“”I bit into it like an apple and was instantly filled with burning regret. I had to spit it into the garbage. My mouth is still on fire.
|—An anonymous sucker|
“”I was like a child on Christmas morning, unwrapping my feet. Unfortunately, no gunk, just withered onions. My feet, however, smelled of ... onions.
|—Bernard O'Shea, The Irish Examiner|
Onions are a group of root vegetables related to garlic, chives, and leeks, which are all in the Allium genus of plants. They may be brown, purple, or white. They grow as a bulb with leaves sprouting out of the top of the bulb. It has been somewhat dubiously claimed that onions have any number of health benefits when eaten raw. Or when placed in your socks. Or when placed in your general vicinity. Of course, we're not telling you to avoid eating your veggies. Onions are nutritional. But they aren't quite as magical as some people seem to believe.
It has been claimed that eating raw onions, or drinking onion juice, will increase one's testosterone. This was based on two Iranian studies done in rats (who had onion juice injected into their stomachs).[note 1] It was picked up by 4chan users at some point who touted it as a "manly" alternative to soy. Not wanting to be feminine soy boys, some 4chan users on /r9k/, /fit/, and /pol/ embraced the theory. In a /pol/ thread promoting this idea, one anon claimed to have taken a bite out of a raw onion as if it were an apple. He commented that he was "instantly filled with burning regret". Following this incident, 4chan's moderators began word-filtering "soy" to "onions".
"Onion water" has been a home remedy for various common illnesses such as colds and flus for some time, and has more recently been promoted as such a remedy by TikTok videos (for example). However, there is not evidence to support its use for this purpose. It is also acidic, potentially causing stomach trouble or heartburn.
More strangely, it has been claimed that placing onions in your socks will make your feet smell better, or even cure illnesses and "purify your blood". The Times of India published an article claiming: "Onions are rich in sulphuric compounds, which make it anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. This property kills germs and bacterias, which cause foot odor. Practicing this habit will prevent you from smelly foot and will not let bad smell revive." Most people find that raw onions smell bad, so even if this were true, a better alternative would be to simply wash your feet with soap, which is what most people do. Another useful bit of advice is to keep your feet dry. The explanation for why onions might be capable of preventing regular foot odor with its (mildly) antibacterial properties is at least slightly plausible, but perhaps impractical due to the added scent of the onions themselves. And if your plan is just to wash that scent away afterwards, what was the fucking point? You've wasted a perfectly good onion!
One very old claim, which is still kicking around today, says that slicing an onion and pressing it against your foot will treat a fever. This will only leave your feet smelly, and of course it doesn't work. This remedy is also present in traditional Chinese medicine, and may originate from reflexology in particular, which says that you can manipulate your internal organs through your feet. During the Black Death, there was no knowledge of germ theory. Thus, the idea formed that simply placing onions around a house could prevent bubonic plague. Somehow, this idea has persisted for centuries. During the 19th century, it was proposed as a way to prevent smallpox. Today, it's more generally used as a fake remedy for "purifying the air" to prevent all manner of illnesses, an astounding remnant of "bad air" miasma theory which predominated immediately prior to the advent of germ theory. The National Onion Association, despite the fact that they sure sound like a group with an interest in selling more onions, was not a fan of this myth.
Besides shoveling onions down your esophagus, they do have some medical usages. According to four scientific papers cited by the World Health Organization, onion tea is capable of combating pathogens related to food poisoning (that is, foodborne disease). Because of the nature of food poisoning and the administration of the onions into the digestive system (where, of course, the source of the problem is), this is more plausible as a treatment compared to sticking onions on your feet, or eating onions to treat a respiratory disease.
Onions are also delicious in many dishes from around the world.
- Raw onions nutritional information, at FoodData Central.
- "The Red-Pill Crowd Has Decided That Eating a Whole Raw Onion Is the Best Way to Prove You're a Man", Mel Magazine.
- "Stuffing Your Socks With Onions Won’t Cure Your Cold, Flu, Or RSV", BuzzFeed News.
- If you hadn't noticed, rats are not humans. Treatment effects in rats can't necessarily be extrapolated to humans, particularly rats injected with paroxetine.
- Clayton Purdom (November 22, 2017). "Dumbasses on 4chan are eating raw onions to become more manly now". The A.V. Club.
- (November 19, 2017). "Individual and Political Consequences of Onion Juice". 4chan, via 4plebs.
- Bernard O'Shea (January 20, 2022). Bernard O'Shea: 'I put onions on my feet to suck the toxins out of my body'. The Irish Examiner.
- Holly Van Hare (November 27, 2017). "Does eating raw onions boost your testosterone? 4chan thinks so". The Los Angeles Times. (Archived).
- (September 10, 2018). "Here's why you should sleep with onions in your socks". The Times of India.
- Katie Landeck (June 17, 2020). "Leaving raw onions around your house won’t prevent illnesses". USA Today.
- Khaki et al. (February 2009). "Evaluation of androgenic activity of allium cepa on spermatogenesis in the rat". Folia Morphologica.
- Allouh et al. (December 3, 2013). "Fresh onion juice enhanced copulatory behavior in male rats with and without paroxetine-induced sexual dysfunction". Experimental Biology and Medicine.
- Paris Martineau (November 21, 2017). "4channers Are Eating Onions to Be More Manly". New York.
- Don and Sonterp (November 20, 2017). "The Onion Pill". KnowYourMeme.
- "4chan/History". Bibliotheca Anonoma. Quote: "2018 - April 20 - Mods finally crack down on soyposting and add wordfilters. 'soy' is now filtered to 'onions', and any word with 'soy' in it will turn it into 'based' (e.g. soyboy becomes basedboy). As of April 29, /ck/ does not seem to have these filters."
- Caroline Kee (December 6, 2022). "What doctors think about the viral TikTok onion water cold remedy". TODAY.
- Alan Duke (July 2, 2019). "Fake News: Why We Do NOT Need To Put Onion On Our Feet Overnight". Lead Stories.
- (September 10, 2019). "4 Ways You Can Avoid Stinky Feet". Cleveland Clinic.
- Joe Schwarcz (March 20, 2017). "Is it true that onions can absorb bacteria?". Office for Science and Society. McGill University.
- Georgina Jerums (May 4, 2022). "Onions on feet for fever claim leaves a bad smell". AAP FactCheck.
- Alex Kasprak (January 24, 2017). "Does Putting a Raw Cut Onion in Your Sock Cure Medical Ailments?". Snopes.