Cebola da Madeira PDO
Description: «Cebola da Madeira» are the bulbs of traditional varieties from the species Allium cepa L., obtained on the inhabited islands of the Madeira archipelago, namely the varieties: “Branca”; “Pião”; “Bujanico”; “Vermelha”; “Roxa” and “Do Tarde”, among other cultivated forms, produced on Madeira and Porto Santo islands, following traditional regional practices.
The bulbs of the traditional varieties of «Cebola da Madeira» produced on the islands of Madeira and Porto Santo have morphological characteristics, that justify their vernacular names given by Madeiran farmers, including, for all varieties: a good homogeneity in size, medium weight and, above all, in the shape of bulbs, with an outer skin usually yellow (with violet tones in "Vermelha" and "Roxa" varieties), more or less transparent and with medium to little adhesion and with a mainly white pulp (with reddish or purplish tones in "Vermelha" and "Roxa" varieties), with layers of medium to small thickness and, in raw, with a medium to tender consistency.

«Cebola da Madeira» bulbs are very succulent, with an average dry matter content close to 10g/100g, which can be higher when produced on the island of Porto Santo. They are highly rich in carbohydrates (on average above 7g/100g) and vitamin C (on average above 10mg/100g) which give them their own organoleptic characteristics, widely valued by Madeiran consumers.
The aroma is usually sweet, with notes of sulphur, garlic or leek and earthy or vegetable and fresh, being more or less pungent and persistent, with medium to high intensity and complexity. After cooking the aromas are smoother, less pungent and with notes of smoke/grill or caramel, maintaining its intensity and complexity. When raw, they have a crunchy and juicy consistency, more or less tender and slightly fibrous, and when cooked, they are less crunchy, juicier and more translucent.
When fresh, the flavours are more or less sweet and usually not too spicy, but with a more pungent and peppery aftertaste, with fresh, sulfur or vegetable notes, and may also have some astringency, acidity or a slight bitterness that slows down with chewing, presenting medium to high intensity and complexity. After cooking the flavours lose some intensity, but are much sweeter, resembling caramel or roasting, especially when grilled and the vegetable and fresh taste disappearing, and the sulphurous, when present, is also smoother, with a better acid/sweet balance, no astringency and generally less spicy and persistent.
Production method: «Cebola da Madeira» production is heavily dependent on the work of Madeiran farmers, because all cultural operations from planting to harvesting are carried out manually.
The “cebolinho”, name of the seed used in «Cebola da Madeira» production, is exclusively produced locally, from bulbs of the traditional varieties selected for having the best characteristics. The first stage of the production is carried out in a small plot or nursery, where seeds of the “cebolinho” are released, resulting in a large density of plants that need various care to ensure the success of the crop.
Each variety of «Cebola da Madeira» must be sown at the right time, specific to the production area in question. Until the harvest of the “chives” for transplanting, the producers guarantee that weeds are eliminated and that several watering are carried out, with a frequency that depends on the weather conditions. On Porto Santo Island, the local edaphoclimatic conditions and the lesser availability of water for irrigation determine that the plantation bars are wider and localized irrigation systems (drip watering) are installed.
Manual planting, with well-defined paces, contributes to uniformity in the size and average weight of the bulbs, and the texture of the soils used, and the land preparation and weeding practices carried out during the evolution of the crop, promote "that the soil remains loose next to the bulbs”, favouring the good homogeneity of the proper shape of each variety.
The marked influence of temperature and light (insolation) on the vegetative cycle of this crop, especially with regard to the development of the bulb and its entry into flowering (for seed formation), determines that the highest yields are obtained in the southern slope locations and others with temperate or moderately warm microclimates on the island of Madeira, with regular humidity and good exposure, but also on Porto Santo Island, provided that their water and nutritional needs are guaranteed.
Temperature and light conditions of the main producing areas contribute to the development of the bulbs and favour a high rate of photosynthesis that promotes the synthesis of sugars and nutrients that justify its high richness in carbohydrates and also in vitamin C, which are so appreciated by local consumers and justify the medicinal and curative properties that ancestral reports have attributed to it, especially when consumed raw.
The availability of water in the right amount, reduces the occurrence of periods of water deficit, allowing the high moisture content of the bulbs and contributing to their reduced bitterness and spiciness. Also, on Porto Santo Island, the better accessibility of water and the use of localized irrigation systems have contributed to the improvement of the organoleptic characteristics of its onions.
In the traditional method of conservation, the bulbs (with the vine) are kept on reed shelves or at the floor of the warehouse, on layers of dry bushes, which also cover them, to keep the heat and provide a correct drying preventing dormancy break. Whenever possible, “cabos de cebolas” or ribbons are made and hung in protected areas, to facilitate and extend their shelf life. In conservation of «Cebola da Madeira» no products that inhibit dormancy breaking are applied.
Special features: The particular edaphoclimatic conditions of Madeira and Porto Santo Islands and the cultural practices that, since the introduction of this crop, have been implemented by local farmers, allowed the adaptation of traditional varieties of «Cebola da Madeira» and gave them the aromatic, tastes and antioxidants properties that make them the favourite of Madeiran consumers.
Production area: All stages of production, from obtaining the seed or "cebolinho", to planting and harvesting «Cebola da Madeira», take place in the identified geographical area, which is delimited to the agricultural areas of the Madeira archipelago, namely on the islands of Madeira and Porto Santo.
History: «Cebola da Madeira» was introduced into Madeira and Porto Santo Islands by the first Portuguese settlers, at the beginning of the 15th century, gaining a prominent place in the diet of local populations, especially in rural areas, as was widely referred in several reports by various outsiders. who visited or inhabited the islands, between the 16th and 19th centuries, like the one that, in the second half of the 18th century, refer that “the peasants were exceptionally sober, nourishing themselves on bread, onions, several tubers and little meat” (Forster, George 1772-75).
The production method of «Cebola da Madeira» cultivation has remained constant, at least since the first decades of the 20th century and is profusely explained in several articles published in the "Frutas da Madeira" bulletin, where several of the traditional varieties currently cultivated were described and cultural operations and fertilization and phytosanitary protection practices were advised and which are still referred and followed by local producers.
«Cebola da Madeira» production which, between 1847 and the end of the first half of the 20th century, came to represent one of the main export products of Madeira Island, continues to be linked to various local ethnographic and gastronomic traditions of the islands, being consumed raw, boiled or grilled, in different traditional dishes and preserves (“cebolas de escabeche” or pickled onions).
Its high importance in eating habits of Madeiran populations and the fact that it is a product widely used in regional cuisine, determines that continues to be a relevant culture, both on Madeira Island, which ensures most of the regional supply on «Cebola da Madeira», as well as in Porto Santo Island, recently recognized as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, where it is considered one of the main traditional cultures to be promoted, in the strategic objective of safeguarding, enhancing and optimizing the natural, agricultural and cultural resources of the island.
The parish of Caniço, on Madeira Island, is the mayor production zone of «Cebola da Madeira» and where, every year in May, and since 1997, is held the “Festa da Cebola”, organized by producers and local authorities with the aim of promoting and preserving this traditional product and its particular way of production.
Control plan
Control plan (pdf)
Publication in EU official journal

Publication in the Portuguese official journal