Perhaps at the Passover Seder, as you were about to dip an onion into salt-water, someone posed this question. Indeed, this blessing is different from all (or most) other blessings. Let’s peel back the layers of this issue.

Blessings in General

The default blessing we say before eating all foods is Shehakol (“Blessed are You . . . by Whose word all things came to be”). However, the sages deemed some foods—such as bread, wine, fruits and vegetables—worthy of their own specific blessings.1

So on fruit we make the blessing of Ha’eitz (“Blessed are You . . . who creates the fruit of the tree”), on vegetables we say Ha’adamah (“Blessed are You . . . who creates the fruit of the earth”), and so on. (For more information on the proper blessings to recite, see Laws of Blessings on Food. )

Raw vs. Cooked

Now, fruits and vegetables are only considered worthy of these blessings when they are eaten in their “optimal form,” as dictated by cultural norms.2 Therefore, produce that is normally eaten cooked loses its special status when eaten raw, and reverts back to the default blessing of Shehakol (assuming it’s edible).3

The reverse is true regarding produce that tastes better raw (i.e. cooking diminishes its flavor); when cooking and eating these foods, we say Shehakol.4

Now for the Onions

What about onions? Is it normal to eat them raw? We don’t ordinarily eat raw onions alone, but we do eat them, for example, in sandwiches. So does a raw onion warrant a Shehakol or a Ha’adamah?

Some halachic authorities are of the opinion that, since raw onions aren’t usually eaten by themselves, we make the blessing of Shehakol on them.5 However, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi rules that since it is common to eat raw onions with bread, the onions still have the status of a food item that is normally eaten raw. Therefore the appropriate blessing is Ha’adamah, even when the onions are eaten alone.67