What is a Maui Onion?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Maui onions are a variety of sweet onion which are widely cultivated on the Hawaiian island of Maui, although they can be grown in other regions as well. Like other sweet onions, Maui onions lack the sulfur which causes the strong odor and sharp taste associated with onions. The State of Hawaii has invested a great of money in marketing their famous onion variety, putting it on par with Vidalia onions from Georgia, another sweet onion variety. Many markets carry Maui onions in season, along with other sweet varieties, and if you live in a temperate zone, you may be able to grow some yourself.

Maui onions are a variety of sweet onions.
Maui onions are a variety of sweet onions.

Hawaiian farmers claim that a true Maui onion must be grown on Maui, because this distinct onion cultivar flourishes best in the rich volcanic soil of Mount Haleakala, the dormant volcano which dominates the landscape of Maui. The volcano's rich, distinctive red soil may well be responsible for the distinctive sweet flavor of the Maui onion, although the warm weather on the island probably has something to do with it as well.

Maui onions can be cooked to draw out their natural sweetness.
Maui onions can be cooked to draw out their natural sweetness.

In addition to being very sweet, the Maui onion has a high water content, making it quite juicy. There are a number of ways to use these flavorful onions. Some people enjoy eating them raw out of hand, and they are also good when sliced thinly on salads, sandwiches, and other dishes. The onions can also be cooked, bringing out even more of the naturally sweet flavor; they are great grilled, and they can also be marinated with other vegetables for kebabs, included in stuffings, or used to make distinctive sauces.

Typically, Maui onions are among the first of the sweet onion varieties to be available in the spring, because the growing season on Maui starts early; start looking for them at around April. They have a rich golden yellow color and they typically grow in a slightly flattened shape; when seeking out onions in the store, check for soft spots, which can indicate that the Maui onion has gone bad.

Onions are tricky to grow. The Maui onion plants require long, warm days to set bulbs, and they are very responsive to impurities in the soil; if you have sulfurous soil, for example, the bulbs will pick it up as they grow. If you want to grow Maui onions, you can order seeds from Hawaiian farms or through your local garden store. Plant the onions in well fertilized soil after the last chance of frost, and keep the soil moist, but not wet, as the onions grow. They will start to set bulbs in warmer weather, and as the weather gets hot, the plants will begin to go dormant. Taper off your watering as the plants go dormant, and harvest the onions when their stalks have withered.

When thinly sliced, Maui onions can make a good addition to salad.
When thinly sliced, Maui onions can make a good addition to salad.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@rallenwriter: it's not about the seeds, it's about the soil. if your soil is low in sulfur, the onions are sweet. you can get the same if not better quality sweet onions from Vidalia, GA.


Does anybody know where I can actually get some Maui onion seeds?

I'm trying to start a vegetable garden, and I think that these sound really great. Can I get them on the mainland of America, or do you have to get them from Hawaii?


Did you know there's even a Maui Onion Restaurant? I've never been to Hawaii (boohoo), but my sister and her husband went there on their honeymoon, and they said that this restaurant was really cool -- especially the onion rings.


Oh, I have to tell you, you have never had true onion rings until you have tried Maui onion rings.

They are so sweet and juicy, and that just contrasts so well with the oil and salt of the breading...I'm making myself hungry just thinking about it!

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