aggregatum group’ of cultivars (A. cepa var. aggregatum) includes both shallots and potato onions.
Allium cepa is known only in cultivation, but related wild species occur in Central Asia. The most closely related species include Allium vavilovii (Popov & Vved.) and Allium asarense (R.M. Fritsch & Matin) from Iran. However, Zohary and Hopf warn that “there are doubts whether the A. vavilovii collections tested represent genuine wild material or only feral derivatives of the crop
Onions can be used in almost every type of food, including cooked foods and fresh salads and as a spicy garnish. Usually chopped or sliced, they are found in a large number of recipes and preparations spanning almost the totality of the world’s cultures. Depending on the variety, an onion can be sharp, spicy, tangy, pungent, mild or sweet. The whole plant is edible and is used as food in some form or another.