Onion grower says ‘mild’ label could limit confusion

05/17/2013 01:20:00 PM
Cynthia David

Courtesy J&D ProduceJ&D Produce offers Honey Sweet onions year-round. J&D Produce salesman Jeff Brechler says buyers should ask for test results of onions’ pyruvic acid level, which affects their heat and flavor, in order to verify whether these onions actually are sweet.Marketing onions as sweet may be catchy, but at least one onion shipper thinks it misses the mark.

“To maintain the integrity of the category, I think the name should be changed from sweet to mild onions,” said Jeff Brechler, salesman at Edinburg, Texas-based J&D Produce Inc., which markets Honey Sweet onions year round.

“You’re still getting an onion flavor without the heat,” said Brechler. “To me, sweet is irrelevant.”

He suggests that buyers in retail, wholesale and foodservice ask for test results of an onion’s pyruvic acid level, which determines the mildness of its flavor.

The OsoSweet consumer website notes that sweet onions have a pyruvic acid level below 5%, while storage onions usually run from 10% to 13%.

Since sweet onions are sold fresh, they maintain their high water content, the site notes, which further dilutes any harsh flavor and increases mildness.

“If a company sends onions to be tested for pyruvates and gets a high sugar content, you get a sweet taste but the aftertaste will light you up,” said Brechler, who has all his Honey Sweets tested.

Without a pyruvic acid standard, he said some shippers get away with packing the same onion in two different pack styles and labelling one as sweet to obtain a premium price.

“When you look at the onion display in the supermarket,” he said, “the sweets look just like the Spanish, and the Spanish is 40 cents cheaper and it’s the same onion.”

Barry Rogers, president of Melbourne, Fla.-based Sweet Onion Trading, agrees the industry has a problem.

“Our biggest challenge is competition that sells everything except truly sweet onions,” said Rogers, who ships certified sweet onions year-round from the U.S., Peru, Mexico and Chile — all packed to order in the U.S.

Brechler also takes exception to the belief that a mild or sweet onion must be flat.

“That can’t be further from the truth,” he said.

He said J&D has held blind taste tests with independent chefs who chose his large proprietary onions, sold year-round under the Little Bear label.

He attributes the popularity of sweet onions to growing demand for better-tasting produce.

“After years of demanding the biggest apple or the biggest watermelon,” he said, “retailers now realize that people want something that has flavor.”



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