Walla Walla is a Native American name meaning “Many Waters.” Located in the southeast corner of Washington State at the foot of the Blue Mountains, the Walla Walla Valley is rich in history and blessed with natural beauty. The abundance of trees in this otherwise mostly arid region gives Walla Walla the nickname of “Oasis in the Desert.” The region has a mild year-round climate and soil that couldn’t be more perfect for growing extra sweet onions.
Walla Walla is endowed with rich volcanic soil low in sulphur, resulting in onions with minimal sulphur compounds, especially pyruvic acid, which gives ordinary onions their pungent eye-watering bite. The low sulphur content, combined with natural high sugar and water content, are what makes Walla Wallas so sweet, juicy and mild.
In the world of sweet onions, the name Walla Walla is so important that the onions are protected by Federal Marketing Order #956, which ensures that these flavorful bulbs can only be produced in the two counties surrounding Walla Walla, Washington. While sweet onions might come from other regions in the country, by law they can’t call themselves Walla Walla Sweet Onions, even if they use Walla Walla Sweet seeds.
Walla Walla’s signature onions are so unique that the Walla Walla community celebrates the new harvest every summer with a two day, pull-out-all-the-stops sweet onion festival. As David Munson, Keystone Fruit Marketing’s colorful corporate chef says, paraphrasing entertainer Al Jolson who visited Walla Walla in the early 1900s, “The festival is held in a town so nice they named it twice!”
In fact, downtown Walla Walla has been recognized as having one of the best small town main streets in the U.S. and the city of Walla Walla has been named the Friendliest Town in America. Even President Theodore Roosevelt, who visited Walla Walla in 1903, was suitably impressed by the city, praising it as making “the pleasantest impression upon my mind of any city I visited while in the Northwest.”
The city’s celebrated sweet onion has helped to provide the foundation for Walla Walla’s development into the vibrant, culturally diverse community it is today, with more than 100 wineries producing some of the best Cabernets and Syrahs in the country, according to Sunset Magazine. Stroll through downtown Walla Walla and you’ll see numerous tasting rooms, enticing restaurants, boutiques, bookstores, cafes and vintage shops in restored early 20th-century buildings. Numerous outdoor activities, strategically placed pieces of public art, scenic beauty and a real small-town friendliness complete the picture of Walla Walla’s sweet renaissance.