Welcome to Our Sweet World!
We hope you enjoy our new site devoted entirely to one of nature's most delectable offerings - sweet onions. In the months to come we'll be featuring all of the many delicious "sweets" available in markets around the country.
Be sure to click on Sweet Talkin' with Aliza, where you'll get the low-down from our onion expert Aliza Green on what's tasty and in season. Looking for more information about a particular sweet onion like Vidalias, Walla Wallas or Mauis? Just scroll down to the bottom of this page. Want to cook up some of these sweet orbs? Check out Recipes, Recipes, where you'll always find new ways to bring out the best in these delightful "sweet treats."
We'd love to hear from you. So please, send us your suggestions, recipes or whatever sweet thoughts you might like to share with us and others. You can e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What's a sweet onion anyway?
If you've never tasted a fresh, sweet onion you're in for a treat. Because they're so sweet and mild (forget the tears), yet still deliver great onion flavor, they're something you'll want to keep on hand all the time.
How they're different from regular onions
Sweet onions, sometimes referred to as "short day" onions, because their growing season occurs during the fall and winter with harvest usually in spring /summer, are fresh onions, picked and cured for a short time, then rushed to market. Storage onions, or regular globe onions, are harvested in late summer and fall, stored in warehouses and delivered to markets throughout most of the year.
Although there is no official industry standard, it is generally accepted that an onion should contain at least 6% sugar to be in the "sweet" category. Some sweet onions, like the OsoSweet, have recorded sugar levels of up to 15%. Storage onions usually range from 3%-5% in sugar content.
Unlike sweet onions, regular onions have high levels of sulfur compounds. It's the pyruvic acid in the sulfur that causes tears, harshness, and indigestion. That's why great sweet onions are always grown in soil with low amounts of sulfur. Typically, sweet onions have pyruvic acid levels that measure below 5%; storage onions usually run 10%-13%. Because a sweet onion is also a fresh onion it is very high in water content, which further dilutes the effect of the sulfur and increases mildness.
How a great sweet onion should taste
The best sweet onions deliver a burst of sweetness when bitten into, are incredibly mild, with very little if any sharpness, and have a subtle, fruity flavor. They should still taste like an onion, but be much sweeter and milder.
How to tell in the market whether an onion is sweet
Sweet onions have a thinner, lighter color skin than storage onions and tend to be more fragile. Signs in produce sections usually differentiate between sweet onions and storage onions. Most producers also put stickers on each individual onion, such as "Texas 1015 SuperSweet," "Sweet Imperials," etc. Another indication is price - sweet onions are a premium product that can range anywhere from 79 cents a pound and up.
A little history
Although it seems like sweet onions are a relatively new item, they were first introduced to America around the turn of the century when a retired French soldier brought some onion seeds from Corsica to the Walla Walla region of the Pacific Northwest. But it wasn't until the savvy farmers in Georgia realized what a special thing they had in the Vidalia onion and began spreading the news far and wide that the sweet onion finally got the attention it deserves.
Now available year-round
Once considered just a spring/summer treat, these sweet orbs are now available year-round. Vidalias, a springtime delight, now show up in markets until late fall, thanks to controlled-atmosphere storage. And now with the development of the OsoSweet onion, we can enjoy mild, sweet onions all winter long.
Here's a guide to "sweets" in markets throughout the year.
OsoSweets (Chile, South America)
First sweet onion of the new year on market shelves. Perfected in 1989 to take advantage of the rich, volcanic soil, ideal climate, and pure water at the foothills of the Andes mountains in Chile.
Availability: January through March.
SpringSweets & 1015 SuperSweets (Texas)
SpringSweets are the first spring sweet onions in the marketplace, debuting in March; the 1015s arrive in mid-April. The 1015, developed in the early 1980s by Dr. Leonard Pike, a professor of horticulture at Texas A & M University, is named for its suggested planting date, October 15. Nicknamed the "million-dollar baby" because of the money spent to develop it.
Availability: March to June.
First sweet onions to be promoted and distributed nationally. Named for a town in Georgia and grown in 20 specific counties mandated by a Federal Marketing Order. First appeared in 1931 when Georgia farmer Mose Coleman discovered that the onions he planted were not hot, as he expected, but actually sweet. Came into its own in the early 1940s, when the F1 Hybrid Yellow Granex was developed.
Availability: April to June; CA (controlled atmosphere) storage until late fall.
Sweet Imperial (California)
Grown in the rich, loamy, desert soil of Southern California's Imperial Valley. Must be yellow, globe-shaped and a minimum of 2-1/2 inches in diameter to be labeled as a Sweet Imperial.
Availability: April through June.
Walla Walla (Washington)
Grown in Walla Walla County in southeastern Washington and a part of Umatilla County in northeastern Oregon. Seed originated in Italy, then was transplanted to the Mediterranean island of Corsica, where a French soldier, Peter Pieri, enamored of the onion's sweet taste and juicy flesh, carried some of the seeds with him to the Walla Walla Valley in the late 1800s. Pieri's fellow immigrants soon began raising the onions too, and established the Walla Walla Gardener's Association (a cooperative of local onion growers) in 1916.
Availability: June to August.
First to become well known because tourists would bring them back by the bag. Grown in volcanic soil. Like Vidalias, they are a Yellow Granex type hybrid, originated from varieties developed in Texas.
Availability: April to December.