photo by Caroline Attwood via unsplash

Keep your eyes peeled for them

Rebecca Firkser
December 21, 2017

For those who’ve spent many a cooking project in tears thanks to a pile of fragrant onions, dry your eyes. There’s a new, tearless onion in town. Thanks to years of research and cross-breeding, Sunions, a variety of sweet and mild onions, may soon be available at your local grocery store.

After making their debut at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit in October, according to a press release dated December 19, Sunions will be available in select markets this winter.

“Looking for ways to avoid tears when cutting onions is a big deal for consumers,” said Don Goodwin, president of Golden Sun Marketing (the agency representing Sunions) in the vegetable’s original press release. “A quick Google search will yield over 500,000 results, and YouTube videos on the topic have received more than 5 million views.”

While there are indeed ways to attempt to reduce how potent an onion will be as you slice it, the tear-factor is nearly impossible to avoid altogether. When onions are cut, they emit a sulfenic acid known as 1-propenesulfenic acid, then rearrange into second enzyme called the lachrymatory factor, or LF. When the LF hits your eyes, you begin to tear. Eric Block, author of Garlic and Other Alliums: The Lore and the Science likens this phenomenon to getting shampoo or lemon juice in your eye. As onions get older, the compounds that cause LF get stronger. However, in the case of Sunions, the onions actually reduce in potency and only become sweeter as time passes.

It took Bayer Crop Science over 30 years of natural hybridization testing to create consistent tearless onions, which are officially characterized as a type of long-day sweet onion. Referencing the amount of daylight exposure needed for an onion to bulb (long-day onions take 14 to 15 hours to bulb), this type of cultivation yields sweet onions like Walla Walla, White Spanish, and Yellow Spanish. 

To be sure they’re making good on their tearless promise, Bayer has had Sunions undergo focus group testing at the Bayer Sensory Lab and in the Ohio State University’s Sensory Evaluation Center. Testers found the onions crunchy and mild in flavor, and that they smell like any other onions. Testers were continuously shocked to find they weren’t tearing up as the onions were sliced. 

According to the Sunions website, the onions are currently only grown in Nevada and Washington. Although their social media accounts say simply that the onions are “coming soon,” the recent press release suggests they may be available as soon as this winter. It’s safe to say I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled.

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