The Mighty Onion

Ask Science tackles 5 popular claims about the power and potency of this magical bulb.

Lee Falin, PhD
4-minute read
Episode #2

The Mighty Onion

A few days ago I received what could have been a life-changing email. The email claimed that my pantry was storing a vastly underused source of near-magical health power: raw onions.

What followed was a description of the astonishing medicinal powers of this bulb:

  • Onions have amazing antibacterial and antiseptic properties.

  • A raw onion placed next to a sick person could suck the sickness right out of them.

  • Place a few cut up onions in your house and they will absorb all bacteria, saving your family from countless illnesses!

Just as I was thinking of the appropriate way to honor such a wondrous plant, I discovered that like all the best superheroes, the mighty onion had a dark side.

The email went on to reveal that since onions are such magnets for bacteria, eating an onion that is left out for too long can poison you. As if this weren’t shocking enough, in a scandalous showing of duplicity, the email warned that onions can even create deadly toxic bacteria of their own. Truly, with great antibacterial power comes great antibacterial responsibility.

Now I was in a real bind. Part of me wanted to throw out my penicillin and embrace this new antibacterial overlord. While another, more cautious part of me, worried about the toxic bacteria an unruly onion might unleash on my family.

Fortunately, as is often the case when I’m trying to evaluate the pros and cons of magical plants, science came to the rescue. Walk with me as I use science to analyze each of the amazing claims made by this potentially life-changing email:


Please note that archive episodes of this podcast may include references to Ask Science. Rights of Albert Einstein are used with permission of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Represented exclusively by Greenlight.

About the Author

Lee Falin, PhD

Dr. Lee Falin earned a B.S. in Computer Science from the University of Illinois, then went on to obtain a Ph.D. in Genetics, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology from Virginia Tech.