You reach into your bulk bag of onions to start prepping dinner only to realize they’ve started sprouting into an unplanned onion garden in the back of your pantry. Your first instinct? Toss the whole bag out and order pizza instead. While you don’t want to waste food, you also don’t want to make yourself or your family sick with a veggie gone past its prime. But before you make new dinner plans — can you eat sprouted onions? We asked food safety and gardening experts for their takes. Read on for their surprising answers.
Can you eat sprouted onions?
Yes, you can eat sprouted onions. They’re safe to consume, but they won’t be nearly as tasty as fresh, unsprouted ones. “Unlike sprouted potatoes, sprouted onions are perfectly safe to eat,” says certified food safety professional Paul Kushner, a restaurant owner and CEO of My Bartender. “The bad news is that the green sprout has probably siphoned off a lot of the sugars and moisture that give the onion its flavor and texture. So a sprouted onion will usually be less sweet and more stringy or dry in texture.” According to Cook’s Illustrated, taste-testers of gently cooked sprouted onions “found the sprouted alliums less sweet and flavorful” than unsprouted ones. Plus, the sprouts themselves were described as “unpleasantly bitter.” So, in other words, if you’ve never eaten sprouted onions, it might not be something to rush to.
How to cook with sprouted onions
Undeterred by a change in texture or flavor? If you still want to use up those sprouted, it’s best to use them in cooked dishes instead of raw. And follow this prep tip from John Thomas of Backyard Garden Geek: “Simply cut off both ends, slice the onion in half and remove the core (which is likely a slightly greenish color). Then cook the rest of the onion as planned.” Removing the green sprout at its root lessens the bitterness as much as possible.
Keep in mind that there are limits to the safety and nutrition of sprouted onions, so use your discretion. “If you let a sprouting onion go, the sprout will turn into a longer stem, and the bulb of the onion will shrink and turn mushy,” says Thomas. Softness and squishiness are signs of spoilage, and you don’t want to eat a spoiled onion.
Why do onions sprout?
Onions sprout because that’s their biological function. Kushner says it helps to think of an onion like you would a tulip bulb. “When you purchase onions at the grocery story, you’re buying a vegetable that was harvested before it had time to flower and go to seed,” adds Thomas. “If you’ve got an onion in your pantry that’s sprouting, that means the onion had the right conditions for it to push its remaining energy into seed production — likely just enough humidity to trigger its biological mechanisms.”
How to keep onions from sprouting
Here’s the good news: It’s fairly easy to prevent onions from sprouting in the first place. According to The National Onion Association, proper storage is key here. Be sure to store onions in a cool, dark, dry and well-ventilated area, such as a pantry, as soon as you get home from the grocery store. Thomas puts his in paper bags. “I put holes in my paper storage bags using a hole punch, then store my onions in them in the back of my pantry. The holes ensure some airflow, while the dry conditions in my pantry keep the onion from triggering the mechanisms that cause sprouts to form.”
As tempting as it might be to wrap your onions in plastic, this will decrease the circulation and, thus, the onion’s shelf life. Oh, and another thing: Avoid storing onions near potatoes or any other pieces of produce that release moisture. If stored properly for best results, your onions should be good to use within four weeks.
Don’t want to cook with sprouted onions?
Forgot entirely about a batch of onions that is sprouting at this very moment ? You can still save them: SFGate published an extensive how-to for planting sprouted onions so that you can grow the veggie fresh in your garden.
Psst: Now that you know how to make these alliums last longer, you can get the most out of onions around your home in ways that have nothing to do with cooking.