Onions come in different sizes, shapes, colors, and variations. But one thing that they have in common is that they are one of the essential plants that are beneficial to our lives.
If you ask around, most people know how to recognize a red onion from the white ones. Frankly speaking, you can just tell both of these from just their color and texture. But there is another variation of onion that is popular among culinary practitioners and health enthusiasts, which is a sweet onion.
There is a common misconception that sweet onions are similar to yellow onions. Just because they have the same skin color, that doesn’t mean that these two onions belong to the same family. As a matter of fact, sweet onions are much larger in size compared to yellow onions. They are also much sweeter, higher in water content, and less pungent.
There are a few types of sweet onions that you can find out in the market. These include:
1. Maui Onions
Maui onions are a popular variation of sweet onions that you can find sold widely in farmers’ markets. They are commonly grown on the upper slopes of Haleakala, a dormant volcano on the island of Maui, Hawaii.
This sweet variety of onion is a hybrid of a short day, yellow granex onion. Because they are grown on less than four hundred acres of land, Maui onions are considered a special variety with limited quantities being produced each year. As they are cultivated in a unique environment of fertile volcanic soils, they are also labeled as “Kula Grown” onions.
Physically, Maui onions are small to medium-sized onions with elongated and globular shapes. They have a thin, paper-like, light yellow to brown skin. Under the thin skin is a translucent, white flesh that is juicy and crisp. The sweetness of Maui onions mainly comes from the concentration of sulfur inside their flesh.
Aside from being less pungent, these onions are also high in water. They can be used for different styles of cooking including grilling, steaming, sautéing, baking, and frying.
Not to mention, they are fairly rich in many nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin B6, phosphorus, manganese, potassium, and folate.
2. Vidalia Onions
Hailing from the town of Vidalia, Georgia, these onions have been cultivated in that very town since the early era of the Great Depression in the 1930s. They are one of the sweet varieties that are related to hybrid yellow granex onions with a long memorable history.
They were first distributed by one grocery store named the Piggly Wiggly in the 1960s. Then, in 1977, the first annual Vidalia Onion Festival was held before the authority passed the Vidalia Onion Act of 1986, stating that other regions aren’t legally allowed to grow this variety. In 1990, these onions were recognized as Georgia’s official state vegetable.
As a federally protected brand of vegetables, all genuine Vidalia onions come from the soil of Vidalia that is low in sulfur. This is one of the main reasons why these onions are sweeter than other varieties with lower acidity levels.
The bulbs are covered with thin, yellowish-white skin and juicy flesh that are high in water content. With their less pungent smell, Vidalia onions can be consumed raw, pickled, served as a garnish with roasted meats, and used in other creative ways of food serving.
In Georgia, most farmers cultivate these onions on more than 14,000 acres of land with their season that begins from April to August each year.
3. Bermuda Onions
Although Bermuda onions might look similar to red onions, they are two different varieties.
Also known as the Onion Patch, these onions were first brought to Bermuda in 1616. They grew prolifically and became one of the staple foods for the locals on that island.
In 1847, these onions were exported to the east coast of the United States. Even one of the popular American writers, Mark Twain, mentioned that these onions were “the pride and joy of Bermuda” when he visited that island in 1877. Today, Bermuda onions are also cultivated widely in Texas.
Bermuda onions can be recognized by their large, flat-topped shape with thin, papery skin that comes in different colors such as white, yellow, and red. They have a mild and sweet flavor with juicy flesh that is high in water content.
Due to their less spicy and mild taste, Bermuda onions are famously used raw in salads, and sandwiches, as well as cooked, roasted, and stuffed with other food.
There are currently three varieties of Bermuda onions which are ‘White Bermuda,’ ‘Yellow Bermuda,’ and ‘Crystal Wax.’ These large onions can be found throughout the year, but peak availability is in the spring and summer.
4. Walla Walla Onions
In the United States, Walla Walla onions were first cultivated on volcanic soils near the Walla Walla Valley in southern Washington and northern Oregon. But these large onions have a long history that can be traced back to Italy.
Roughly a century ago, a French soldier named Peter Pieri discovered the seeds of sweet onions on the island of Corsica off the west coast of Italy. In the 1800s, he brought them back to Walla Walla, Washington. It might be just a coincidence, but “Walla Walla” means “many waters” in the Native American language and this region has also been called “oasis in the desert” due to the abundance of trees in this dry area.
Walla Walla onions are medium to large-sized bulbs with thin, yellow to light brown skin and juicy white flesh. They generally weigh between 1 and 2 pounds and are considered a long day onion variety due to their need of being under at least 14 or 15 hours of daylight to produce bulbs.
These onions are favored for their mild and sweet taste. With a high concentration of sugar and water in their flesh, Walla Walla onions yield a sweet taste to any food that they are mixed with. Being a hardy variety, they can withstand the arid season and are usually harvested by farmers in mid-June.
5. Sweet Texas Onions
Sweet Texas onions are also known as the Texas 1015 onions. This code name was derived from the best date to plant the seed of these bulbs, which is on October 15th.
In 1898, these onions came from the Yellow Bermuda onions seed that was cultivated near Cotulla. Through several breeding programs, these onions were produced in the early 1980s by two researchers, Dr. Leonard Pike and Paul Leaper. With their development that took almost ten years, they are also dubbed “the million-dollar baby”.
These onions are fairly round and large, almost the same size as a softball. They measure around 4 to 6 inches in diameter with thin, papery, yellow to golden brown skin. With their juicy, sweet, non-tearing flesh, these aromatic onions are flavorful and suitable for different styles of cooking, grilling, sauteing, and baking.
They also taste milder than other regular onions. Sweet Texas onions are grown extensively in two regions of South Texas: the Rio Grande Valley, and Uvalde-Wintergarden. Farmers usually begin to harvest these vegetables in the Rio Grande Valley from early March until July and in Uvalde-Wintergarden from May until July.
6. Spanish Onions
Spanish onions originated in the Mediterranean and thrive prolifically in a hot and humid environment. Hence, they don’t grow quite well in colder climates.
The term “Spanish” was used when they were first introduced to the markets in the 1980s. These softball-sized onions are the only sweet onions with a pungent smell and high sulfur content. Putting their smell aside, they are still aromatic and sweeter than other normal varieties.
These large-sized onions generally have thin white or yellow skin. But in the United States, they can be found in red, yellow, and white colors. Due to their sweet and juicy flavor, these onions can be used for different types of cooking. Their flesh is rich in many nutrients including vitamin B, vitamin C, antioxidants, folate, potassium, prebiotics, quercetin, and fiber.
Although Spanish onions are all-season vegetables, their peak season is generally from fall through winter.
7. Pearl Onions
Resembling a bunch of marbles, these small onions generally measure between ¼ inch and 11/2 inches. In the United Kingdom, they are known as the silverskin and button onions while in France, they are called oignon grelot. Pearl onions are also grown extensively in Netherlands, Germany, and Italy.
Pearl onions have a mild and sweet flavor with thin, papery skin that comes in different colors such as white, gold, and red. But the most common variety that you can find in the farmers’ markets is the white ones.
Compared to the white varieties, the red-skinned onions have a much milder flavor. Hence, most people use the white-skinned varieties for roasting, glazing, stewing, pickling, braising, and other types of cooking that require onions with a milder taste.
Eating pearl onions can be very helpful to your health. If you consume these onions as a part of your staple diet, they can stabilize your blood sugar level, rejuvenate your skin with antioxidants and reduce your chance of having any major cardiovascular diseases.
The most appealing quality of sweet onions is their mild smell, which is less pungent compared to other types of onions. Hence, they can be consumed by many people, especially those who can’t stand the strong smell of onions.
Not only does their low sulfur level contribute to their sweetness, but their watery texture also makes them more palatable and suitable to be eaten ripe.