Sometimes my husband comes home to find me weeping as I prepare dinner. He was concerned the first time it happened; now he knows it only means there’s onion in our dinner. There’s no lack of ideas regarding how to prevent this problem. In fact, it seems like every chef, homemaker, and student completing a science fair experiment has a suggestion. I’ve tried my best to separate true solutions from old wives’ tales but I’m not entirely certain who is the authority on onions, so I apologize if any ineffective strategies are included here.
Why are onions tearjerkers?
According to Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts:
“Onions, along with scallions, garlic and leaks are part of the Allium genus of plants. While growing in the soil, they absorb sulfur from the ground which is turned into amino acid sulfoxides. When we cut into an onion, enzymes are released that react with the sulfoxides and turn them into sulfenic acid. It is these acids that enter our eyes and nose causing tears and sniffles.”
Subsequently, effective strategies to diminish tears while cutting onions will cut down on the release of these acids in gas form, decrease the concentration of the gases around your eyes and nose, or keep them from reaching your face.
Strategies to diminish tears
- Use a sharp knife to cut the onion. A sharp knife will allow you to cut quickly and mash less onion in the process. Less mashed onion means less gas will be released. It also helps to leave the root end (the “hairy” end) intact while cutting the onion because the root contains the highest concentration of sulfur compounds.
- Ventilate the kitchen. Use a hood fan or set a small fan nearby. The ventilation will help disperse the gases.
- Chill the onion. Place the onion in the fridge for 30 minutes or in the freezer for 10 minutes before cutting it. When chilled, gases are released from the onion much more slowly.
- Soak the onion in water. I’ve read various explanations for why this works including the water diluting the onion’s potency and the gases being denatured by the water-air boundary. Related methods include cutting the onion under running water and cutting the onion in a cloud of steam. (The latter methods seem less practical than the former.)
- Cut the onion near a flame. This method is thought to be effective because the flame pulls air in, drawing the gases away from your face. Additionally, the flame may burn off some of the acids. A larger flame such as that from a gas range would work most effectively, but some cooks indicate the flame of a candle is sufficient to provide some benefit.
- Spray vinegar on the cutting board. Vinegar is supposed to interrupt the chemical reaction and diminish release of the gases. Of course, the flavor of your onion may be compromised!
- Wear goggles and a tight-fitting mask. These pieces of equipment form barriers between your eyes and nose and the gases.
- Choose less potent onions. Sweet and mild onion varieties (such as Vidalia or Supasweet) have higher sugar and water content, which makes the acids less potent.
- Make your spouse or another loved one cut the onion. This one may not benefit your loved one, but it will keep you from crying.
Onions are high in vitamin C, a good source of fiber, and have only 45 calories per serving. Additionally, they are sodium, fat, and cholesterol free and provide a number of other key nutrients. These nutritional benefits are too excellent to avoid onions over fears that tears will be shed. For more information, visit the National Onion Association.
I’m sad to say that my tears haven’t been reduced when I’ve cut onions in the way demonstrated on the video featured above. However, I have found ventilating the kitchen and soaking onions in water to be effective.
Do you have any tips to add? How do you keep from crying when you cut onions?