Agri Business

Imported onions try to conquer market, taste buds; pungency keeps desi varieties ahead

Radheshyam Jadhav Pune | Updated on October 23, 2020 Published on October 23, 2020

Chhole bature with Turkey’s thick-peel onion rings? Or sambar with yellow Irani onions? Can pakodas taste the same with onions from Egypt? Take out pungent desi onions from daily food and taste buds go haywire. Despite the government deciding to import the bulb crop from other countries to control the soaring price, the demand for Indian onions — especially from Maharashtra — will not dry, say onion traders.

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Desi appeal

Maharashtra ranks first in onion production in India with a share of about over 33 per cent. Onions produced in Maharashtra find major markets in Bhopal, Jaipur, Lucknow, and Delhi, from where they are distributed in the northern States such as Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab and Haryana. Farmers and traders say that in the past, imported onion has been rejected by most of the consumers as it does not suit Indian cuisine and taste buds.

Lalitha Kurup, a Pune-based retired government official, agrees with this. Her usual cuisine comprises sambar, and she finds it difficult to make it without onions.

“I picked up only half a kg yesterday as the prices have escalated to ₹80, and I probably will not be using it for sambar. I would have to use more tomatoes and potatoes instead,” she said. But Kurup is not willing to “destroy” the taste of her sambar by using imported onions.

Sangram Gaikwad, a hotelier, says that his regular customers immediately identify the taste of onion bhajis (pakodas) if the imported onion is used. “The taste of imported onions is completely different from desi onions. When onion prices soar, I stop making onion bhajis and go for potato or palak ( spinach) bhajis,” he said.

But someone like Asha Kakade says that middle-class families cannot afford the ₹80-100 per kg onion. “ Even earlier ,we have tasted onion from other countries. When we can’t buy Indian, onions we have to compromise on taste buds,” she says.

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Inadequate imports

India is the second-largest onion growing country in the world. Indian onions are famous for their pungency and are available round the year. However, unseasonal rains have damaged crop in the field and at many places onions in storages are rotten due to humidity.

Bharat Dighole, President, Maharashtra State Onion Growers’ Association, says that the government’s efforts to import onion in big quantities are not going to help in any which way. “We have seen in the past that imported onion has rotted in godowns due to lack of demand. There is no match to Indian onions when it comes to taste,” he added.

According to onion experts, consumers dislike imported onions because of the difference in colour, smell, taste, and shape. Traders in Lasalgaon, Asia’s biggest onion market say that India’s daily requirement of onion is 50,000-60,000 tonnes, and the import volume is too less to cater to the need of the domestic market. Import of onion is nothing but a damage control exercise to avoid political agitations, said traders.

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Published on October 23, 2020
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