Ark of Taste
Not only is the taste of the I'itoi Onion bold and complex, but also is its ambiguous history. The original US harvest of the wild I'Itoi Onion took place on I'Itoi Mountain, which is also known as Baboquivari Mountain. This mountain is regarded by the O'odham nation as the navel of the world – a place where the earth opened and people emerged. The name I'Itoi signifies the Elder Brother, who is the creator deity in Tohono O'odham legends; consequently the onion is a sacred reminder of the O'odham creation story. Botanical studies place the I'Itoi onion among a very old line of clumping onions brought to the US by Jesuit missionaries in the late 17th century, concluding that the onion is not necessarily a US native. Regardless of the contradicting histories, the I'Itoi Onion has a special place among Sonoran Desert culinary culture.
The sharp, peppery flavor of the I'Itoi is well suited to southwestern stews and sauces, which often have robust, piquant flavors. The I'Itoi plant grows easily and prolifically in the deserts of the American southwest. Left in the ground during its summer dormancy, the onion re-sprouts toward the end of the season at which point it is harvested and replanted. The flavor of the I'Itoi Onion is garnering interest at a small, but highly visible, commercial scale throughout the arid southwest. The onion may provide one of the best examples of crop survival due to the stewardship of backyard gardeners.