Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Sweet Onions

I once got into a friendly but fierce debate with a friend. The subject was sweet onions. Being from Texas, he maintained that Texas Sweets were the superior onion. I, faithful to my homeland, argued for the Walla Walla. At the time, we agreed to disagree, but really, we were both correct.

Sweet onions, from wherever they hail, are so called because they are harvested and sold fresh, as opposed to being put into cold-storage and held against the season when the fresh onion harvest is past. Just like with fresh-picked corn or vine ripe tomatoes, the closer to harvest that you enjoy a sweet onion, the sweet and crisper it will be. And so, a fresh Walla Walla that has been shipped elsewhere is never going to compare to the local produce. The closer you are to the farm from whence that onion came, the happier you will be.

There's all sorts of scientific explanations for the yumminess of a sweet onion: higher sugar, lower sulfur compounds (that would be the part that makes your eyes water when you slice an onion). If you are one of those people who avoids onions because they don't sit well with you, a sweet onion may be the solution as it is the higher sulfur content in storage onions that can trouble a tender tummy. Sweet onions also have lower acid levels than storage onions.
Isn't that fascinating?

Technically, sweet onions are beginning to be available all year round, with a different variety from a different region (or even country) coming into its own every few months. But I'm not swayed by that sort of thing. Again, there are a ton of reasons for eating locally, but when it comes to onions, one of the most compelling is just that a local onion tastes better.

I have been known to eat a fresh Walla Walla onion out of hand, just like an apple. If that seems too extreme, there's just nothing like a big, crispy slab of raw sweet onion on a burger, or diced into a salsa, or joining a skewer of meat and peppers on a kabob. Despite the aforementioned year-round phenomenon, sweet onions are a summer treat for me (the Walla Walla season being from June - August).

Later this week I'll be whipping up one of my very favorite onion recipes of all time: a Provencal onion tart. I can't wait!


TWISI said...

Just so you know... both you and your friend are wrong.

The sweetest onions come from Vidalia, Georgia!


Lorraine said...

Well, sure, TWISI. If you're in Georgia!

more cowbell said...

You are a font of knowledge. You make my eyes go all oniony.