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History of Leeks

The Latin name for the leek is Allium porrum. The word Allium shows its relation to the onion family. Even so, onions are considered to be more harsh, or even low-brow. Leeks have a more upscale appeal. The flavor is thought to be more subtle and sweet than the average onion.

Although scientists are by no means certain, it is believed that leeks, like many herbs, are native to the Mediterranean area and possibly Asia Minor. Even though leeks have only recently become popular in the United States, they have been grown and used for cooking for more than 3,000 years in Asia and Europe.

Even the Bible mentions leeks. In Numbers (11:5) we read, "Remember how in Egypt we had fish tor the asking, cucumbers, and watermelons, leeks and onions and garlic." This was from a lament by the Israelites as they wandered in the desert searching for the Promised Land. Later leeks would be traditionally consumed on Rosh Hashanah. It was meant to symbolize the desire for the people to have their enemies "cut off". This came from the idea that the Hebrew word for leek is karti, which is similar to the verb, to cut off, or yikartu.

It is widely reported that the Emperor, Nero (37-68 AD), ate leeks in quantity, cooked in oil. He believed it would improve his singing voice1. He was so well known for eating leeks that he acquired the nickname, Porophagus (leek eater).2

Leeks may have been introduced to Wales via Phoenician traders. The subsequent popularity of leeks in that country is exhibited by the fact that in 620 AD (or perhaps 640), King Cadwallader and his men wore leeks in their hats to differentiate themselves from their enemies, the Saxons. The onion-like vegetable was associated with Saint David and it was said that any maiden who slept with a leek under her pillow on his feast day (March 1st) would see her future husband in her dreams. The leek has become a national symbol of Wales.3

Leeks were first brought to the United States, Canada, and Australia by the early settlers of those respective nations4. The French call the leek, poireau, which also means "simpleton". In Europe, leeks are thought of as a kind of "poor man's asparagus".5 Agatha Christie named one of her most famous characters, the French detective, Poirot, after the leek6. Today leeks are not as popular as they were in ancient times, largely because other similar vegetables such as onions are more convenient to use.

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  1. Historia Naturalis
  2. Ref to: - British Leeks: History
  3. Historic UK
  4. University of Wisconsin
  5. on the Leek