University of Georgia lab tests Vidalia onions for sweetness

05/19/2014 01:50:00 PM
Vicky Boyd

Dan JacksonCourtesy University of GeorgiaLab technician Daniel Jackson hauls a load of research samples from the Vidalia Onion Research Center in Lyons. Jackson's lab will test between 2,500 and 5,000 pounds of onions during May and June. University of Georgia's Crop Quality Lab technicians have a job that brings tears to their eyes—they have to test thousands of Vidalia onions for quality.

This is the second year that the lab has been tasked with the job. Last year, it only tested a few hundred pounds, according to a news release.

This season, the Athens-based facility is expected to test between 2,500 and 5,000 pounds of onions.

Grower fees and grants from the Vidalia Onion Committee underwrite the testing.

The information is used not only by grower-packers to ensure a quality product but also by plant breeders looking at new varieties.

Because human taste buds vary, an onion perceived as sweet by one person may be overly pungent to another.

The lab qualifies chemical compounds responsible for the onion's distinctive sweet taste.

Among the tests are sugar content; lachrymatory factor, which causes tearing and heat; and sulfinates, which give the lingering onion taste.

In addtion to the on-demand testing, the lab also is working with university and U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers.

This season, USDA taste testers are identifying how people taste different concentrations of sugar, lachrymatory factor and sulfinates.

Next summer, a team of university and USDA researchers will determine the chemical composition of onions that consumers prefer through wide-scale public taste tests.

Once the Vidalia onion season ends, the lab will move into analyzing winegrapes and olive oil.

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