Onions: a source of unique dietary flavonoids

J Agric Food Chem. 2007 Dec 12;55(25):10067-80. doi: 10.1021/jf0712503. Epub 2007 Nov 13.


Onion bulbs (Allium cepa L.) are among the richest sources of dietary flavonoids and contribute to a large extent to the overall intake of flavonoids. This review includes a compilation of the existing qualitative and quantitative information about flavonoids reported to occur in onion bulbs, including NMR spectroscopic evidence used for structural characterization. In addition, a summary is given to index onion cultivars according to their content of flavonoids measured as quercetin. Only compounds belonging to the flavonols, the anthocyanins, and the dihydroflavonols have been reported to occur in onion bulbs. Yellow onions contain 270-1187 mg of flavonols per kilogram of fresh weight (FW), whereas red onions contain 415-1917 mg of flavonols per kilogram of FW. Flavonols are the predominant pigments of onions. At least 25 different flavonols have been characterized, and quercetin derivatives are the most important ones in all onion cultivars. Their glycosyl moieties are almost exclusively glucose, which is mainly attached to the 4', 3, and/or 7-positions of the aglycones. Quercetin 4'-glucoside and quercetin 3,4'-diglucoside are in most cases reported as the main flavonols in recent literature. Analogous derivatives of kaempferol and isorhamnetin have been identified as minor pigments. Recent reports indicate that the outer dry layers of onion bulbs contain oligomeric structures of quercetin in addition to condensation products of quercetin and protocatechuic acid. The anthocyanins of red onions are mainly cyanidin glucosides acylated with malonic acid or nonacylated. Some of these pigments facilitate unique structural features like 4'-glycosylation and unusual substitution patterns of sugar moieties. Altogether at least 25 different anthocyanins have been reported from red onions, including two novel 5-carboxypyranocyanidin-derivatives. The quantitative content of anthocyanins in some red onion cultivars has been reported to be approximately 10% of the total flavonoid content or 39-240 mg kg (-1) FW. The dihydroflavonol taxifolin and its 3-, 7-, and 4'-glucosides have been identified in onions. Although the structural diversity of dihydroflavonols characterized from onions is restricted compared with the wide structural assortment of flavonols and anthocyanins identified, they may occur at high concentrations in some cultivars. From bulbs of the cultivar "Tropea", 5.9 mg of taxifolin 7-glucoside and 98.1 mg of taxifolin have been isolated per kilogram of FW.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anthocyanins / analysis
  • Diet*
  • Flavonoids / administration & dosage
  • Flavonoids / analysis*
  • Flavonoids / chemistry
  • Flavonols / analysis
  • Glycosylation
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Onions / chemistry*
  • Pigmentation
  • Plant Roots / chemistry
  • Quercetin / analysis
  • Species Specificity


  • Anthocyanins
  • Flavonoids
  • Flavonols
  • Quercetin