The Onions of Bermuda

From “Bolgiano’s “Greater Baltimore” Tomato” (1908)

Onions and their Onions

Bermuda, an island tourist destination best known to Americans as a defining point of the Bermuda Triangle, has an overwhelming love for a type of under-appreciated vegetables, namely onions. In fact, an alternative demonym for Bermudians is Onions. And while New York may be the Big Apple, Bermuda is the Onion Patch. 

Onions were first introduced to Bermuda by British colonists in 1616. The onions’ seeds were from the Canary Islands, a series of Spanish islands off the coast of Morocco and Western Sahara. The onions grown by Bermudians were succulent and unique, thus it became a staple crop for the island. Bermudian Onions earned a legacy of their own as a legendary vegetable.

In 1847, the first shipment of onions from Bermuda to the US occurred, inspiring growth in popularity for onions in the US and Britain. By the 1850s, Bermuda became known as the Onion Patch and its residents as Onions. In the late 1800s, the island’s main export was onions. This was to the point that 30,000 boxes of onions were delivered to the US on a weekly basis, via the SS Trinidad. At one point, 4,000 tons of onions were shipped to the US. 

However, all good things must come to an end. World War One and the fighting and economic troubles related to it caused the US to slow down the shipping process almost to a halt. The exporting of onions became difficult, and Bermuda was impacted by this.

After World War One, onion exports from Bermuda to the US started back up again, albeit very gradually. Then, the US imposed higher import duties, which decreased the shipments of Bermudian Onions greatly. 

While Bermuda was losing their reputation as the Onion provider to the US, a small farming community in Dimmit County, Texas stole Bermuda’s claim to fame and began importing the same type of seeds from the Canary Islands. They went on to call their impostor vegetables ‘Bermudian Onions’ to gain market recognition. The year 1907 saw 1,000 railway carloads of their impostor onions, and eventually, the number grew to 7,000 railway carloads. The community called itself ‘Bermuda Colony’ and later became Bermuda, Texas. Luckily, the settlement never grew beyond 50 or so inhabitants and is now just remnants of the old area.

North America’s new, interconnected, railway system allowed for the Texan impostor onions to thrive, whilst Bermuda had no such luck, being isolated in the Atlantic Ocean and therefore having to rely on maritime shipping routes, which we very inefficient at the time. By 1920, Bermuda’s onion exports were drastically shut out from the US. 

The 1930s saw the Bermuda Trade Development Board attempt to make Bermudian Onions popular again, by showing that their Bermudian Onions were better than any Texan counterpart. This was to no avail as the popularity of exporting onions from Bermuda diminished, to the point where farmers stopped exporting the amazing vegetable.

Foolishly, the US gave up on Bermudian onions and switched to farming Grano Seeds, whose seeds were also from Spain. Even Bermuda, Texas switched over to Grano Seeds (1933). Bermudian Onions disappeared from the American market by 1946 and are no longer sold in stores (in the US or Bermuda). Still, Bermudians hold true to their wondrous onion legacy, and you can find true Bermudian Onions occasionally. The legendary vegetable’s legacy has and will never die.


4 thoughts on “The Onions of Bermuda

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