Grown in Vidalia, Georgia, the Vidalia onion is a sweet yellow onion with a mild flavor. The Vidalia stands out for having an oblong shape, where most onions are round. It's also less pungent than other onions, and for that reason it's enjoyed raw, in salads, sliced thin on sandwiches, pickled, made into vinaigrette and served as a garnish for roasted meats. But don't underestimate cooking a Vidalia, the onion has more sugar than other varieties and caramelizes well.
What Are Vidalia Onions
In 1989 the Vidalia onion became a federally protected brand, and a true Vidalia onion can only be grown in Georgia. The unique qualities of the onion come from its terroir: the soil in Vidalia, Georgia has a low amount of sulfur, which is what cuts the typical onion's acidity and makes this onion sweeter than most. To help maintain the standards for the Vidalia onion, the yellow granex onion seeds used to grow it get tested for a minimum of three years before earning the famous name.
The Vidalia onion was first discovered by onion farmers in 1930 during the Great Depression. Instead of the standard onions they thought would come from the soil, they harvested flattish, sweet onions. Over the next decade the Vidalia onion became something people traveled to get, until the 1960s when the Piggly Wiggly grocery store started carrying and distributing the onions. In 1977 the first annual Vidalia Onion Festival was held. The onion became so coveted that the Vidalia Onion Act of 1986 got passed by the Georgia state legislature, making it unlawful for any other region in the world to grow Vidalia onions. Though no other place can grow Vidalia onions, the vegetable is still found statewide in grocery stores across the United States.
Find the sweet and mild Vidalia onion in stores April through August. Each year the onions get an official packing date that's regulated by the Georgia Agriculture Commissioner, and only onions that follow this rule are allowed to be stamped as Vidalia onions. And, while technically Vidalia onions can't be grown and called a Vidalia onion anywhere outside of the 20 specified counties in Georgia, similar onions can be planted and harvested at home. Look for seeds that are granex type onion seeds, which include yellow granex, Texas grano and other granex short day varieties. To mimic the growing conditions found in Vidalia, make sure the soil these seeds are planted in is low in sulphur. Sow the seeds about a half inch in the soil and one inch apart from other seeds. Whether starting inside or putting straight in the ground, plant this type of onion in the garden bed right before the last forecasted frost.
How To Cook With Vidalia Onions
Vidalia onions can be used much the same way other onions are used, especially raw onions. Slice them thin and put in salads or on pizza, and add as a garnish to roasted and grilled meats. Raw Vidalia onions are great on sandwiches, salmon burgers and with falafel, and can be put in a quick pickle to both preserve the onion and enhance the flavor. Vidalia onions also taste great roasted and caramelized, which brings out the vegetable's sweetness. Just make sure not to muddle the flavor by wasting the onion in chili, casserole or any other heavy food full of other pungent ingredients. Instead, use the Vidalia to make onion rings, onion blossoms, creamy onion dip and kebabs.
What Does It Taste Like?
A Vidalia onion is sweet and crisp without that telltale bite and acidity onions are known for. The over all flavor is mild, and since there is more sugar in this type of onion the nuances really come out when it's caramelized or roasted.
Vidalia Onions Recipes
Prepare Vidalia onions in the same way other yellow onions are used. The sweetness also does well when showcased on its own, either raw, sautéed, roasted or caramelized.
Where To Buy Vidalia Onions
The season for Vidalia onions is April through August, which is the only time to buy them. Find this specific onion in grocery stores and at specialty fruit shops. Make sure to look for the name "Vidalia"—anything else is just a sweet onion. Keep in mind that Vidalia onions only grow in the Georgia counties of Appling, Bacon, Bullock, Candler, Emanuel, Evans, Jeff Davis, Montgomery, Tattnall, Telfair, Toombs, Treutlen, Wheeler, Dodge, Jenkins, Laurens, Long, Pierce, Screven and Wayne. Onions grown anywhere else cannot cary the name.
Because Vidalia onions have more moisture than other onion varieties, they don't preserve as well. But, they will last months if stored properly. The best place to keep Vidalia onions is in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. Wrap each onion individually in a paper towel so it can absorb excess moisture.
The onions can also be placed on a rack in a cool, dry spot such as root cellar or basement pantry. Make sure they don't touch each other or anything else but the rack. It's also recommended they stay away from potatoes, which are known to make the Vidalia onion go bad faster. Chopped or minced onions can be frozen for later use. The Vidalia onion can also be jarred and pickled for storage.
Vidalia Onions vs. Walla Walla Onion
Where Georgia residents are proud of the Vidalia onion, the people of Washington are just as excited about the Walla Walla onion. Both these onions have the same level of sweetness and are special to their respected regions. They can also both be used in the same dishes and the mild flesh lacks the usual onion astringency. With both onions a lot of the flavor can be attributed to the sulphur found in the soil they are grown in.
As for the differences, Walla Walla onions are white and round, where the Vidalia is a yellow flat-ish onion. A Vidalia onion is a short day variety and the Walla Walla a long day, which means the former flowers when there is less sun and the latter flowers with more sunlight. Because of this difference the Walla Walla is only in season a couple months from July to August, and the Vidalia has more time on the shelf between April and August. Both Washington and Georgia will claim their onion is the best sweet variety out there, but only the Walla Walla hold the title of state vegetable.