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                     Early Onion History  /  Recent Onion History


  Vidalia ® onions are sweet onions grown exclusively in a 20-county region in Georgia, but loved by consumers in all parts of the world.  Their mild, sweet taste makes Vidalia® onions more versatile than onions with a stronger taste.

Vidalia ® onions are available from late April through mid-November.  The crop is planted from September through February each year, with 70, 000 plants produced on each acre.


Similar onions are grown in other parts of the country, but the combination of sandy soil and mild climate provide the Vidalia ® onion with its distinct flavor.

Vidalia ® onions are a good source of vitamin C and dietary fiber.



  • Vidalia ® onions are perfect in a wide variety of salads and sandwiches, where other onions might be overpowering in taste.
  • Top hamburgers and steaks with thick slices of Vidalia ® onions for added flavor.
  • For a delicious side dish, Vidalia ® onions taste great grilled, baked, or all by themselves.
  • Whole Vidalia ® onions can be stuffed in a variety of ways.  Try them with cheese, mushrooms or spinach.


  • Vidalia ® onions are Georgia's state vegetable.
  • Vidalia ® onions were first grown more than 60 years ago in Toombs County, Georgia by Moses Coleman.  Coleman was surprised to find the onions he planted tasted sweet, not hot.
  • When Coleman's sweet onions garnered a high price, other farmers began planting onions
  • Tourists who bought sweet onions at the Vidalia Farmers' Market coined the name "Vidalia ® onion."
  • By the mid-1970s, there were more than 600 total acres of  Vidalia ® onions.
  • Vidalia ® onions have a higher water and sugar content than other onions.


  • Vidalia ® onions should have a light, golden-brown exterior and a milky white interior.  They should be rounded on the bottom and slightly flat on top.
  • Vidalia ® onions bruise fairly easily, so handle them with care.
  • To enjoy Vidalia ® onions longer than the 10-12 weeks they're available each year, buy in large quantities and store them properly.
  • Keep  Vidalia ® onions cool, dry and separate to ensure they stay fresh.
  • Or, store them in the legs of old, clean, sheer pantyhose.  Tie a knot between each onion, and cut the knot when you are ready to use it.  Hang Vidalia® onions in a cool, dry, well ventilated area.
  • Vidalia ® onions also can be stored on racks or screens as long as they don't touch and are kept in a cool place.
  • To freeze a whole Vidalia ® onion, peel, wash, core and place onion in freezer bag.  Frozen onions should be used for cooking, because freezing changes their texture.


Vidalia Onion Story

The Vidalia Onion Story takes root in Toombs County, Georgia over 60 years ago, when a farmer by the name of Moses Coleman discovered in the late spring of 1931 the onions he had planted were not hot, as he expected. They were sweet!  It was a struggle to sell the onions at first, but Moses persevered, and managed to sell them for $3.50 per 50-pound bag, which in those days was a big price.

Other farmers, who through the Depression years had not been able to get a fair price for their produce, thought Coleman had found a gold mine. They began to follow suit, and soon after, their farms were also producing the sweet, mild onion.

In the 1940's, the State of Georgia built a Farmer's Market in Vidalia, and because the small town was at the juncture of some of South Georgia's most widely traveled highways, the market had a thriving tourist business. Word began to spread about "those Vidalia onions". Consumers, then, gave the onions their famous name.  Reorders were made, and "Vidalia Onions" began appearing on the shelves of Piggly Wiggly and A & P grocery stores.  Through the 1950s and 60s, production grew at a slow but steady pace, reaching some 600 total acres by the mid 1970s. At that point, a push was made for Vidalia Onions to be distributed throughout the nation, and several promotional efforts were begun. Onion festivals became an annual event in both Vidalia and nearby Glennville, Georgia, and production grew tenfold over the next decade.

In 1986, Georgia's state legislature passed legislation giving the Vidalia Onion legal status and defining the 20-county production area. The Vidalia Onion was named Georgia's Official State Vegetable by the state legislature in 1990.

In 1989, Vidalia Onion producers united to establish Federal Marketing Order No. 955 for the crop. This USDA program established the Vidalia Onion Committee and extended the definition of a Vidalia Onion to the Federal level. The Marketing Order provided a vehicle for producers to jointly fund research and promotional programs.

Beginning in 1990, technology borrowed from the apple industry was adapted to begin the controlled atmosphere (CA) storage of Vidalia Onions. Now some 20,000,000 pounds of Vidalia Onions can be put into CA storage for up to six months, thus extending the marketing of the Vidalia's through the fall and into the holiday season.

In 1991, the Vidalia Onion Committee began to annually honor one individual with introduction into the Vidalia Onion Hall of Fame. The committee considers the recipient's character, reputation and overall contribution to the growth and success of the Vidalia Onion. Inductees must be a leader in one or more of the following areas: protecting and promoting the name of the Vidalia Onion; protecting and promoting the quality of the Vidalia Onion; advertising and promoting the Vidalia Onion; sales of Vidalia Onions and creative selling methods; or research and growth development of the Vidalia Onions.

We hope you enjoy Vidalia' of Georgia's many treasures.

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History and Origin of the Onion

Early History                                             Recent Onion History

Onions are difficult for archaeologists to track because they are too small and their tissues leave little, if any, trace. Some food historians place the earliest onion cultivation at the edges of the Mediterranean as long ago as 5,000 years. Others believe that onions originated in central Asia. The National Onion Association says onions were first grown in Iran and Pakistan. It's difficult to say in which area onions originated as several hundred varieties of onions grow wild in temperate climates all around the world.

The Egyptians left onions in their tombs about 3,500 years ago. In fact, the mummy of King Ramses IV, who died in 1160 B.C., had small onions in the eye sockets, probably because they had some spiritual significance and because they replicated a real eyeball. Paintings of onions appear on the inner walls of the pyramids of Unas (c. 2423 B.C.) and Pepi II (c.2200 B.C.), and in tombs of both the Old Kingdom and the New Kingdom.

The Roman satirist Juvenal wrote of the Egyptians:

How Egypt, mad with superstition grown,
Makes gods of monsters but too well is known.
'Tis mortal sin an Onion to devour,
Each clove of garlic hath a sacred power,
Religious nation sure, and best abodes,
When every garden is o'errun with gods!

Many early documents tell of onion cultivation and use. There is evidence that the Sumerians were growing onions as early as 2500 B.C. The great food historian, Waverly Root, cites a Sumerian text dated to about 2400 B.C. that tells of someone plowing of the city governor's onion plot.

Three different varieties of alliums (onions) are mentioned to have been eaten by the Israelites in the Biblical book Numbers; leeks, onions and garlic.

The Roman writer Pliny the Elder wrote of onions grown in Pompeii. When Pompeii was excavated, archaeologists found cavities in the gardens where the onion bulbs had grown, just as he had written.

Texts from India dated to the early 6th C. write of the onion's use as medicine. They were used as a diuretic, and taken for the heart, the eyes and the joints.

Recent History                         Back to Top of Page

The onions we use today are very similar to those described and eaten 2000 years ago. By 1900, plant breeders were already refining the species to meet the needs of the grower and consumer. A 1900 seed catalog might offer red, yellow, white, oblate, globe and spindle shaped onions.

The accidental discovery of a male-sterile onion by the botanist Henry Jones in 1925 marked the beginning of modern onion breeding. Crossing the sterile line of onions with other onions having desirable characteristics could produce new and better hybrids. Cooperative breeding programs began at universities all across the country. The result was that onion varieties were developed for specific and varied growing conditions.

Onion breeders have been able to strengthen the plant's resistance to many diseases. It is now possible to plant varieties that are not only immune to most diseases but are resistant to diseases prevalent in certain types of geographic areas. For example, researchers in Wisconsin were able to breed for onions containing more phenol. Phenol, when it is diluted, is carbolic acid. Carbolic acid can be used to protect onions from smudge, a naturally occurring mold-like condition.

The complex role of day-length in onion bulb development was another important factor in breeding onion varieties. Many onion varieties were developed which would form bulbs at the correct time, i.e. varieties for both northern and southern growers.

In 1945, analysis of the sulfur compounds in onions (the compound that makes people cry when an onion is cut) resulted in breeders being able to develop a sweet onion. These onions are spring and summer onions, high in water and sugar content, and known for their sweet mild flavor. They don't store as well as other onion varieties do, but they offer a distinctive variation in flavor and have become very popular.

Today, most of the onions eaten in North America are storage onions, grown primarily in western Idaho and eastern Oregon. As much as a quarter of the U.S. fall and winter crop of storage onions is produced in this area. California produces an equivalent amount, another 25% of America's onions, and not just storage onions, but also sweet, speciality, and processing onions. In fact, half of California's onion production goes to processors. Other states produce substantially lesser amounts. Texas grows about 10% of the total onion acreage, mostly sweets; Georgia grows about 5%. New Mexico, Washington, and Arizona also produce substantial quantities of sweets. Colorado, New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada, Utah, Nebraska and Ohio are also onion-growing states.

There are onion varieties for every climate and latitude, large and small, hot and sweet, ready to eat and storage types. So many varieties, so many producing areas. There should never be a time when onions cannot be found in any supermarket.


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