Sweet Onions Did you know?

Sweet onions as we know them weren’t cross pollinated from Onion A and Onion B.

Hybrids descend from a single male-sterile (female, in the plant breeding world) plant from a breeding plot at the Univer-sity of California-Davis, says Bruce “The Onion Man” Frasier, of Dixondale Farms, Carrizo Springs, Texas, which grows onion seedlings for much of the commercial production in the U.S.

But even before then, sweet onions — prized for their low pyruvic acid — had roots in the Caribbean, Canary Islands and beyond.

did you know...

> The sweet onions we know today were descended from Bermuda onions, first brought to Texas in the late 1890s, according to Texas A&M University.

> Texas A&M’s Grano 502, a round sweet variety developed at the Winter Garden station, is often called the “mother of all sweet onions,” and is in the parentage of all super sweet onions.

> To develop “self pollinated” onions, researchers in the 1920s enclosed the bulbs in paper bags and tapped the bags every day to release the pollen.

> The original varieties of onions used to develop F-1 (granex) hybrids were the White Bermuda, Yellow Bermuda, Australian Brown and California Early Red, Frasier says. Practically all F-1 plants are self-sterile, meaning both male and female pollen is sterile.

> By 1960, 40% of all onions grown in the U.S. were hybrids. Nowadays hybrids are developed for disease resistance, maturity, color, shape and flavor.

> Dixondale Farms shipped its first granex transplants to Georgia in 1952.

> By their marketing order, Vidalia onions have to be a yellow granex type onion, meaning a flat onion. While there used to be only one variety out of Vidalia, there are now dozens, Frasier says.

> Walla Walla sweet onions are an open pollinated variety, so it is not a hybrid.

> Any sweet bulb with pyruvic acid of 3.5 µmoles/ml is very mild. One with 5 µmoles/ml is very strong.

> The South Texas Onion Committee set a guideline that its sweet onions should be less than 4.5 µmoles/ml.

> During the Great Depression, farmers started growing onions near Vidalia, Ga., and discovered the soil near the area grew an unexpectedly sweet onion, first considered a fluke.

> Vidalia onions are grown under Federal Marketing Order 955, and are produced only in certain areas in Georgia.

Clipping onions, 1957, Vidalia Onion Committee
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Photos courtesy Produce Retailer Magazine, the Vidalia Onion Commitee and Illustration by iStock

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