Reasons Why Vidalias are so Sweet
What makes Vidalia onions so sweet?
For starters, southeast Georgia is a triple threat when it comes to growing Vidalia onions. The region has the perfect combination of weather, water and soil to produce some of the world’s sweetest onions:
1. Mild winters with few prolonged freezing temperatures
2. Regular rain and ready access to irrigation. Surprisingly, it is more their high water content than the high sugar content that makes sweet onions mild. Because of this, regular moisture is a must during the growing season.
3. Low sulfur soils that keep the bulbs from developing a pungent taste. Regular onions derive their hot taste from sulfur-containing compounds. It’s these compounds that eventually make you cry when you cut them:
\When sliced, the cells release enzymes that break down the sulfur compounds and generate sulfenic acids, unstable chemicals that turn into a volatile gas called sulfuric acid that wafts through the air to your eyes. That’s why Vidalias cause fewer tears!
Exclusive seed varieties and precise farming practices also make the Original Sweet Onion mild and flavorful.
Perfecting the Vidalia Seed Variety
Each potential seed variety must undergo a minimum of three consecutive years testing before it can possibly be approved as Vidalia seed. Per the legal definition of a Vidalia onion, the seed must be of the short-day yellow granex variety. This seed will only grow in regions where the winter days are short and mild, like Southeast Georgia.
Growing Vidalia Onions for Taste and Flavor
Because onions are available in stores year round, they may seem low maintenance and abundant, but their extreme sensitivity to the hours of sunlight actually makes them a complex vegetable to grow.
When growing, each onion is like a clock measuring day length as one farmer stated: “It all depends on latitude. You can’t simply plant onions based on what kind you want to eat. You have to take into account what will grow at your latitude.” This is particularly true with Vidalias.
All onions form a bulb (the part you eat) as the days grow longer. Vidalia onions form this bulb with relatively short days, about 11-12 hours. Other onions grown in more northern latitudes are called intermediate or long-day onions. They form bulbs during longer days and are planted in the spring and harvested in summer or fall.
Because our onions bulb only during relatively short days we grow them as a winter crop, which explains why Vidalias will always be a seasonal treat only available in the spring and summer months.
Research makes Perfect Quality
Experts with the University of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension Service (CES) put each potential Vidalia yellow granex seed variety through rigorous lab tests and countless field trials. The onions produced are checked for flavor profiles, physical characteristics, chemical composition, whether they are strong enough to resist plant diseases and pests, and if they have a reasonable shelf life.
If, after three years testing, the seed seems hardy enough and the bulbs it produces display the requisite Vidalia flavor profiles, the Dean of the University of Georgia College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences will recommend the variety be approved by Georgia’s Commissioner of Agriculture. On average only 20 varieties are approved each year as legal Vidalia varieties.
Vidalia farmers take painstaking care year round to make sure the approved seed they plant generates bulbs that meet U.S. Number One quality standards or better when they are harvested in the spring and summer. Passing this tough grade test is yet another legal prerequisite for use of the Vidalia name.