PARMA, ID — Next time you’re enjoying a meal out, consider the following as you share a mouthwatering appetizer or savor the sweet complexity of a well-crafted French soup: As a food staple, onions predate both the pyramids of Egypt and the Bronze Age of Greece.
Yep. Since the human species has been upright and taking nourishment — going back to the Garden of Eden, we suspect — the onion has held a special place in the hearts and on the plates of mankind. History tells us they’ve been purposefully cultivated for at least 5,000 years, grown in ancient (and secret) Chinese gardens and in India as well.
A bit more recently, Pharaoh enjoyed his onions in 3500 B.C., and as they wandered the desert for 40 years, the Israelites kvetched to Moses in Numbers 11:5, saying, “We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic.”
Dining trends have likewise been in a perpetual “onward and upward” mode. Examples might be haggis, grits, fusion and locovore. But regardless of a particular dish’s origin or its place on the table, there has been one undeniable and constant current.
Onions are good. And meals with onions added are infinitely better than meals with onions left out. Simple as that.
Also — and this is key — “Onions are cool to eat,” said Sherise Jones, Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee marketing director.
Armed with product, message and means, the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee is working through multiple web sites, including its own bigonions.com and usaonions.com and a Facebook page, to reach the next generation of consumers with the new “All-American Winners” campaign.
Depicting the wholesome onions and several area youngsters, “All-American Winners” collateral material was developed by Boise-based Tri-Digital Group. It’s a relationship that goes as deep as the history of the Treasure Valley itself, with all of the kids tied to the industry through parents — or, in some cases, grandparents —who are shippers, growers or committee administrators.
TDG, a company that specializes in commercial photography and imagery, places youngsters ranging from early school age to young adult in a variety of onion-centered Norman Rockwellesque settings. Obviously enjoying themselves, the kids are shown in fields, having water fights at an irrigation ditch and hanging out at a backyard barbecue
In addition to being used at retail for point-of-sale material, the promotion has been adapted to downloadable classroom material available on usaonions.com, Ms. Jones added.
Students can learn about onions through coloring sheets, word searches and fun facts, all of which deliver the message that onions are not only cool but they also taste great and are extremely healthy.
Ms. Jones said the usaonions.com message has been developed for all students under 18, with teacher resources geared to younger kids.
One excellent source of information for school food providers is Gold Medal Classroom, found at cafemeetingplace.com. Described as the “center for advancement of foodservice education café,” Gold Medal Classroom has nearly 250 links or pages for school nutrition and onions. The range of information on the site is from recipes to “assessing culinary math skills.”
And foodservice operators at the institutional level are increasingly aware of students’ needs and consumer trends and how the pieces fit together, particularly in schools where “tastes good and is good for you” is being elevated from catch-phrase to a lifestyle.
Bigonions.com also provides a message for those whose artistry is played out in commercial or institutional kitchens. Knowing that top chefs and short-order cooks have long been aware of the onion’s irreplaceable value in everything from soup stock to burger trimmings, today’s commercial foodservice operators are also well-versed on the globes’ health benefits.
Bigonions.com gives foodservice buyers the inside scoop on Spanish Sweets from the Idaho-Eastern Oregon growing region. Pungent when raw, the Treasure Valley onions cook up mild and sweet.
“As an ingredient or topping, they perform beautifully, complementing and enhancing other flavors without overwhelming them,” the site says. “And with their high sugar and solids content, they’re ideal for popular techniques like caramelizing, sautéing and grilling.”
For those who wonder how IEO onions compare to sweet onions available in the summer months, bigonions.com also notes that Treasure Valley’s bounty, available from August through April, actually contain more sugar than many sweets.
They also contain more solids and less water, resulting in a firmer texture for the cooked Spanish Sweets. And, importantly, IEO onions store well for up to nine months under proper conditions, reducing loss from shrink.
Grown in yellow, red or white varieties, Spanish Sweets are the onions for every purpose. Yellows are the best for cooking, reds for salads and uncooked, diced whites in many ethnic dishes. No hard and fast rules, however.
To further promote IEO onions, Ms. Jones has been working with other councils and commodity boards, and she said that by early 2012 “we will have cross-promotion programs in place for both retail and foodservice.”