I will eat almost anything, but I hate raw onions. They overwhelm my palate entirely. If I’m making a salad where their flavor is critical, I routinely soak in cold water to blunt their sting, or even substitute green onions. Grilled, pickled or caramelized, though? I can’t get enough! I’ve been known to mail-order 10 pounds of Vidalias, and what do I call the six cups of crisped onions in this spectacular mujaddara recipe? A good start! But I have to take several breaks when I make it to compose myself as I snivel through half a box of tissues. It’s worth it, but as the endless plethora of tips and tricks to chop onions without crying your eyes out attests, it’s something of a pain. Should you freeze them first? Run a fan? Wear onion goggles?!
Sunions, the first "tearless" onions brought to North America by grower-shippers Onions 52 and Peri & Sons Farms, claims my sobbing-into-the-French onion soup days are over. Painstaking breeding over many years, with careful crossing of the sweetest, least lamentation-inducing onions, has gradually reduced their bite. While the usual onion varieties get sharper and sharper the longer they’re stored after harvest, this kind gets nothing but sweeter. Available yearly from late fall to early spring at most major grocery chains, Sunions also claim to undergo rigorous testing prior to shipping, to ensure consistency in their flavor.
Why do onions make you cry in the first place? If you really want to peel back the layers of the chemical reactions, take a look at this step-by-step explanation from the Library of Congress, but in short, when cut, onions release an enzyme that volatilizes their natural sulfur compounds, which irritate your eyes as they diffuse through the air. Those same compounds are part of the flavor of the onion, though, so I wondered whether drying their tears meant their delectable pungency would take an unacceptable hit.
First, the tear test: I sliced it right through the root, tissue box at the ready.
I put a slice as close to my nose as I dared and inhaled; there was a mild onion smell, but no burning, wincing or crying. I braced for eating a piece raw. It was sweet, crunchy, about as pleasantly onion-y as scallion. Success! These things are the Honeycrisp apple of the allium family.
Are they too tame to take center stage? To find out, I caramelized the heck out of a whole Sunion and made a delightful onion dip. Not only are they tasty, they’re also less prone to burning than Vidalias, and my fingers didn’t smell like onions for hours.
If you like to feel the burn and enjoy dragonbreath, you might be disappointed, but Sunions’ balanced kick really shines in things like raw salsa or a potato salad, or caramelized so that their milder flavor is concentrated. Now I just have to decide how best to make use of the rest of my Sunion haul. Onion jam or soup with Gruyère toast do promise to be divine, but in the end, I don’t think I can resist Sunion’s own caramelized flatbread recipe.
When I set that perfectly flaky pastry on the table, with buttery onions and pools of brie like molten gold, there won’t be a dry eye in the house.