Julie Whittington, RD

Healthy tips from a Registered Dietitian

Vidalia onions add sweet nutrition to Southern cuisine

If you love onions and Southern cuisine, you surely have Vidalia onions on your grocery list.  Naturally sweet Vidalia onions grow in Georgia – in 20 counties – and are harvested in late April through mid-June.  Controlled Atmosphere storage allows the onions to be stored for several months after harvest in order to extend the marketing season into the fall.

A Vidalia onion is not necessarily the same as onions simply labeled “sweet onions”.  In order for it to be a Vidalia, it needs to indicate that on the label.  According to www.vidaliaonion.org, Vidalia onions are sweet because of Georgia’s mild climate, sandy, low-sulfur soil, seed varieties and harvesting techniques.  And, apparently, the onions were discovered accidentally, in the 1930s, when farmers sought a new cash crop (aside from cotton and tobacco) and decided to plant onions.  Surprisingly, the onions turned out sweet and popularity grew.  In 1990, the Vidalia onion became Georgia’s state vegetable.

Vidalia onions taste delicious raw or cooked and are extremely versatile.  They are less likely to make you cry when you slice them, too!  Look for them at the grocery store since they have arrived to our area.

Nutritionally, onions are a powerhouse of disease-fighting ingredients and are low in calories, too.  One medium onion (5.3oz) contains about 47 calories, 1g protein, 11g carbs, 1g fiber and 0g fat.  Onions are very good sources of chromium, promoting blood glucose control, and contain other healthful vitamins (like vitamin C and B6) and minerals.  Onions contain allyl sulfides – phytonutrients believed to lower blood cholesterol levels, improve immune function and increase production of enzymes known to protect cells against carcinogens.  Additionally, the phytonutrient, quercitin, exists in onions and is known to have anti-inflammatory properties.  Plus, have you heard that raw onion is said to help heal canker sores?  Overall, onions are heart healthy – with of course the exception of the artery clogging, calorie laden fried versions!

This season, seek to incorporate more onions – especially the tasty Vidalia type – into your cuisine.  Consider the following ways to mix them in:

  • Dice raw onions and sprinkle on a salad.
  • Top your sandwich or burger with raw or sautéed onions (consider mixing in sliced sauteed mushrooms, too).
  • Peel a whole onion and leave intact.  Scoop out a center hole with a melon baller.  Fill with a little canola oil, herbs and feta cheese.  Wrap in foil and grill or bake until soft.
  • Make homemade salsa with fresh diced onions, tomatoes, herbs, garlic, white wine vinegar and herbs.
  • Make fresh onion soup.
  • Grill sliced Vidalia onions and bell peppers.  Serve with quesadillas or fajitas.
  • Make onion dip or chutney (use more onions than anything else!)
  • Make veggie cakes with diced veggies such as onions, spinach and garlic.  Bind with egg white and fresh breadcrumbs.  Sautee in a nonstick skillet until golden.
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