Dry onions are allium vegetables like shallots, garlic, leeks and scallions but considered a long storage crop, like potatoes or apples, because under the right conditions they can last up to 10 months in storage. They are the third largest vegetable crop produced in Canada behind tomatoes and carrots. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colours and flavours and each has a role to play in the kitchen.
Yellow Onions (Spanish Onions):
These versatile, all-purpose onions have a higher sulfur content, making them more pungent and eye watering than other varieties. However, their flavour mellows nicely when cooked and are great for long cooking applications like soups and stews and caramelizing.
A crisp milder onion flavour that is perfect for raw applications when you want the biting flavour of onion that doesn’t linger. Stack them on your burger or dice them into your potato salad. They are also popular in Mexican cuisine.
Ideal for raw applications these onions have a sweet, less-intense onion flavour and higher water content. They are great for caramelizing and roasting but tend to go mushy if cooked at high heat for too long. They also make great onion rings.
Ranging in colour from dark purple to light pink, these onions have a mild peppery flavour that gets sweet when cooked. They add a bite of flavour and pop of colour to dishes when used raw and stand up well when grilled.
Specialty onions include shallots, cipollini and pearl onions. These are smaller and milder varieties of onions that are often used in restaurants and specialty foods.
How to Buy:
Look for onions that are dry on the outside and firm to the touch. They should be smooth, round or oval, and covered with a layer of papery skin.
How to Store:
Store onions in a mesh bag or wire bowl for maximum air circulation. They should last well for up to one month if kept in a cool, dry, dark environment such as a pantry, root cellar or garage. The more pungent the onion variety (i.e. yellows and reds) the longer it can be stored.
Do not store whole onions in the refrigerator as it is too humid and cold. Once peeled, sliced or diced onions can be wrapped up tight and stored in the fridge for one to two weeks.
Dice or chop onions and freeze them in freezer bags rather than sandwich bags to minimize odour. They will retain their flavour for 3-6 months.
How to Prepare:
Onions are an exceptionally versatile vegetable and a common ingredient in soups, stews, casseroles, stir-fries, scrambles and side dishes. They may also be used raw in salads and sandwiches. Pick the appropriate onion for each application.
Slow, gentle cooking until the flesh is tender brings out their sweet flavour.
Onions are high in vitamins and minerals and very low in calories. Onions are a good source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, folate, and potassium.
The flavonoid quercetin is an antioxidant that is highly concentrated in onions. Its strong anti-inflammatory properties may help in decreasing heart disease risk factors, such as reducing high blood pressure and preventing blood clots. In addition to quercetin, onions contain over 25 different flavonoid antioxidants and phytochemicals which contain anticancer and antimicrobial activity.
How They Are Grown:
Onions are edible bulbs of the Amaryllis family and similar to other allium vegetables like leeks, scallions, garlic and shallots. The majority of Canadian onions are grown in Ontario and Quebec.
Onion seeds are planted in the field in spring by special precision equipment that deposits the seed at a uniform depth and optimal distance apart. The farmer monitors their growing process over the summer and applies irrigation when necessary to ensure the onions have enough water. Stressful growing conditions can cause the onions to ‘bolt’ or send up flower stems and start flowering. This makes the plant put more energy into the flower than the bulb and effectively stops the onion’s growing process.
Harvest begins in October once the tall spiky leaves have dried out and laid down and a good portion of the bulb can be seen above ground. The farmer uses a special piece of equipment pulled behind a tractor to undercut the roots on the bulbs and bring the onions up to the surface. Once exposed, they are left on the ground to ‘cure’ in the sun for seven to fourteen days depending on the weather. Curing is complete when the outer shell of the onion is dry and the tops are tightly closed. Onions can also be harvested immature and kept in special climate-controlled storage to help them cure.
Once cured, another machine is used to scoop the onions off the ground, clean out excess dirt and dry foliage, and transfer the onions to large trucks which transport them to storage. At the next step they are unloaded and workers hand pick out any leftover dirt clogs, below-standard onions or dry leaves. They are then moved into giant, climate-controlled storage bins or warehouses before being sent to packing facilities and grocery stores or processing facilities to be sliced, diced or dried as onion ingredients.
Canadian Crop is Available: Harvest in August to October – available year-round with proper storage
Grown in: Ontario, Quebec