Vegetables - trade production and processing - Details

Production of Fifth Range Products

Vegetables and fruit differ from other food products for the quick change of their quality characteristics in the elapsing time between harvesting and consumption, the large variety diversity, the involvement of all the senses of the buyer when deciding what to buy, the general feeling of healthiness by the consumer.
The trading of these fruit and vegetable products ready to eat, nowadays allows producers to move from a quite generic offer of perishable raw food to quality products that are also steady, adequately described and commensurate to the individual and collective needs of the modern consumer.
The major category of suppliers of fifth range fruit and vegetable products worldwide are the industries, followed by organizations of producers; wholesalers of fifth range products and retailers for fifth range products, after a decreasing period (in 2003-2006), are now seeing again and increase of the fifth range products sector.
Even though the traditional segment of the fruit and vegetable sector in years has been considered in a deadlock, we actually have seen a strong dynamism in the use of vegetables in the diet and in particular for fourth and fifth range products: while traditional food habits used to use vegetables only as a side dish, or a complement to the meal, nowadays they are increasingly used as single meals, above all in Northern Europe countries.

Onions: history and origins

The onion is a fruit and vegetable product native to the regions of Asia: its origins are very old.
In spite of archaeological finds that prove the existence of this fresh vegetable already in the age of bronze, 5000 b.C., it is not clear if this plant is really so ancient or if its cultivation spread only later (about 2000 years later): therefore, it is not possible to determine a certain date for the introduction and the consumption of onion worldwide.

Onion spread above all in Egypt, together with other fruit and vegetable products such as leek. From some researches it seems that onion, together with radish, was part of the diet of the workers that built the pyramids of the great pharaohs.
Anyway, onion had a great success among Egyptian, not only because it was easy to transport and store it, but also because, thanks to its round shape and to the concentric rings that can be seen once it has been sliced, it was connected to eternal life, thus becoming an object of worship. Remains of onion bulbs were found also in the eye holes of Ramesses II: apart from representing the eternal life, in Egypt it was thought that the strong flavour of onions could give new breath to the dead. In the past it was also thought that if a sick person dreamt of eating few onions, it was sign that its disease would have worsened irreparably, while if he dreamt of eating a lot of onions, exactly the contrary would have happened.

The onion is a vegetable that largely spread worldwide in centuries: for example Romans and gladiators believed that this fresh fruit and vegetable product could tone up muscles, therefore they used to rub their bodies with onion. It is also known that Ancient Greeks consumed large quantities of this vegetable because they believed that it could purify and lighten the blood.

The onion became very important, above all as a vegetable and therefore as a food, in Middle Ages, when it was used even as a payment method (for example to pay the rent) or as a present. In this period, the onion was also used with therapeutic purposes against the snake bites, or to soothe headache, or against the hair fall; starting from the XVI century, the onion was given as a remedy against the infertility not only to women, but also to pets.
Finally, the onion was introduced in America in 1493, by Christopher Columbus, during the journey that he did to Haiti.

The history of onion is therefore dated back to very ancient times and thanks to its great versatility in cuisine, this fresh vegetable has increasingly rooted also in modern culture obtaining a lot of space on the fruit and vegetable market.
In the world fruit and vegetable sector, countless different varieties of onion are produced, in fact, today the onion is one of the fresh vegetables with the largest number of varieties produced and traded on the international fruit and vegetable market. Nowadays there are a lot of companies that produce onions, certified companies for the production of onion, producers of onions, companies that produce organic onions, companies that deal with the trade of onion (packaging od onion), retailers of onions, importers of onions, exporters of onions and wholesalers of onions: such a large variety range has largely increased competition among countries worldwide (EU members and not) for the production of onions and the trade of onions.

The plant and the production of Onions

The plant of onions is an herbaceous plant, with a biennial cycle, but cultivated annually: it has surface roots, with a long stalk and an inflorescence that looks like an umbrella that produces white-yellowish flowers. The fruit of this plant, the edible part, is the bulb, that actually is a capsule covered my external tunics that form the “skin”.

The onion is a typically spring plant, as it needs a temperate climate and many hours of daily sunlight to produce fruits: however in countries with quite mild climate it can be sown and cultivated also in winter.
After sowing (this type of plant does not need to be sown in deepness and does not need much space: in fact it is enough to keep seeds at a 10 cm distance one from another) it is necessary to wait from 90 to 120 days before harvesting fruits, and start the trade of onions.

The most favourable soil for the growth and the production of onions must be rich and humid, even though not too much wet: for this reason it is extremely important to prepare the soil assigned to the cultivation of this fruit and vegetable product, avoiding water stagnations that are harmful to the plant of onion, as they may cause the bulbs of this vegetable to rot.
To have a well prepared soil, above all as to the cultivations of onions from seeds (if plantings are transplanted or if bulbs are used it is not so important to prepare the soil in the right way), a good ploughing is necessary, also using organic substances such as manure, that however must be well mature to avoid possible fungus diseases for the onion. These organic substances are a very important element, because onions need a soil rich in phosphorus and potassium. For small surfaces instead, for example a kitchen garden, it is enough to hoe the ground , to prepare the soil to the production of onions.

The sowing or the planting of onions can vary according to how this fruit and vegetable product will be used: in general for onions that will be consumed fresh, the sowing takes place in late summer or in winter, while plantings are transplanted in fall-winter. Instead, onions that are stored for a longer period are usually sown directly in the chosen area, in winter-spring. For family productions, onions are usually sown at the end of winter, or at the beginning of spring.

The major producer of onions worldwide is China, followed by India, Usa, Turkey, Russia, Japan, Egypt, Spain and the Netherlands; the production of onions in Italy is around 400,000 tons (data 2010).
The major countries producers of onion in South America are: Mexico, Brazil, Peru, (that produces mainly sweet onions, of which the demand and the export have increased), Colombia, Argentina and Chile; Chile has a production of onion that varies a lot from an year to another according to the demand of this fruit and vegetable product: from 2007 to 2009 the export of onions from Chile has constantly increased and the main countries importers of the Chilean product are Brazil, the USA and Great Britain.
The production of onions in Brazil, instead is not constant and stays around 900,000 tons from September to February: this country has a very large production of onions that are therefore exported in other countries, while during the rest of the year the production of onions decreases a lot and for this reason, Brazil becomes an importer of onions, while being an exporter in winter.
Also Argentina, thanks to the increasing demand of this fruit and vegetable product, and therefore to the possibility to export onions, has significantly increased the cultivations of onions in the last years.

As to the European Union, the major European countries producers of onions are the Netherlands, Ukraine, Spain, Poland, Germany, followed by France, Great Britain and Italy.
As to the EU countries producers of onions, form 2007 to these days, the production of onions has strongly increased, of about 6% compared to 2005-2006, reaching a total volume of 4.86 million tons of onions.
Thanks to a strong increase of the production, Ukraine has become the second major producer of onions in Europe. Also the Netherlands have seen a growth and they remain the major producer of onions in Europe.

Preventions done by producers of onions, retailers of onions and fruit and vegetable companies that produce organic onions, consist in different techniques, among which there are an adequate rotation among the different fruit and vegetable cultivations (fresh vegetables are alternated) the avoidance of water stagnation, regular and constant irrigations of the soils assigned to the production of onions and to the production of organic onions, the elimination of residuals of infected fruit and vegetable products and finally nitrogenous manures or manures done with copper products (not for companies that produce organic onions for which treatments with chemical substances are forbidden by certification regulations of the European Union).

The varieties of Onions

Nowadays there are many varieties of onions cultivated worldwide: in general this type of vegetable differs by the shape, size and colour of the bulb, apart by the earliness of the plant and the colour of the skin (or tunics) that covers the edible part of the onion; the skin can be white, gold-yellow and red.

The varieties of onions are also distinguished according to how they are consumed: the variety of onion used for the production will actually change if onions are consumed as a fresh vegetable, dried, or used in the industrial production of pickles. If the onion is consumed fresh, the best period for this vegetable is spring-summer, while if used in the production of pickles, the best period for the harvesting of onions is the end of summer.

Even though from a nutritional point of view there is not much difference, the red onion has more flavoured substances, compared to the white onion: for this reason it is largely used for the fresh consumption and in particular in salads.

The most common varieties of onion are:

  • BORETTANA ONION: flat variety of onion, very widespread and used above all in the industry to produce pickles, apart from being used in cuisine with second courses and cold cuts. The colour of the bulb is white with external tunics that are straw-yellow and gold. Small onion.
  • CIPOLLA DI BANARI : variety of onion cultivated in Banari (Sardinia, Italy) that is straw yellow and gold on the surface and white-ivory inside. Flat and large onion, whose weight can vary from 400 gr. to 1 kg and whose taste is quite sweet. This variety of onion keeps very well in a fresh and dry place, possibly in the dark and is largely used in the cuisine as it suits well to different processing; this onion is very good if baked.
  • CIPOLLA DI BRUNATE: small variety of onion, with a strong flavour and a crisp texture. This onion is largely used to produce pickles and both the bulb and tunics are white.
  • CIPOLLA DI CANNARA: variety of onion, whose origins are really dated back and as the Rossa di Certaldo is divided in three sub-varieties, the “Rossa di Toscana or di Firenzee”, the “Borettana di Rovato” and the “Dorata di Parma”.
    • The onion “Rossa di Toscana or di Firenze” is intense red and roundish, slightly flat at the top, and this variety is widespread for its great digestibility apart form for its sweet taste.
    • The onion “Borettana di Rovato” is instead quite flat and straw-yellow.
    • The onion “Dorata di Parma” is round and the shape reminds of a spinning tip, it is gold-yellow and the taste is excellent as the bulb is quite soft.
  • CIPOLLA DI SUASA: sweet variety of onion with a sweet taste. The bulb and the skin are rose. During the years the seed of this onion has been mixed with other seeds, for this reason this variety can be quite small or slightly elongated, or large, even if the colour differs only a little: in the first case it can be golden-rose, while in the second it can be more intense and tending to golden-red.
  • SWEET ONION: extremely sweet variety of onion, characterized not only by the content of sugars (which is present in many varieties of onions), but also by the very low content of sulphur and by the high content of water.
  • CIPOLLA RAMATA DI MONTORO: variety of onion with good organoleptic qualities and a flavoured and sweet taste. The plant of this onion is late: in fact it is sown at the beginning of fall and is harvested only at the beginning of next summer. This onion can be of different shapes, roundish similar to a spinning top or roundish and flat; the bulb colour has violet shades inside and becomes completely white at the centre, while the external surface is copper-coloured. An important quality of this variety of onion is its high capacity to keep well.
  • CIPOLLA ROSSA DI ACQUAVIVA DELLE FONTI: very widespread variety of onion, known for its sweetness and for the typical flat shape. It is quite large (it can weigh up to 500 gr.). The bulb colour can vary from red carmine to violet, becoming more and more light going toward the centre of the onion of this particular variety, up to becoming completely white.
  • CIPOLLA ROSSA DI CERTALDO: this variety of onion differs in other two sub-varieties, the “Statina” and the “Vernina”.
  • RED ONION OF TROPEA: sweet and roundish or ovoid variety of onion. This onion is covered with different internal fleshy “tunics” that are white, while the external tunics (skin) with which it is covered are red-violet. A very digestive onion, very low in calories (about 20 calories par 100 gr of product).
  • The variety of onion Statina is red, tending to violet, it is round and is sown in different periods of the year and is consumed as a fresh product in summer.
  • The variety of onion Vernina is instead intense red and is more flat; it is found from the end of August for all the winter period and its taste is quite sour.
  • The variety of long onion of Tropea, has a quite long shape, suitable for salads. It keeps well.

Nowadays there are many companies that produce onion, certified companies for the production of onions, producers of onions, companies that produce organic onion, companies that deal with the trade of onions and the packaging of fruit and vegetable products, retailers of onions, importers of onions, exporters of onions and wholesalers of onions that use the countless varieties of onions provided by the fruit and vegetable sector with excellent results and a constant production all year long.

Organic Onions

Organic farming means developing a mode of production of fresh vegetables and fruits paying maximum respect to the natural resources, in order to conserve the environment and protect the consumers’ health.
Like all the varieties of fruits and vegetables that are traded the most worldwide, even onions are now grown according to organic methods, paying the maximum respect to the environment and controlling the products used, which must be strictly free from chemical substances.

Organic farming and also the production of organic onions, is increasingly part of the consumer's conscience, who is more respectful of the environment and pays more attention in choosing the cultivar.
The plant of onion, if cultivated with organic methods, needs that the soil is well prepared before sowing. The soil must be well fertilized, apart from humid and well drained; the onion suffers if there are water stagnations that can cause this vegetable to rot.
It is also important to be careful in preparing the soil to limit or avoid the problem of weeds that can suffocate the plant of onion. If weeds are not eradicated already in the first stages of the ploughing of the soil it would become really difficult to free the plant of onion in a second moment: the only way to do this, being organic farming a natural farming and as weed killers cannot be used, would be the manual method, much longer and wasteful.
Nowadays there are more and more producers of organic onions, importers of organic onions, exporters of organic onions, wholesalers of organic onions and retailers of organic onions, who embraced methods and values of organic farming.

Fruit and vegetable products coming from organic farming are produced using production methods that allow to utilize only substances of natural origins. It is an extremely important step for the consumer, as it outlines the quality of the process and of all the entities involved in the production of onions, guaranteed by the label of the organic fruit and vegetable product on the international market, with fruit and vegetable companies for the production of organic onions certified according to the EU norms as to organic farming, to the European Regulation 2092/91, later annulled with the new CE 834/2007, created to protect the environment. The label, is thus a “certification” of valid, healthy and higher quality fruit and vegetable products.

The most common varieties of organic onions are:

  • BORETTANA ONION: flat variety of onion, very widespread and used above all in the industry to produce pickles, apart from being used in cuisine with second courses and cold cuts. The colour of the bulb is white with external tunics that are straw-yellow and gold. Small onion.
  • The onion “Dorata di Parma” P.D.O. is round and the shape reminds of a spinning tip, it is gold-yellow, the taste is excellent as the bulb is quite soft.
  • The variety of onion Vernina is instead intense red and is more flat; it is found from the end of August for all the winter period and its taste is quite sour.
  • The variety of long onion of Tropea has a quite long shape, suitable for salads. It keeps well.

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