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Brazil begins harvesting onions that don't cause tears In this new variety, called Dulciana, researchers managed to reduce the amount of sulfur released when the onion is cut

This article was originally published in O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper. Pictures were taken by photographer Célio Messias and text was written by reporter Paulo Beraldo.

Paulo Beraldo

SÃO PAULO - The tears of those who cut onions to cook are on borrowed time. The 2017 crop of the State of São Paulo, which reaches the markets in the coming days, has a novelty: a variety "that does not cause tears". This happened because researchers at the German multinational Bayer after more than 20 years have managed to reduce the amount of sulfur that is released when the onion is cut and, in contact with the eyes, causes irritation and crying.

The process of creating the new variety, called Dulciana, began with the evaluation of the various varieties of onion available in the market. Later, those with desired characteristics - such as more sugar, less acidity and less sulfur - were selected. Then, they were crossed to make the genetic improvement. "We then tested the new hybrid in the field, evaluated productivity rates and disease resistance," says researcher Joelson Freitas of Bayer's onion segment.

Farmers who planted the new variety wanted to have a differentiated product, such as Sidimar Mengali, in Itobi, city located 250 kilometers from São Paulo. He and other farmers in his region began harvesting this season. "Buyers are asking to be a less acid, more pleasant onion," says the farmer, who planted 40 hectares in total.

Production of onions in Brazil is mainly in Santa Catarina, Bahia and São Paulo. Photo: Célio Messias/Estadão

In 2015, the State of São Paulo harvested 197 thousand tons of onion, equivalent to 13.6% of national production, of 1.44 million, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). Santa Catarina and Bahia leaded the production, with 339 thousand tons and 282 thousand tons, respectively.

This new onion is the dream of those who "suffer" when cooking. Marisabel Woodman, owner of a Peruvian restaurant that uses 150 kilos of onion per week, says having another variety is good, especially if it avoids tears. "At the time of cutting, everyone here in the restaurant cries, the environment is even loaded," jokes the chef of La Peruana, located in a wealthy neighborhood in São Paulo city.

According to farmers, planting an hectare of onion cost R$ 30.000. Photo: Célio Messias/Estadão

Chef of a "pay-by-weight restaurant", Rildo Felix says that, despite his long experience, he can not avoid the tears when he cuts onions. "If I just start cutting the first one and then I start crying, it's inevitable," says the chef who uses 30 kilos per week in Brazil Bean, a restaurant in São Paulo central area. For Felix, different varieties can diversify the consumption of onions in the country, still only seen as a seasoning.

Street marketer in fairs for 35 years, Antônio de Campos Madeira says that most of its customers seek onions to season rice, beans or accompany a steak. But some look for softer onions, without success, because they are not always available. "This new variety will satisfy these people".

Future. The coordinator of the Onion Sector Chamber of the Agricultural Research Company of Santa Catarina (Epagri), Daniel Schmitt, says that less acidic onions have space in the United States. There, in the 1980s, onion consumption fell among young people and children.

So, researchers selected softer varieties that were well accepted and, with this, helped leveraging consumption. "We lacked this offer in the country. We are going to reach a new public and the consumption of onions, on average of 7 kilos per person per year, can increase," says Schmitt. Uruguayans and Argentines eat about 12 kilos per year.

After 20 years of research, it was possible to reduce the acidity and level of sulfur of onions. Photo: Célio Messias/Estadão
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