Onions and the Periodic Table

Here is Miss Lily Onion Head! Isn’t she lovely? We named her Lily because onions are in the lily family (Allium cepa).

We just love her hair!


We just stuck a large sweet onion in a pot of soil and kept the soil moist to get her crazy hair to grow (Ha, or you can just let it sit in the vegetable bowl for a few weeks).


We came across this fun little tongue twister about Miss Lily Onion Head….try to say it 3x fast, we had trouble just saying it ONCE!

If a noisy noise
Annoys an onion,
An annoying noisy noise
Annoys an onion more!

We couldn’t resist doing an onion study today in dedication to Miss Lily Onion Head. We wanted to know why onions make us cry and we discovered….SULFUR, good ol’ #16 on the PTOE!

This is what we found out at “How Stuff Works”….

“When you slice through an onion, you break open a number of onion cells. Some of these cells have enzymes inside of them, and when they are sliced open, the enzymes escape. The enzymes then decompose some of the other substances that have escaped from sliced cells. Some of these substances, amino acid sulfoxides, form sulfenic acids, which then quickly rearrange themselves into a volatile gas.”

This volatile gas reaches your eyes, mixes with the moisture and changes again, forming a mild sulfenic acid. Your eyes react in defense by producing tears (or flood a river as mine do!) to wash away the irritating gas.
So now that you know the reason for onions causing you to cry, it’s time to break out the PTOE and grab some onions to dissect and investigate.

I have the girls record their information by writing the name, symbol and atomic number on a new sheet of paper for each element. I also had them color in the sulfur space on the table, to get a free periodic table to color go here.

Then they draw pictures of what they saw under the microscope, taped on some onion peel and drew Miss Lily Onion Head.

Here is Araina (5yo) taking a closer look at Miss Lily Onion Head!

Here is what she wrote on her sulfur paper…..she loved the sulfur guy from “Elements with Style” and wanted to illustrate him too. Here she writes, “onions ahoy” in a speech bubble above him.
Fauna’s (7yo) paper was quite different. She is interested in the medicinal qualities of plants (just like her mama), so she listed some. She also drew Miss Lily Onion Head.

Fauna wanted to make some “onion perfume”….she regretted this a bit! Here she is rubbing some onion directly onto her arm…..

Due to the sulfuric acid, it burned and itched a little. It took a few washings with lemon juice to get the smell and oils out of her skin. She really learned through experience with this one! I don’t recommend letting your children do this! But I do recommend letting them get some of the oil on their hands and trying different ways to remove the smell. Lemon works great, but after I cook with onions and garlic I like to rub my fingers on stainless steel while under running water. Works like a charm every time!


You can learn more about the history and medicinal value of the onion by a visit here.


You can learn to do natural dyes with onion skins by visiting here. We are going to save this activity for April when we dye our Easter eggs using nature.

Oven-Fried Onion Rings
Now we can’t finish onions without tasting them. I have to admit, I’m not a big onion fan, but I love this recipe from America’s Test Kitchen.

You need…..
1/2 C all-purpose flour
1 large egg
1/2 C buttermilk
1/4 t cayenne pepper
salt
ground black pepper
30 saltine crackers
4 C kettle-cooked potato chips, crumbled into small pieces
2 large yellow onions, cut into 1/2 inch thick rounds
6 T canola oil

1. Adjust oven racks to lower-middle and upper-middle positions and heat oven to 450 degrees. Place 1/4 cup flour in shallow baking dish. Beat egg and buttermilk together in medium bowl. Whisk remaining 1/4 cup flour, cayenne, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper into buttermilk mixture. Pulse saltines and chips together in food processor until finely ground and place in separate shallow baking dish.

2. Pull apart the rings in each round, discarding any that are less than 2 inches in diameter. Working one at a time, dredge each onion ring in flour, shaking off excess. Dip in buttermilk mixture, allowing excess to drip back into bowl, then drop into crumb coating, turning ring to coat evenly. Transfer to large plate and repeat with remaining onion rings.

3. Pour 3 tablespoons oil onto each of two rimmed baking sheets. Place in oven and heat until just smoking, about 8 minutes. Carefully tilt heated sheets to coat evenly with oil, then arrange onion rings on sheets. Bake, flipping onion rings over and switching and rotating position of baking sheets halfway through baking, until golden brown on both sides, about 15 minutes. Transfer onion rings to plates lined with paper towels to drain briefly. Serve immediately.

There are many other things you can do with sulfur, you can even visit my post “Skunked Again.” Skunks and humans also carry sulfur in their bodies. Enjoy!

10 responses to “Onions and the Periodic Table”

  1. Lisa

    Fascinating stuff!! It looks like you guys are having such fun! That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?!

  2. Jane

    I had fun sharing your blog on onions with my children today. We are excited to go and get some onions to experiment with. I also really enjoyed reading about how you share the PTOE with your children. I would really like to get the book you shared. Thanks so much for writing and sharing your knowledge with us.

  3. Leanne

    What interesting…and delicious….oniony tidbits. Hmmm I think I still need a bit of convincing on the PTOE…I too like you am a little oldschool and run a mile from that thing. Ha! x

  4. Anet

    Ms. Lily Onion Head is a hoot!
    And onion perfume, oh my!

  5. Tara

    Yay!!! I want to grow a Miss Lily Onion Head!

    Great stuff you came up with to explore onions- and ending with the onion rings is a crowd pleaser :0)

  6. Such Lovely Freckles

    Oh my gosh! How very cool is that? You are an inspiration. So glad you found my blog. I always love to hear from fellow homeschoolers… and if they’re brilliant, even better. :)

  7. Lisa

    Miss Lily Onion Head says, “Thank you very much for the compliments ladies!” :)

  8. Tammy

    The onion rings look absolutely delish, and Miss Lily Onion Head is just lovely! :)

    It’s amazing how much you learned and did with one simple little item. Good job, mama! Way to teach your kids to really look at what our earth gives us.

  9. sybilbrun

    Amaaaazing post! I absolutely love onions and really enjoyed reading all you wrote about them and what you were doing with them…I subscribed and have taken to reading your blog everyday and reading it has become a little bright spot in my day, in so many ways! :-)

  10. Shona Leah

    Great lesson and Ms Lily Onion Head, so cute, gorgeous hair she has! we’re trying to grow hair on a pineapple right now, so we’ll see :0)