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Saturday, Apr 19, 2014

Some advice on choosing the right onion


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Q: If my recipe calls for ¾ cup of chopped onion, how many onions should I buy? I don’t usually keep them in the house because they don’t sit well in my stomach, but I’ll be cooking for family for New Year’s.

Answer: The answer to your question depends on the size of the onions you buy, but here are the comparisons from my reference:

A small onion, 2 to 4 ounces in weight, should give you ¼ to ½ cup of chopped, diced or sliced onion.

A medium onion, 4 to 7 ounces, should make ½ to 1 cup chopped.

A large onion, 7 to 9 ounces (but they’re not counting our big strawberry onions!), should make 1 to 1½ cups chopped.

So for ¾ of a cup of chopped onion, purchase about 6 ounces of fresh whole onion. Look for one that has no soft spots, and outer layers that are not damaged. That way you won’t need to peel a lot off before you start chopping.

Q: Why do so many guava jam, paste and marmalade recipes call for using green guavas? I have access to the fruit and love guava jam. But a couple of the recipes I’ve tried call for green guavas, which I have used, and the jam ends up tasting very “green.” It doesn’t have a full flavor, and the sweetness all seems to be from the tons of sugar I have to add.

Answer: Lucky you with a supply of fresh guavas!

Some fruits have enough of their own pectin, and jam or jelly made with those will set without adding pectin. Some guavas are among those. But the trick is that pectin is broken down as the fruit ripens. Pectin is like beams in the walls; it’s what stiffens the fruit. Green fruit is hard. As fruit ripens, more sugar is made, the pectin is broken down, and the fruit gets softer and sweeter. So when fruit is at its sweetest and fullest ripe flavor, it also has the least amount of pectin.

Our grandmothers knew this. Most of the old traditional jam and jelly recipes called for at least half green fruit, or the addition of green fruit to other fruit. Many recipes called for the addition of a couple of green apples to the berries, etc.

In addition to differences due to ripeness, there are different kinds of guavas. Sweet guavas have less pectin than the acid or sour guava. Ripe sweet guavas alone don’t have enough pectin to set the jam in a reasonable amount of cooking time. You could just cook the fruit paste until it got thick, but it wouldn’t actually gel the way jam should. So, guava jam, paste and jelly should have some green fruit, or be a mixture of sweet and acid varieties. It shouldn’t be all green fruit, or all acid fruit.

You’ve tasted the result of too much green and too little ripe. The flavor is flat. But half green fruit will give a better set to the jam or jelly. If you have sweet guavas, you’ll need to add lemon juice, and even using a commercial powdered pectin such as SureJel will help. If you have acid fruit, you’ll need to add more sugar, but it has enough acid and pectin to gel.

And count your blessings! There are recipes for guava chutney, gingered guava preserves, cobbles and more, but most people don’t have the fruit to try them.

Mary A. Keith, a licensed dietitian and health agent at Hillsborough County Extension, can be reached at mkeith@ufl.edu.

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