All You Need to Know About Potato Onions (And How to Cook Them)
We dig up the facts on this strange, yet delicious vegetable.
Photograph by Marie Iannotti/www.gardeningthehudsonvalley.com
Ever wonder about the potato onions you see in the store? Here’s what you need to know:
Belonging to the allium family (whose members include garlic, shallots, onions, leeks, and chives), the copper-colored potato onion is a rare perennial vegetable and is smaller than your typical run-of-the-mill onion (the largest are about three inches in diameter and the smallest are a bit more than an inch). Contrary to what your neighbor might tell you, potato onions have no relation to the potato. The name actually comes from the fact that potato onions are planted and grown like potatoes. Farmers keep the largest potatoes for eating and replant the smaller ones as “seed potatoes.” Potato onions typically grow as a cluster of 10 to 12 bulbs attached at the base (like a head of garlic with its fused cloves), and, just like potatoes, the larger bulbs are eaten and the smaller ones are replanted.
What’s in a name?
Due to their ability to self-propagate, you may hear potato onions being called multiplier onions, pregnant onions, or mother onions at your local grocery store. Their flavor is smooth and weaker than onion, but with a hint of garlic.
How to use them
Our Valley’s black dirt is a haven for these guys, so try replacing onions or shallots in your next recipe with the potato onion’s larger bulbs; the smaller bulbs work best as a substitute for scallions or leeks. Potato onions are at their best when caramelized; are a favorite cooked whole in stews and with roasts; and are delicious grilled on the barbecue in their skins.
Grow your own
Potato onions are usually first planted in spring and then harvested in fall. During that period, they multiply, on average, fivefold (remember: potato onions are raised from the bulb multiplying in itself). When they’re harvested in autumn, the best bulbs are saved for planting the following spring, and the rest are eaten. Bulbs should be planted shallowly, about one-half to two-thirds of the way into the ground (they grow mostly out of the ground).