Caramelised onion pizza, a zingy red onion pickle, or maybe crispy onion rings topping a burger – if you’re seeing more onion dishes on menus you’re not alone.

More food service professions are using onions daily and more health professionals are recommending onions too. These are two key outcomes from the Hort Innovation Onion nutrition education program for health professionals and the food service industry (VN20002) program.

The three-year program wrapped up with the final ‘farm to plate’ tour for leading health and food service stakeholders in Tasmania. Premium Fresh’s Jim Ertler shared his knowledge on onion growing, seasonality, processing, storage and packing. It was followed by an inspirational, bespoke onion lunch at the award-winning Stillwater Restaurant.

This was the fourth ‘farm to plate’ tour for the program, which has also included health professional conferences, culinary workshops, the creation of a digital hub and resources, as well as ongoing communications via EDM, all aimed at to inspire, educate, and ultimately increase the use of onions.

The program has delivered a significant shift in attitude, knowledge and usage. To measure the program’s success surveys were undertaken with both health care professionals and food service professionals. The year-three final survey results showed an increase in knowledge of onion health and nutrition among health care professionals and a significant increase in daily onion use among food service professionals.

Below are key year-three final survey results and comparisons to the benchmark survey, conducted at the start of the program:

Health care professionals

  • Nine out of ten respondents agreed onions were important in supporting overall health, in the context of a balanced healthy diet. Notably, respondents who agreed onions were ‘very important’ in supporting overall health increased from 31% to 41%.
  • 79% agreed or strongly agreed that onions had unique health benefits and nutritional properties (up from 68%).
  • Almost a third (31%) of respondents obtained resources on the health benefits and nutritional properties of onions and found them useful (up from 8%).
  • 44% of respondents recommended their patients consume onions once a week or more (up from 41%) with the top two reasons being onions contributed to daily vegetable intake (38%) and their health benefits (38%).

Food service professionals

  • Two thirds of respondents (66%) included onions daily in recipes or menu items (up from 30%).
  • More than a third (39%) always included onion as a key ingredient in a meal or menu item (up from 22%)
  • More than half (57%) of respondents obtained resources on the culinary tips and nutritional properties of onions and found them useful (up from 23%).
  • More than a third (37%) of food service professionals reported that nutritional benefits were the reason they included onions in their recipes or menu items.

Dishing up education and inspiration

To reinvigorate health and food service professional interest in onions, a digital hub for onion nutrition research and culinary education was created to house a suite of downloadable new education resources. To disseminate this information, a database of health and food service professionals was created. The database, now totalling more than 2,700 subscribers, was used to maintain regular contact which included 26 EDMs and research alerts containing new science, educational materials, meal plans and recipes.

The digital hub also contained a suite of tools to directly support members of the Australian onion industry. These can be accessed by visiting the hub and clicking on the Industry Portal button to access the password-protected industry section of the website (password: AOIP).

What’s next?

The VN20002 program has helped to revitalise health care and food service professional interest in onions and inspire recommendation and usage. Based on its success, the program has been extended by a year to maintain the positive momentum and continue to update healthcare and food service professionals on the latest onion nutrition science.

This project has been funded by Hort Innovation, using the onion research and development levy and contributions from the Australian Government. Hort Innovation is the grower owned, not-for-profit research and development corporation for Australian horticulture.

This article first appeared in Australian Grower Winter 2024 magazine