Sweet Springtime Onions

Tim O’Connor

Tim O’Connor with a colorful bunch of his sweet onions. Daniel Lane photos

Olana Organic Farm is a 3-acre permaculture farm dedicated to building sustainable agricultural systems.

What’s growing now: Basil (Thai, Italian, lemon), beets, carrots, celery, chard (Swiss, rainbow), chives, cilantro, fennel, ginger, kale (curly), lime (kaffir), mint, onions (red and white sweet bulbing), pak choi, lychee, mango, papaya (green sunrise), parsley (Italian, curly), pea shoots, tangelo, turmeric, turnips.


Related to the lily, the onion itself is the bulb of the plant. Sweet onions have a flat, spherical shape compared to other onions. They are sold two ways, fresh with their edible leaves attached, and cured with dry, papery skins.

“A sweet onion generally grows faster,” says farmer Tim O’Connor, comparing them to the large onions you find in the grocery store. “They have more water content, so they’re sweeter. They’re so sweet that a lot of people like to eat them raw.”

Olana Organic Farm

Season: Onions are hard to grow on Kaua’i because they prefer dry environments. “They really like to have a lot of moisture on their bottoms, and not a lot on their tops,” says O’Connor. “Which is tricky around here.”

It takes six months for sweet bulbing onions to go from seed to table. Growing for five months, daylight triggers the onion plant to form a bulb. “These won’t bulb, until we’re just past the equinox and the day is longer,” says O’Connor. “That’s why we don’t have them year-round.”

What to look for: Onions should be smooth and fresh-smelling. Avoid those that are sprouting or have a sooty appearance. A strong onion aroma indicates damage or rot. Fresh onions should be shiny and moist-looking, and cured onions should have dry, papery skins.

“The number of leaves corresponds to the sections in the onion,” says O’Connor, noting that sweet bulbing onions can reach the size of a softball. “Occasionally, you’ll get a bad leaf that will transfer all the way down, and you’ll get a brown section inside.”

Fresh, sweet bulbing onions. Daniel Lane photo

Storage: Sweet bulbing onions don’t store as long as typical onions, which keep for several months. High water content reduces shelf life and makes them more susceptible to bruising. Fresh onions will store in a bag in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Cured onions will last up to six weeks if stored in a cool, dry place with plenty of air circulation. Storing onions and potatoes next to each other will cause both to spoil.

Tip: To tame the bite of onions, slice them and put into a bowl of water with ice. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. The onions will become crisp and lose their pungency.

Preparation: Use raw onions in poke, salads, fresh salsa and pickles. Small onions are fantastic grilled, braised or roasted whole. Stuff large onions and bake. Dice or slice and add to sautés and stir-fries. Onions pair well with butter, cream, olive oil, thyme, sage, bay, clove, cinnamon, chilies, vinegar, sugar and honey. Red, yellow and white onions are interchangeable.

Health benefits: Onions, including shallots, leeks, chives and scallions (also known as spring onions), are a major dietary source of the antioxidant quercetin. Antioxidants are compounds that retard oxidative damage to cells and tissues of the body. Several studies have shown quercetin to have beneficial effects against many diseases and disorders including cataracts and cardiovascular disease as well as breast, colon, ovarian, gastric, lung and bladder cancer. Onions are antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and act as a sedative.

Olana Organic Farm produce can be found at:

Kaua‘i Quick Pickle makes a pretty garnish. Daniel Lane photo

Farmers Market: Kilauea Neighborhood Center (Thursday at 4:30 p.m), Namahana Farmers Market by Banana Joe’s (Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.). For weekly custom orders, call 346-5936, or email grow.kauai@gmail.com.

A Quick Onion Pickle


These make a gorgeous garnish for sandwiches, salads and cold pastas, or just serve them at the table. Using red onions will give the pickle a pretty pink hue. Keep a jar around and you will always have something cool, crunchy, and tangy to have with your meals. Refrigerated, they keep for four weeks.

* 1 pound sweet bulbingonions, cut into 1/4-inch slices
* 1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
* 2 bay or allspice leaves
* 2 nioi, Hawaiian chili peppers, cut lengthwise
* 1 tablespoon sugar
* 1 teaspoon whole peppercorns, slightly crushed
* 4 1/2 cups water
* salt

Bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Separate onion rings and place in a colander.

Pour boiling water over.

Mix 1 1/2 cups cold water, vinegar, sugar and several pinches of salt in a large bowl and stir to dissolve.

Add onions, bay or all-spice leaves, chili peppers and peppercorns to a quart-size canning jar. Cover with vinegar mixture. Soak for 15 minutes and eat, or chill in refrigerator.

Makes about 1 quart.