You've probably seen them in the produce section of your grocery store, along with yellow onions, red onions, and others—but, what sets Vidalia onions apart? They have a "distinct sweet and crisp taste and are a favorite among chefs because of their versatility," says Cliff Riner, chairman of the Vidalia Onion Committee, a growers group. We spoke to experts to learn everything you need to know about the vegetable, from what it looks like to how to store and cook with it.
What are Vidalia Onions?
Vidalia onions are a type of sweet onion that originated in Toombs County, Georgia, and are exclusively grown within 20 counties in South Georgia. While someone else can grow this type of onion, the Vidalia Onion Act of 1986 states that only Vidalia onions grown in those specific counties can be marketed as Vidalias. The beloved vegetable got its name from tourists who purchased the onions at the Vidalia Farmers' Market in Toombs County. Riner says the vegetable gets its "distinctive taste from the combination of weather, soil, and water found in these counties." Although they're only grown and harvested in a specific part of the country, about 200 million pounds of Vidalia onions are distributed across the United States and Canada every year. According to Riner, you can identify a Vidalia onion by its "uniquely flat shape, golden brown exterior and white interior. In stores, Vidalia onions will have a produce identification sticker that has a product lookup code of 4159 and you'll find them from April until Labor Day,
Vidalia Onions vs. Other Varieties
The sweet, crisp onion is often confused with yellow onions because of its similar golden color, but there's a major difference. According to Riner, Vidalia onions are grown from a specific seed variety, that is "tested for a minimum of three years to ensure it meets proper standards." He adds, "Vidalia onions have a sweeter taste because of their high water and natural sugar content, compared to other yellow onions which have a milder taste when cooked."
In addition to being confused with yellow onions, people also have a hard time understanding the difference between Vidalias and other sweet varieties. According to Rodrigo Velásquez, produce category manager at Imperfect Foods, "all Vidalias are sweet onions, but not all sweet onions are Vidalias." He says the key difference is in the flavor. "What sets them apart is their sweetness and sulfur levels–they [Vidalias] have the highest sugars and lowest sulfur levels of all sweet onions. Anina von Haeften, co-founder of the food delivery service Farm to the People notes that this leads to a lighter, less offensive onion flavor than other sweet varieties.
How to Cook
Like most onions, the Vidalia is versatile and can be used in a range of dishes. Riner says their sweet flavor complements everything from soups (like our Lemony Chicken-Quinoa Soup) to salads and slaws (like our Summer Squash Slaw). Velásquez notes because of its higher sugar content, Vidalias are ideal for making caramelized onions. And because they are less pungent that some other varieties, Vidalias are great as a garnish: we serve them on top of our Crispy Chicken Tacos as they help to balance the heat from chopped jalapeños.
How to Store
Due to their high water content, Velásquez says Vidalia onions have a shorter shelf life than all other onion varieties. "The key to keeping them from going bad quickly is to keep them cool and dry," he says. "One of the best places to store them is the veggie bin in the refrigerator where they can last for weeks." To prolong their shelf life even further, he recommends wrapping each onion individually in paper towel, which helps them absorb moisture. Then place them in the crisper drawer away from other vegetables with the vents closed.
Also he reminds us that potatoes and onions should always be stored separately, "onions release gasses that will make your potatoes sprout, and potatoes release moisture that will make onions go soft."
If you want to freeze Vidalia onions, Riner says there are two different approaches: Peel and chop them evenly, then spread them out on a cookie sheet then freeze the batch. Once frozen, transfer them to freezer safe containers. To freeze them whole, Riner says to peel, wash, and core the onion then store them in freezer safe containers.