The onion counter is probably the last place you’d expect to find sweet treats, but take a closer look on your next trip through the produce section.
Next to the all-purpose yellow or Spanish cooking onions, the tangy whites beloved in Mexican cuisine and the sharp-tasting reds that trade on their good looks, you’ll find flat pale yellow onions labelled sweet.
Mild would be a better descriptor, since you probably won’t be munching these babies like apples. But for summer salads, fresh salsas, burger toppers and a grilled side dish, their crisp texture and mildly sweet flavour — without the heat — can’t be beat.
Their high water content and low sulphur level of sweet onions also make them easy on the eyes.
Bland is based in Glennville, Georgia, not far from the city of Vidalia where the sweet onion craze began more than 80 years ago.
Today, Vidalia onions are as closely regulated as fine European wine, grown in only 20 Georgia counties with the ideal sandy soil and approved seeds of the flat Granex variety.
This year’s bulbs were harvested between mid-April and mid-June. Bland and other growers expect to ship good-quality Vidalias out of storage until Labour Day.
From September to December, growers will switch to look-alikes from their fields in Peru, which can’t legally be called Vidalia.
Sweet onions from Chile, Mexico and several other U.S. states round out the now year-round supply.
Meet the competition
Premium-priced sweet onions are so popular, everyone wants a slice. But they’re not all sweet! To guard against pungent impostors, big U.S. growers are hiring labs to certify their onions as sweet. They also market their own brands including Honey Sweet, Sweetie Sweet and Oso Sweet.
“Sweet onions are becoming more widely available, and they come in globe as well as flat shapes,” says Teri Gibson, marketing director for Peri & Sons Farms in Nevada.
“In the end it’s all about the flavour,” says Gibson, “not the shape or the growing region.”
Onions are a good source of Vitamin C. They’re also fat free, cholesterol free and sodium free while adding tons of great flavour.
Buy & Store
- Choose firm, heavy onions with no soft spots.
- Jumbo and colossal sweet onions are sold loose. Smaller, one-meal Vidalias are also available in 3-lb. (1.5 kg) bags.
- Keep onions cool and dry in a dark cupboard far from potatoes or they’ll spoil more quickly.
- To keep sweet onions up to a month, wrap in a newspaper or paper towel and store in the vegetable crisper.
- For even longer storage, chop or slice sweet onions and place in a single layer on a baking sheet. Transfer frozen pieces to freezer bags or containers. Great for soup.
Sweet onions such as Vidalias are less pungent than regular onions and taste great raw or cooked. For hundreds of recipes, visit vidaliaonion.org.
Chop: Jazz up local potato, bean or tomato salads with some mild onion flavour.
Slice: Top sandwiches or burgers with thick sweet onion slices.
Sauté: Top steak, pork, and other meats with golden sautéed onion.
Micro side: Peel and slice off bottom so onion sits flat. On a plate, microwave 6 minutes on High. Let sit 2 minutes. Cut in wedges and season with salt, pepper and butter.
Bloomin’ Onion: Slice 1/2 inch (1 cm.) off the top of an extra-large sweet onion, peeled. With root-end down, cut 12 to 16 wedges to within ½ inch (1 cm.) of the bottom, leaving wedges attached. Place on a 12-inch (30 cm.) square of heavy duty foil two layers thick. Open wedges slightly and sprinkle with fresh or dried thyme and rosemary, salt, paprika and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil. Fold foil around onion and seal tightly. Close grill and cook over medium heat 20 to 30 minutes, until tender. Serve as a side or steak topper. Adapted from Peri & Sons recipe.
Watermelon & Sweet Onion Salad with Feta and Mint
6 cups (1.5 L) seedless watermelon, cut in 1-inch (2.5 cm.) cubes
3 tbsp (45 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
1.5 tbsp (20 mL) fresh lemon juice
1 tsp (5 mL) salt
1 tsp (52 mL) Tabasco
1/2 tsp (2 mL) freshly ground pepper
100 g feta cheese, coarsely crumbled
1/2 cup (125 mL) pitted kalamata olives, coarsely chopped (optional)
1/2 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup (125 mL) coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves
Chill melon cubes while preparing remaining ingredients.
In large bowl, whisk oil, lemon juice, salt, Tabasco and pepper. Add watermelon, feta, olives and sweet onion and toss gently.
Transfer to decorative dish and garnish with mint. Serve immediately.
Makes 6 servings.
Published in the Toronto Star, July 11, 2013