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Reinventing the onion

Twenty years ago, when Regent native Gary Greff saw fresh diced garlic in grocery stores that could withstand months of refrigeration, he wondered to himself what it would take to do the same with onions.

"People hate chopping onions. It gets old in the refrigerator and when it gets old, it gets old and slimy," Greff said. "I quickly found out that onion is a growing organism and that's why no one had tried it."

After researching onions for two years, Greff nailed down a process for making the onions somewhat impermeable to the refrigerator.

"We've taken a fresh-diced onion and we bring the pH of the onion down and once we do that we can keep the onion fresh, crisp and keep its color for up to three months under refrigeration," Greff said. "There's nothing like it on the market yet."

The onion used, a Spanish Sweet variety, is able to retain its flavor and pungency throughout the process, Greff said.

The concept seems appealing, said Kim Reddin of the National Onion Association located in Greely, Colo.

"The shelf life of cut onions is somewhat short, so increasing the shelf life certainly would have some benefits in the food service industry," Reddin said. "To the best of my knowledge I'm not aware of any other product like that on the market."

With the motto: "Let us do the crying for you," Greff and the North Dakota Agricultural Products Utilization Commission developed the onion and Greff developed the company Light Line.

Nearly 20 years later, Greff is still looking to get the product on the market.

Developed in 1995 by the North Dakota Agricultural Products Utilization Commission and Greff, the "tearless" onion was born.

After introducing the product to vendors at the Metrodome in Minneapolis in 1995, Greff received positive feedback.

"When they get onions for their games and if it's rained out or something they have to throw out what they don't use," Greff said. "With the three-month refrigeration, they can put them in their coolers and bring it out at the next game."

Greff said he attempted to get the patented product on the market, but soon faced a setback.

"The first time I tried, I used all my money and some of the money from APUC to get it developed," Greff said. "When we went to the market we found out we needed shelf space money, advertising money and all this other kind of stuff that I didn't have, so the product was put on the back burner."

Greff, who is also the artist and mind behind the "Enchanted Highway," a 32-mile stretch of road off Interstate 94 featuring seven metal sculptures, foundhe could not afford to also take on the onion product as well as fund the highway project.

Now working with the IDEA Center, a Bismarck company, Greff recently applied for more than $23,000 in funding from the APUC to help mold the enhanced onions into a product that could be used differently.