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Test crop available only in the US
Tearless onion reaches marketplace
Those vicious onion vapors sometimes have people crying their eyes out or resorting to old wives tales to prevent them from tearing up. Google searches of ‘how to cut an onion without crying’ topple over 1 million alone. It also happens to be the question posed most to the National Onion Association.
Sunions are a certified tearless onion making its way to market; they’re also touted as sweet and crunchy: They’re not genetically modified but grown through an all-natural crossbreeding program over the course of three decades. Subsequent crop’s bulbs were selected based on lowering pungency over time in storage; in storage it actually gets sweeter.
Long day onion, potential for multiple growing areas
Three growers in Nevada and Washington currently exclusively grow them, though Lyndon Johnson of Bayer Vegetable Seeds says they have adaptability to be grown in any North American longitude that supports a long day onion. “They’ll be marketing the bulbs for now. It’s a test – we have the product out now, and we’ll see what the acceptance level will be.” Johnson wonders if the buzz will continue to stay at such a high level, but it’s likely that people will gravitate towards a sweet onion that won’t make them cry. This year’s crop will be sold only in the United States in multiple markets across the country. Availability this year begins now and will continue until March or April, depending on supply.
Taste tests & food lab testing
Two taste panels were held as well as testing in a food lab to determine the volatiles inside the onion, which he says were done using gas chromatography. “That tells where the flavor or volatile is and whether it’s responsible for the flavor experience,” he says. Research has given clear indications on what volatile is responsible for the flavor experience and the tearless aspect. “Frankly the tearless aspect is probably the more popular (factor) of the two.”
Flavor transition in storage
Interestingly he adds that the onion hasn’t been tested for brix. “Science has evolved so quickly that we’re doing with different methods now. We don’t even look at pyruvate for this because we know it’s not directly correlated to the flavor experience.” A few hundred acres were dedicated to the test crop, which was harvested in early September, and released just before Christmas. The onions are said to be going for a more premium price. What makes Sunions unique, according to Johnson, is that the flavor transition happens in storage, there’s no need to change growing techniques since it grows just like every other regular onion. Where most either hang at the same pungency level or increase over time – even sweet onions – the Sunion doesn’t.
Participating in the creation and launch of a new variety is, to Johnson, a “once in a lifetime”. He’s been in the business for a long time and says he’s never seen anything like this. “This is a game changer. I’ve never seen an onion do the things this onion does that storage timeframe. It’s so unique.”
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