Meet the Allium Family

The quick answer:  Stock your pantry with alliums—onions, leeks, chives, scallions, and garlic. The combination of nutrients, flavor, and value makes them a superfood.


Dead Food vs. Live Food

For Food Inc.—the guys who make their living pushing processed foods—the ideal product uses cheap highly-processed ingredients, has a long shelf life (meaning it’s dead), has enough sugar/salt to be mildly addictive, and has been marketed until it’s known by a non-food name.  The non-food name is the key that it may be unhealthy.

Here are some past examples:  Jell-O (basically sugar, gelatin from the hooves of animals, plus artificial flavors).  Oreos (sugar, refined flour, vegetable oil, alkali-processed cocoa, high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavor, etc.)  You get the picture. 

Bottom line—eat food that still has a food name.  Like carrots, beets, squash, spinach to name a few kids avoid but are actually delicious in the hands of a skilled cook.

Eat More Vegetables

Vegetables are a challenge for Americans.  If you exclude French fries and tomato ketchup, we average just 1-2 servings daily.  Years of eating sugary processed foods has undermined our appetite for real food.  So eight of the Healthy Changes encourage vegetable consumption.  (Fruit is easy to enjoy, it gets just one Healthy Change.)

Here are the eight pro-vegetable Healthy Changes:

#6:    Enjoy a green salad daily.

#12:  Include dark greens in your diet.

#19:  Plant a vegetable garden.

#25:  Include the allium family, daily if possible.  (This week’s HC.)

#32:  Include legumes in your diet.

#38:  Enjoy cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc.).

#45:  Eat tomatoes.

#51:  Improve your cooking with mushrooms.

The Allium Family

Alliums are the humblest of foods.  Onions, garlic, chives, leeks, and shallots compose the family.  They’re rich in nutrients, flavorful, and always a good value.  Worried about cancer?  The alliums will reduce your risk.  (If you Google “onion, anticancer” you get 133K hits; double that to 260K for “garlic, anticancer.”)  They also reduce your risk of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s.  Depending who you’re reading, our single “healthiest food” is either garlic or onions.

Alliums are rich in phytonutrients like polyphenols, especially flavonoids.  They also contain vitamins and minerals.  If you’re worried about inflammatory diseases like arthritis eat alliums, especially garlic. 

Alliams for Flavor

Herbs and spices are used to flavor food but some vegetables have their own flavor  These are called aromatics.  In cooking, the three basic aromatics are onions, carrots, and celery.  Together they’re called mirepoix and are used to flavor stock (along with thyme and bay leaf).

It’s said that French cooking is built on the allium family of garlic, onions, scallions (green onions), leeks and chives.  I wondered if this is true.  I have a copy of Patricia Wells’ book Simply French, Presenting the Cuisine of Joel Robuchon.  Robuchon is claimed to be the preeminent working French chef so I looked over the 70 recipes in Wells’ book.  Of 70 recipes, 54 included one or more alliums. Now that's an endorsement.

The French Miracle

The French Miracle began back in the era when we thought saturated fats like butter caused heart disease.  The French ate lots of buttery foods but perversely had little heart disease.  Some claimed the red wine was the protecting food.  Now others are claiming that their use of alliums is at least part of the solution.

Healthy Change #25:  Include alliums in your dietary—daily if possible.

Please comment:  Share your favorite ways of adding alliums to your diet.  The Beautiful Wife has always used chives (green onions) in her salads.  She likes garlic also (Hint: “Garlick” was her mom’s maiden name).  And I enjoy making stock and also Skip’s Potato Onion Soup.  But we’re going to enjoy alliums more—they’re the best health value around. 

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Reader Comments (3)

Great post; I love cooking with alliums. Tonight we had shrimp with garlic, lemon and parsley; simple and delicious. Over the years as I've stopped cooking with processed foods, our tastes have changed and simple food tastes better and processed food has lost its allure. It's interesting, though, that my kids who have grown up eating real food will still choose food from a brightly colored package over home made. They are still quite young, though, so maybe that will change later on.

We were in your neck of the woods in Laguna this week and I was happy to find really good options at restaurants there. Specifically, I thought Bear Flag and House of Big Fish had really good, fresh, healthy food. I have to admit, though, that I found myself thinking I could probably cook the same dishes, but a little tastier, at home (probably because I use more butter ;) Luckily we stayed in a condo with a kitchen, so we made a trip to Trader Joes and didn't have to eat out much.

June 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLindsey

Before the invention of the Internet, I read cookbooks for pleasure. In one that I cannot recall to properly credit, one thing stood out: every good meal starts with an onion (or garlic, or something along those lines).

If tonight is any evidence, we're grilling chicken kabobs with plenty of onions, peppers, mushrooms, zuchinni and fresh pineapple, serving it with a Greek Salad (with diced red onions) and a simply dressed macaroni sald with green onions, peas, carrots, sweet pickles and parsley.

I'd like to thank you, Skip, for continually pushing me to push my family towards better eating.

June 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLizA

wow... Skip you rock. This is some amazing stuff. Looking forward to more posts!

July 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterParker Boyack

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