Genetics always evolve
This breakthrough did not happen overnight, however. It took more than three decades looking for onion strains with less pungency, since that is related to the tearing or related to the sweetness of this vegetable.
“You take one strain, and you cross it with another strain, which has characteristics that you’re looking for, or what you call self,” said Boettge. “You take this onion strain and you self it, or you breed it to itself, you self-pollinate it; and then you start to create a more homogeneous strain of onion.”
But wait, there is more! Aside from this onion already being unique due to its sweetness and non-tearing quality, it has another interesting trait – the onion changes flavor over its storage time. The genetics of that variety are such that the onion becomes milder and sweeter in flavor over time. Normally, these onions are planted in the spring, harvested in the early fall and then they’re put into storage use – customized storage buildings. That’s where these cepas (Latin) begin their transition process to a sweeter level. Ergo, every day the SUNIONS become sweeter. Other storage onions, on the other hand, become hotter while stored, increasing in pyruvates (chemical compound in biochemistry relating to glucose) from 5-6 to as much as 8. SUNIONS pyruvate levels fall from 5-6 to 3 or less during storage. SUNIONS follow a tightly controlled flavor protocol and are shipped only once they are certified ready by internal testing.
“We want to sell onions only when they reach their peak flavor, when they really have an unforgettable consumer experience,” Boettge added.
And thankfully, this year’s targeted release for that variety is Thanksgiving season, just in time to make it to your family’s dinner table.
Since SUNIONS is such a versatile product, its mild crunchy flavor goes well on a salad or a fresh application. Additionally, that crunchiness and sweet-onion flavor minus bitter aftertaste also works well in cooked meals, such as stuffing.
“That’s the whole enjoyable experience – from the time you cut it, you don’t have that irritation and burning in your nose, or that smell on your hands – an yet you get that flavorful sweet-onion experience,” he said.
Boettge has been involved with SUNIONS since the very beginning. Starting out as a 24-year-old scientist working on this concept in a laboratory – to 35 years later – being responsible for the go-to-market strategy, branding and positioning of a once-in-a-lifetime onion – he could not be prouder of his team and the persons involved who brought this marvel to fruition.
“For myself and many of us who’ve been involved with this project from the beginning, it’s a tremendous feeling of success, because it involves so many people,” Boettge concluded. “It’s not just the onion breeder or the marketer, it’s the people who grow our seeds, test our seeds, and sell them; it was a true labor of love.”
To learn more about BASF’s unique SUNIONS project, click here.