(Nov. 11, 12:44 p.m.) Sweet onions are seeing considerable growth, although the entire onion category has been growing for years.

“Sweet onions have established a customer base and a significant volume,” said Wayne Mininger, president of the National Onion Association, Greeley, Colo. “People are looking for that item and seek it out. They have made themselves a market share to satisfy that market.”

Sweet onions fit into all three color categories, yellow, red and white, but most are yellow onions. The onion market, overall, is heavily dominated by yellow onions, which make up 86%, while red onions claim 9% and white 5%, according to the onion association.

“Sweet onions have definitely been a growth area within the company,” said Matt Curry, president of Curry & Co. Inc., Brooks, Ore.

Although they’ve been around for more than a century, Walla Walla sweet onions seem more like specialty onions than traditional onions. Only 1,000 acres of the variety are grown per year in the Walla Walla Valley in Washington, and they stay pretty close to where they’re grown.

“Because of our unique nature, we’ll never be as big as Vidalia,” said Kathy Fry, director of marketing for the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Committee, Walla Walla, Wash. “There are a lot of wannabe sweet onions, but they’re hybrids. We’re not. The Walla Walla sweet onion is grown from the same seed that came over from Corsica in the late 1800s.”

About 35 growers in the Walla Walla Valley are licensed to grow the sweet onion variety, Fry said. The committee works with a budget of $95,000 to $160,000 a year to promote the variety west of the Mississippi, focusing on the West Coast.

“We are a very unique, very gourmet industry,” Fry said, referring to the sweet onion that is 95% water. “It doesn’t hold up well, but that’s what makes it what it is.”

This year, growers in the Walla Walla Valley grew almost 1,000 acres and shipped until Sept. 15, about two weeks later than normal.

“We try to plan it so all the shipping is done by the end of August,” Fry said. “We’re typically running real low by then (Sept. 15).”

Fry said the area’s biggest crop was several years ago, when growers had 1,500 acres of the variety.

Fry said the sweet onions are especially good fresh on salads, but that a lot of chefs like to cook them.

“They tend to want to caramelize a lot,” Fry said.