What you see: A sprouted onion.
What it is: A sprouted onion!
Eat or toss: Eat! You can eat the onion and its green shoots too! But, if the onion sprouted a long, long time ago the onion will be visibly depleted and may even smell. It will be obvious that it’s not good to eat.
So, why is it OK to eat a sprouted onion?
First off, thanks to Susan M. of Norwalk, Conn. for sending this photo of her very sprouted white onion!
Fortunately for Susan and the stew she was hoping to make, sprouted onions—including the sprouts themselves like those pictured above—are entirely safe to eat. The worst that could happen is the onion could taste more bitter normal.
When onions sprout, some of their good stuff, especially sugars, is directed to the new growth. With many of its sugars beamed up to the growing shoots, the onion bulb itself loses sweetness. You may like the more bitter taste or you may not notice it at all, especially if you cook the onion.
How much does a sprout impacted onion taste? Opinions vary
Views on the culinary viability of sprouted onions vary: Cook’s Illustrated ran a taste test with sprouted and not-sprouted onions and found that the sprouted onions tended to be less sweet and more fibrous (because of moisture loss, a common affliction of older veggies); Cook’s Illustrated’s taste testers also didn’t like the green shoots, finding them too bitter. But, writing for TheKitchn, Sheela Prakash reports detecting no bitterness when the onions are cooked. The Waste Free Kitchen Handbook also encourages eating the onion and its sprouts as well, suggesting you use the sprouts as you would a green onion.
Here at EatOrToss, we’re all about reducing food waste, so we’d urge you to give it a try. Tell us what you think!
But, before you start chopping, a few words on avoiding this situation in the first place.
How to prevent onions from sprouting
Onions sprout because they get cues that it’s time to move on to the next stage in their life cycle; age, hormones and temperature are all involved (That’s what they learned in a class euphemistically called “Health and Safety” taught by their gym teacher, anyway.). In fact, some onions are treated with something called maleic hydrazide to inhibit growth. A too-warm environment can spur an onion into shoot-growing. You don’t want to refrigerate onions, but a cool, dark pantry is ideal.
And, of course, as soon as you see that an onion has sprouted, consider it a message from Onionville that it’s time to get cooking. If you let a sprout advance too much, the onion will get very depleted and may start rotting. If the onion’s schedule is out of synch with your meal plan for the week, not to worry. You can freeze freshly chopped onions. No need to cook or blanche them first.
- Waste Free Kitchen Handbook. Dana Gunders. p. 165
- So Your Garlic (and Onion) Grew a Sprout. Can You Still Use It? Sheela Prakash. TheKitchn. Using Sprouted Onions: Is it OK to cook with sprouted onions? Cook’s Illustrated. September 2013.
- Onions: Commercial Vegetable Recomendations. MSU Extension. Michigan State University. September 26, 2016. B. Zandstra Harvesting and Storing Onions. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Richard Jauron. Extension Horticulturalist.
- Role of Ethylene on Sprouting of Onion Bulbs (Allium cepa L.). Benkeblia, N.* and Selselet-Attou, G. (Institute of Biology, Mostaganem University, BP 118, 27000 Mostaganem, Algeria). Acta Agriculturæ Scandinavica Section B, Soil and Plant Science. 1999. Onions, Dry. Vegetable Produce Facts. Postharvest Center. University of California, Davis. Trevor Suslow, Department of Plant Sciences.
- Post-Harvest Cooling and Handling of Onions. North Carolina State Extension.