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William M. Randle and Rachel Snyder

Mild onion consumption is increasing in the U.S. The ability to produce mild onions depends on selecting proper cultivars and growing them in an appropriate environment. A major decision in producing onions with mild flavor is determining when to stop applying sulfate to the crop. While adequate sulfur is necessary for good early onion growth, high levels of sulfur increase bulb pungency. A study was conducted where sulfate was eliminated from the fertility program at biweekly intervals during onion growth and development. Mature bulbs were then analyzed for flavor precursors and their biosynthetic intermediates, and pungency. Pungency linearly increased from 3.7 to 5.1 μmols pyruvic acid from the earliest cut-off date to the latest cut-off date, respectively. While total milligrams of flavor precursors did not significantly change in response to sulfate elimination, the methyl cysteine sulfoxide: 1-propenyl cysteine sulfoxide ratio did. Methyl cysteine sulfoxide concentration decreased in a quadratic manner while 1-propenyl cysteine sulfoxide linearly increased as sulfate fertility was extended in the growing season. Changes in individual precursors will significantly affect flavor perception as well as flavor intensity.