Onions are a delicious vegetable present in many of our favorite dishes due to the subtle, sweet flavor they add. However, they are an ingredient whose use is often dreaded by professional and home cooks alike due to the teary, burning sensation that onions cause the human eye. Being such a common issue, “how can you cut an onion without crying?” has produced more than 1.1 million Google search results, and related how-to videos total more than 6 million views on YouTube. With this pervasive issue arose the need for modern science to yet again, prove that anything is possible. Thus came to be the latest agricultural innovation: "The Sunion."

What exactly is a Sunion?

According to their adorable website, catchy promotional youtube video, and mission statement, "Sunions, America’s first tearless and sweet onion, are a game-changer in the kitchen–no goggles or crazy hacks are needed to keep from crying." 

Onions, leeks, and chives absorb sulfur in the soil. When a person cuts into an onion, he or she breaks its cells and thus releases the contents inside, allowing chemicals that were previously separated by a cell membrane (the thin translucent skin on the surface of onions right under the brown outer layer) to combine with each other and with the air. Enzymes and amino acid sulfoxide chemicals from inside the cells react to produce a sulfur gas that burns when it comes in contact with the natural water in the human eye. 

This gas builds up over time, so the older an onion is, the more it will make a person tear up when a knife breaks the membrane of an onion. In Sunions, such compounds have the opposite effect, decreasing with time to create a "tearless, sweet and mild onion." 

Does this mean the flavor of a Sunion decreases over time? 

“Sunions maintain that onion flavor over time,” Lyndon Johnson, the crop sales manager at Bayer, the parent company of Sunions and an innovative agricultural firm, has said. “It’s just that aftertaste that disappears.” Johnson also claims that the onions are sweet when eaten raw, retain their natural onion flavor, and do not contain the typical aftertaste and subsequent bad breath. But then again, who eats an onion raw.

So how are they grown to live up to all this magical hype?

"Sunions are not genetically modified, instead, grown through an all-natural cross-breeding program," according to their website. During the 1980s, farmers in Nevada and Washington started to use gas chromatography to identify which types of onions contained the fewest volatile compounds from the soil. Such onions identified were then crossbred "naturally" using a "traditional" selection process to isolate those qualities on a consistent basis and leading to what ultimately became the Sunion as it exists in 2018. Unlike other onions, Sunions are supposed to become sweeter by the day. Taking almost three decades to reach a final product, when the final batch of onions was harvested, they were "triple tested for peak flavor and maximum tearlessness," and Bayer's farmers will test all of their future Sunion harvests in the same manner. What this triple testing entails, their website falls short of explaining.

Nevertheless, these onions are certified by their farmers before being released to market in select locations. These onions are quite hard to attain, available beginning in mid-December and through March or April, depending on supply, and are currently only available in chain grocery stores primarily located in Utah, and also in select grocery stores in Colorado, Michigan, Washington, California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Idaho, Wyoming, New York, and Vermont.

How do I get my hands on a Sunion?

Well, as someone who spent hours on the phone with several grocery stores said to sell Sunions nearby to Ann Arbor, one store claimed that they "are in low supply," meaning they had none in stock currently and didn't know when they would have them, and another store that supposedly had them had no idea what they were. I then asked my mother who lives in New York City to go to a store claiming to sell Sunions to try and purchase one. When she asked a store manager about their whereabouts in the vegetable aisle, the manager laughed and said that he had never heard of such an item and the store didn't sell them.

What this means for the state of the brand as a whole and the future of the American consumption of onions, I have yet to decide as Sunions is a new company that only released products to market this year. Perhaps once the brand achieves some recognition in stores that currently sell Sunions in Utah, they will eventually get enough press to become a national phenomenon, as it is a product containing a concept that would revolutionize cooking. Regarding the actual taste, if you can find a Sunion, try it for yourself--hopefully without shedding a tear–and see if they taste the same, worse, or even better than the average onion!