Belishki Onion

Vegetables and vegetable preserves - Bulgaria

The Belishki onion (or Belishki luk) is a local variety of Allium cepa typical in the area of Belitza, in the Blagoevgrad district of southwestern Bulgaria. Belishki onions are grown in small fields or in home gardens. Bulbs are oblate, reaching about 8 cm in diameter, but smaller ones (5-6 cm) are preferred for consumption. Their color is purple with rusty shades on the outer layers; inner layers are light purple. The taste of the Belishki onion is specific: sweet and dense with a notable pungency. This onion variety has been documented as growing in this area for at least 80 years. Its characteristics are due to the local humid climate and clay soils around Belitza, located at about 950 meters above sea level. The onions are propagated by seeds collected in the fall. Sowing time is in March, with transplanting of seedlings in May. Harvesting starts in mid-August, when bulbs are still immature (so called “milky onions”) and used for fresh consumption. Bulbs that are gathered in September and October are stored dried and hanging. Dried Belishki luk are used for cooking. The onion is locally famous, and also sold in markets in larger nearby towns such as Yakoruda and Velingrad. It is so well known in the area that people from Belitza are collectively called kormidari – from the word kromid, which means “onion,” as onion growing is one of the distinctive local livelihoods. Today, however, the narrow cultivation area of the Belishki luk, together with other natural and sociological factors are main factors for the gradual disappearance of the variety. In 2014 the harvest was greatly diminished by the unusual rainy and cold summer. Production is also threatened due to population decrease in Belitza and emigration from the area in the past decades.