- The Washington Times - Monday, August 12, 2002

It's not quite as weird as the Pluot (apricot/plum hybrid) or Broccoflower (cauliflower/broccoli), and it is meant to be more functional than Supersweet corn.
Brand-new to the specialty produce market is the Veri Sweet onion, a supposedly no-cry version of its Southern cousin, the Vidalia.
The Washington state-grown onion's gimmick is that it's ultra-low in pyruvic acid, the chemical that brings slicers to tears and stings the tongue.
The Veri Sweet is being marketed as an improvement on other lower-tear onions that have been bred, such as the Texas 1015 SuperSweet or Washington state's most famous onion, the Walla Walla. And due to its high sugar content, chefs will be happy to know the Veri Sweet is easy to caramelize.
But there is a mystery afoot about this fleeting onion that stops by for only a few late-summer barbecues: it's available only from late July until September. Some very plugged-in produce people don't know it exists.
When The Washington Times contacted Whole Foods in Georgetown, known for its wide variety of all types of cutting-edge fruits and vegetables, the produce manager was intrigued but had never heard of the Veri Sweet.
Mark Klueber, a produce buyer for Whole Foods, knows a thing or two about onions, but he also had not heard of the Veri Sweet. He wanted to know whether this new onion was trying to "upstage or compete with the Walla Walla," the popular sweet onion from the city of the same name in Washington state.
That issue is still not clear, but key layers were peeled off in a conversation with Tonya Fell of the Colorado-based National Onion Association. Not only did Miss Fell know nothing about the Veri Sweet, she was unfazed and dismissed it as a "niche product." In other words, the Veri Sweet is a novelty that will make an appearance in fancy food shops but is not likely to go mainstream.
Plus, it is likely to be a very low-yield crop at this point. "It's not like the Vidalia, which is grown in 24 counties in the state of Georgia," she said.
Just as small cereal companies often come out with a cereal meant to compete with an existing Kellogg's cereal, one farmer can tinker with seeds in hopes of creating a product that could cut into the market share held by older, more established onions.
Miss Fell will learn more on a trip to Washington's onion growers next month, but for now she is matter-of-fact.
"It's one grower, and they're trying to market a niche product," she said.
The same man who created the petite, buttery Yukon Gold potato a successful hybrid is reportedly behind the elusive Veri Sweet, which soon will reach such New York gourmet stores as Citarella. The produce manager there says the first shipment's on its way.
Hybrids such as the Veri Sweet are nothing to fear, Mr. Klueber said, pointing out that many people are wary of anything they think might be genetically modified produce. "We're not adding or deleting foreign chromosomes," he said.
People might be surprised to learn that "all the hybrids are done in the lab by computer," he said. "It's technology at its finest."
Produce geneticists are busy these days. Consumers can expect to see a steady stream of new versions of fruits and vegetables they know and love, such as the "new" tangerines coming out of the University of California at Riverside.

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