What Are Maui Sweet Onions?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Maui onion photograph and explanation

The Spruce / Lindsay Kreighbaum

Maui sweet onions grow on the Hawaiian island for which they are named and are sweet and mild in comparison to their more pungent onion cousins. Because of these characteristics, they do well used on their own, as a standout ingredient, but their uses are endless. Slice them raw for a hamburger, bake them, roast them, grill them—they become a whole new ingredient that will deepen your appreciation for their charms, and make you think twice about using them interchangeably with other onions.

What Are Maui Sweet Onions?

While most other onions such as yellow, white, and red ones are more globular in shape, Maui sweet onions are characterized by their yellowy-white skins and a shape that looks a little like a squashed globe. Maui onions have a lower sulfur content—that's what give onions their bite—and more sugar and water than the average yellow onion. These attributes lend them to being used raw or being simply cooked on their own in ways that you might not enjoy as much with a yellow or even a red onion.

Sweet onions are easy to grow and not expensive, so they have widespread accessibility around the world. But Maui onions are grown on about 150 acres on the slopes of Haleakalā—the dormant East Maui volcano that occupies more than 75 percent of this Hawaiian island. It's the precise combination of weather conditions and the rich volcanic soil that contributes to the specific taste of Maui sweet onions and the region's ability to harvest about 2 million pounds of them per year. Maui onions have been cultivated in this region since the early 20th century.

How to Cook With Maui Sweet Onions

The uses for Maui sweet onions are endless. They are great cut into thick slices, brushed with oil, and then skewered on the grill with other veggies. Onions such as Mauis, which are sweet to begin with, are especially well suited to the caramelization process. This way of cooking turns Maui onions almost as sweet as candy when cooked low and slow, and then added to all kinds of dishes such as steaks and burgers. They lend a sweet-savory presence in a French onion soup recipe, or on top of a creamy labneh dip.

They can be roasted with other like-minded veggies (think potatoes and peppers for starters). Chefs and culinary professionals love Maui onions because they are special, offering a sweet and mild taste. They're great when sliced thinly and served on top of salads or pizzas.

What Do They Taste Like?

Maui sweet onions are much more mild and sweet than their regular cooking cousin yellow onions or even red onions. Further cooking just enhances their sweetness even further, especially roasting and grilling, which accentuate the sugars. However, some people will even eat a Maui sweet onion raw, like an apple, because it's so sweet and juicy.

Maui Sweet Onion Recipes

Sometimes you will encounter a recipe that specifically calls for a Maui sweet onion; other times, recipes will simply say "sweet onions," and in those cases, you can definitely use a Maui; a Walla Walla or Vidalia will work too, in a pinch. There are myriad ways to use this vegetable, but because it's a milder alternative to cooking onions, they work really well on their own as a main ingredient in something like a salad dressing, as opposed to a background base for other flavors. You can use these in the most basic ways, such as caramelizing, where their sweetness really comes through, to classics such as onion rings or as part of a veggie-forward dish such as a sweet potato, spinach, and caramelized onion tart.

Where to Buy Maui Sweet Onions

Maui sweet onions can be found in grocery stores in the produce department; they will be labeled as such and often come pre-bagged from specialty produce distributors. They are in season May through December. You might also see these onions labeled as "Kula-grown" onions, which refers to the region on the island of Maui in which they are grown. When you pick them up, they should feel heavy and firm, and ideally, be free of moldy or rotted spots. Their necks should be tightly closed, and the onions should be dry.

If you have trouble finding these onions in grocery stores there are a number of online purveyors who will ship them to you. It's not the most cost-effective measure, but they are available that way.

Storage

Most onions, like potatoes, keep best in a cool, dark, and dry location such as a pantry when they are whole. Maui sweet onions can potentially keep for up to two months this way, especially if they are stored away from other vegetables. (Otherwise, they might draw out moisture from those veggies.) If you don't have a cool, dark area for storing these onions, a refrigerator will work. Cut pieces of onions can be wrapped in plastic and stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Keep in mind that these onions are juicier than longer-storage onions, so try to use them quickly.

Nutrition and Other Benefits

These onions contain vitamin B6 and C, along with copper, manganese, phosphorous, folate, and potassium. Onions and alliums in general, which also includes garlic, have been studied for their unique phytonutrients and are believed to have cancer-protective qualities along with cardiovascular benefits.

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