Onion growers learn about 'sweet' test kit

Mitch Lies/Capital Press Oregon State University graduate student Lane Tidwell shows participants in the National Onion AssociationÕs annual summer meeting, held last week in Oregon, a new method to determine if onions are Òsweet.Ó The test can be done in the field in minutes.

An Oregon State University scientist has developed a test kit that can dramatically shrink the cost and turn-around time for onion producers to learn if onions qualify as "sweet."

"You can do it in the field in a few minutes, compared to sending onions off to a lab, where it will take two to three weeks," said Kim Anderson, director of the university's food safety and environmental stewardship laboratory.

Anderson couldn't say how much the kit will cost, but she expects it to be a fraction of the $75 producers now pay to get onions tested.

She expects to have prototype kits available by this winter.

Using the kit, growers place juice from an onion in a test tube, add a chemical agent, then compare the color of the resulting compound to a color-coded chart.

The lighter the liquid, the sweeter the onion.

Anderson said the kit could provide substantial savings to growers in packing and storage costs and potentially increase access to some markets.

Producers typically get a premium if onions qualify for the "sweet" label.

--Mitch Lies

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