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New Heart-Healthy Onions on the Horizon

By Linda Cooke
July 11, 1997

Consumers who enjoy the sweet taste of the Vidalia onion can now look forward to a new, heart-healthy, heartburn-free onion from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and University of Wisconsin breeding programs.

Onions, like garlic, have a natural blood-thinning effect that could play an important role in cardiovascular health. Research at the University of Wisconsin has shown that onions produce an anti-coagulant that thins the blood more efficiently than aspirin. The “catch” is that this blood-thinning effect is more pronounced in pungent onions that cause heartburn. Consumers often shy away from these strong-tasting onions or cook them. The trouble is, cooking destroys the blood-thinning effect.

To overcome this problem, scientists with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service developed the first genetic road map of the onion that will help to distinguish the plant’s flavor and health benefits. With this map, scientists hope to separate the pungent flavor from the anti-coagulant activity that thins the blood.

By the year 2000, researchers will complete genetic experiments to establish whether plant breeders can produce milder onions with high anti-coagulant benefits.

The USDA onion breeding program, which began in 1932, continues to develop, test and release lines that industry breeders can develop into new commercial varieties. USDA-developed onion inbreds and hybrids have dominated the marketplace since their introduction in 1952.

Scientific contact: Michael J. Havey, ARS Vegetable Crops Research Unit, Department of Horticulture, 1575 Linden Drive, Madison, WI 53706, phone: (608) 262-1830, fax 262-4743,