Maui Onion Aloha

Maui Onion

If the Maui Onion were a celebrity, I think it would be Hawaii’s own Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussy Cat Dolls. She’s sexy and local and you can tell she’s sweet (but not too much).  But Roxanne Tiffin of Kula Fields thinks it would be Frank Sinatra. She has her reasons. I have mine. Regardless, we share a love for the Maui Onion and each spring, the Maui Onion festival reminds us both that these Hawaiian beauties are back.

While I missed it this year, one of these days, I really need to get to my neighbor island of Maui and blog about the festival for you.  Since moving to Hawaii 3 years ago, I have fallen in love with the Maui onion over and over again. When it reappears in the spring, its the first sign of summer at Hawaii farmer’s markets.  Its as if a boring yellow and white onion weight has been lifted from my dark, rainy winter shoulders and replaced with a ray of Hawaiian sunshine. Although its heavier and crispier than its cousin onions like the Walla Walla or the famed Vidalia onion, its also sweeter. No really, it is.

The onions are so sweet, that the Maui Onion Festival as a raw onion eating contest! Its apple-like in its crispness and almost as sweet. While I personally don’t eat the Maui onion like an apple, I do love it on just about anything, including a peanut butter sandwich. If you want some for your self, check out Kula Farms, I hear they ship to the mainland.  If you get your hands on some, a local favorite is fried Maui Onion rings with a Big Swell beer from Maui Brewing Company. Despite my peanut butter-onion fetish, I could probably get manage to through a basket or 10 of fried onion goodness with a refreshing microbrew. Check out our recipe.

The Maui Onion is as sweet as it is versatile and crisp. The onion beauty has that sweet/sassy paradox and oh, so under rated. So Maui Onions are good on salads, they are good on peanut butter, they are awesome fried (then again, what isn’t) and they can be eaten like an apple. Really, what other Onion shimmies it way into your kitchen with quite so much panache? Yet, they are a relative local secret. See the Nicole Scherzinger connection here?

As my spring-summer fling with the Maui Onion is renewed and kitchen encompassing, I wanted to know more about my elusive favorite. Dania Katz at Edible Hawaiian magazine put me in touch with Roxanne and Gilbert Silva (of Maui Farmer Exchange) for more info.  Many thanks to them for their patience and assistance in this article. When a little known blogger sends a list of 30 questions, your a saint to even help, let alone answer them all! YOU guys are No Ka Oi (the best).

I’d heard rumors that you can take the Maui Onion out of Maui, but you can’t grow a real Maui Onion elsewhere. My sources confirm this is true. Apparently, like wine grapes, the Maui onion depends on the slopes of Haleakala in Kula, Maui for its unique combination of soil, temperature and humidity to give the onion its special, sassy characteristics. The onion lacks its sweetness and crispy texture when its produced in other regions or locations. Even parts of Maui like Lahaina and Kihei are too warm to grow the onion known as the Maui Onion. Only Kula, Maui grows TRUE Maui Onions.  The sweetness of the Maui Onion comes from the higher elevation, the warm days and cool nights combined with low sulfer soil.  Like many beauties, they are comparatively rare,  there are only about a million pounds of Maui onions shipped out each year. That’s not an exact number but it gives you an idea of how much (or little) Maui onion there is. Gratefully, at least some of it makes it to my Farmer’s Market.

Foodie friends, if you want some of the real deal for your self, check out Kula Farms, I hear they ship to the mainland.  If you get your hands on some, a local favorite is fried Maui Onion rings with a Big Swell beer from Maui Brewing Company. Despite my peanut butter-onion fetish, I can’t deny their love of fried Maui Onions..I like to make them by the basket or 10 with a local brew too.

As sweet and authentically Hawaiian as the Maui Onion is, it was made famous by the most unlikely person. The brash Mr. Frank Sinatra put the Maui Onion on the map. He loved the sweetness and tenderness of the onion and once he had it, he raved about it everywhere he went. Without fail, he always ordered some directly from Kula, Maui for himself. For this reason, Roxanne is preferential to Frank being the celebrity face of the Maui Onion. After all, many people in Maui have Frank to thank for growing the Maui Onion in popularity. I still think the adorable local from the Pussy Cat Dolls is a better personification, but, I’ll leave it up to you.

So, what do you think? Is the Maui Onion more Nicole or Frank Sinatra?

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About Tara DeWitt Coomans

An aspiring cook and an accomplished eater, Tara is inspired by the world around her and the food on her plate. "When you can't jump on a plane and take a vacation to an exotic destination, chances are you can whip up a dish or go to a restaurant that will take you there." says Tara. She often eats out at a restaurant after trying to accomplish a given dish at home. None the less, she enjoys food and what it says about the human experience. Tara is a full-time freelance writer and blogger. She specializes in writing about food, cooking and travel. You can find her in the kitchen, on the plane or at her computer.