How Sweet It Is

At the Onion Festival islanders celebrate Maui's most famous treat

By: Karla Aronson

Maui may be known for its recreational opportunities, its laid-back attitude and its high-flying lifestyle. It’s odd then that one of the island’s most famous products is entirely unglamorous the onion.

The sweet, juicy Maui onion has been grown on the western slopes of Haleakala volcano since about 1930. The Maui Onion Festival celebrates that history at its 14th annual event on Sat. and Sun., Aug. 2-3.

Attendance by visitors and residents is expected to be in the thousands.

The weekend festival, presented by Marriott’s Maui Ocean Club, runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day at Whalers Village on Kaanapali Beach in West Maui. Admission is free.

The two-day event features both professional and amateur onion recipe contests, cooking demonstrations by top island chefs, live entertainment and the ever-popular and challenging onion-eating contest (see sidebar). Kids can try their hand at the onion toss, enter the “guess the number of onions in the bag” contest and craft onion artwork.

Celebrity actress Mindy Sterling, best known as Frau Farbissina in the Austin Powers movies, will preside over the adult onion-eating contest Aug. 2 at 3 p.m.

Bryan Otani, president of the Maui Onion Growers Association, which represents 15 Maui onion growers in Kula, says the Maui onion is grown year-round in the rich volcanic soils of the region at elevations ranging from 1,200 to 4,000 feet. The onions mature from seed in about 120 days, with sizes ranging from the pearl onion to the 4- to 5-inch colossus that weighs in well over a pound.

The famously sweet and mild-flavored Maui onion is often eaten raw in salads, salsas or condiments. The association sells the specialty onions on the island of Maui, throughout the state of Hawaii and on the mainland.

Amateur and professional chefs will compete for the best entree in the Maui onion recipe contest. Submissions will be judged on taste, presentation, skill in preparation and best use of Maui onion. Recipes from past events include Sweet Glazed Maui Onion Stuffed With Kalua Pork, Maui Onion Poppers With Spicy Pineapple Dipping Sauce and Maui Onion Cumin Vinaigrette.

Live cooking demonstrations are scheduled throughout each day featuring onion-themed dishes from top island chefs.

Local manufacturers and farmers alongside the signature restaurants of Whalers Village showcase onion and non-onion foods and gift items in various booths.

The lineup includes prized onion rings from the Maui Onion Growers Association, Maui Onion Kettle Corn from Maui Kazowee Kettle Corn and Maui onion jellies and sauces from the Maui Jelly Factory.

Whalers Village, 808-661-4567;