Giant Produce Inc., Parma, Idaho, is taking older onions that have too short a shelf life to be shipped to retailers and is cooking them up into value-added jars of caramelized onions.

“When we started out, the idea was that at the end of the year, everybody has onions left over that they haul off to be turned under or fed to cattle. You can’t ship them because they won’t hold,” said Don Brown, product development manager for the grower-shipper of onions and potatoes.


Few competitors

When he began exploring developing the product, Brown said he found very few that were similar and they were from Canada or the United Kingdom.

He found a few that were manufactured in the U.S., but they were more akin to barbecue sauces that contained caramelized onions.

The first 9-ounce jars of Onion Valley balsamic-flavored caramelized onions rolled off the line in September at the University of Idaho’s Food Technology Center, Caldwell.

They contain Giant Produce’s Spanish sweet onions that are diced into 3/8-inch squares and slowly cooked for two hours until the sugars begin to darken and caramelize.

Brown added balsamic vinegar for flavor and to make the product shelf-stable.

The jars contain no preservatives or additives and have a shelf life of at least 18 months if unopened, he said.

So far, Onion Valley is sold in about 30 outlets — including some independent retailers — in Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.


Starting small

Brown said he’s starting out with small volumes to see how the market reacts.

“I’m really going out and hitting the smaller guys to see how everything goes over before we go after the bigger guys,” he said.

Other flavors in the works include an onion chutney and a barbecue-flavored caramelized onion.

“Onions are kind of like food sponges. They have their own characteristics and flavor, but they also absorb other flavors,” Brown said.