Have a big batch to chop and not looking forward to the crying session ahead? Here are a few little tricks that just may help you avoid those tears. First, why do they make us cry? Science Focus shares this tidbit of info:
The action of cutting an onion releases a fine spray of droplets. Recent Japanese research has shown that these droplets contain an enzyme called lachrymatory-factor synthase and sulphur-containing compounds, which react to produce a powerful irritant called Syn-propanethial-S-oxide. When a droplet strikes your eye, you respond by producing a copious flow of tears to try and wash the irritant away.
We cry because our eyes are irritated by droplets released when we chop them. Now that we understand the reason why tears + onions are a duo, here are a few ways we can help prevent that from happening…
A few of these are vintage or old wives tales and results will vary for each person, one person will swear a method works while another finds they still cry a bucketful. Could it be that each person has a different tolerance level? Or maybe the type of onion being cut makes a difference? Maybe it’s how fresh or aged it is. Who knows! Try the tips below until you find the best fit for you. Good luck!
- The cells from a cold onion react slower when cut, refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before chopping & peeling or try freezing for about 10 to 15 minutes (depending on size) before slicing into it.
- Cut under water (either under a running tap or in a sinkful of water). The water will dissolve the sulfur compounds before they can reach your eyes.
- Slice with a very sharp, stainless steel knife that has been run under water before starting to slice. If working on a lot or even a single large one, run knife frequently under water. The water will help absorb the sulfur compounds and a sharp knife will make a cleaner cut, bruising the cells less which theoretically means causing less reaction. Why a stainless steel knife? Stainless steel is thought by some to attract the sulfur compounds.
- Light a candle or votive near the cutting board or if you have a gas stove, light a burner. Work as close to flame as possible without danger of being burned. The heat will draw the sulfur to it and away from your eyes.
- Have a fan blowing the droplets away from your face while cutting onions.
- Chew gum, have a piece of bread or sugar cube in your mouth. Why does this work? The theory is that having something in your mouth encourages you to breathe through your mouth, sucking in the droplets before they hit your eyes.
- Do you trim both ends off before peeling & chopping? Stop! Try leaving on the root end until the very last since the sulfur compounds are more concentrated near the root.
- Contrary to the tip above, try removing both ends under water then bring up to the cutting board and chop away. Since the root end is removed, the thought is that the worst is behind you.
- Lightly spray the board with a 50/50 vinegar and water mix, vinegar apparently halts the sulfur reaction. If a 50/50 mix doesn’t do the trick, try full strength vinegar. This may affect the flavor once cooked.
- Wear swimming goggles that fit well, these will seal the area around your eyes so the droplets can’t reach them. Hmmm, cutting one onion doesn’t bother me overly much (usually), but if I had a big batch to do? I just might try it no matter how silly I would look, lol!
Debatable: Wear contact lenses if you have them, the theory is that they’ll protect your eyes from the droplets. Others say no, no, no…the contacts will only trap the droplets between your eyes and the contacts.
Did you know: The strong odor can be removed from hands by rubbing them with dry salt? You can also try rubbing lemon juice over hands or running your hands over a stainless steel tap or spoon before washing with soapy water.
Have I missed your tried-and-true method? Please share with us in the comments below :).
I agree with the contact lenses tip! I always wondered why people had issues with cutting onions when I never did. Then one morning I got up to prep a crockpot meal…before I put my contacts in. I then experienced the stinging and crying that others talk about! I’ve heard others say that this helps too. It creates a shield between your eye and the droplets.
*update* I wrote a little while back that onions never bother me because of the contacts that I wear. I wanted to update that I recently changed the kind of contact I wear to a more breathable, cilicone contact. I can definitely tell the difference when I cut onions now! My old brand (and I mean about 10 years old) apparently created a shield from the onions, but my new brand definitely breathes better!!
I chop onions at work all the time. One day I didnt have contacts in and i was crying up a storm!!! you can get cosmetic contacts at your local fashion shop. Im sure us blindies with thick lenses are better off, but it sure would be better than nothin.
My own tried and true method of chopping onions without tears–put em in the electric food chopper, shut the lid and turn it on–no tears, no smelly hands, and it don’t cost that much.
My secret weapon is my husband! He doesn’t seem to react as quickly as I do, which is pretty much at the first slice, so if he’s home I just get him to chop the onion. If he’s not, then I will just grin, sniffle, and go! I do remember wearing ski goggles while chopping onions as a kid, though, so I might have to try that again.
I don’t mind if it’s just one or two onions, but when i’m making chutney and preserves that calls for onions by the kilo-snorkel mask every time.complete with mouthpiece.You should have seen the look on the postmans’ face when i forgot to remove it before answering the door-priceless.
I found that having cold water near by is great, I cut my onion stick my knife in the water and cut more, I keep doing this, it seems to create a “barrier” the onion skin cells, also make sure your knife is really sharp, this way your cutting the onion and not “crushing” as you slice.
My husband suggested I put a match with the red end out in between my teeth while cutting onions…he said it would absorb the sulfur that is in the onion that makes you tear up. I tried it years ago and it actually worked!
I agree with all the tips and explainanation of these tips but i can’t understand the chewing gum’s theory, can anyone please make me understand…?:/
i think the chewing gum makes you breath through your mouth.
The first day i wore contacts, I cut an onion. I was surprised that my eyes didn’t burn at all. But my nose was burning a lot from not taking breaks from cutting it.
I’ve been wearing contacts for as long as I can remember, onions don’t bother me a bit. But if I’m wearing glasses, I can’t do it. I believe it might be possible that different contact types might not keep the onions away as well, but I’ve been using several different types over the years, including the extended-wear variety, and in my experience, it has been the same for all.
I agree with the contact lenses………………
I always keep a fresh onion in the fridge. If you cut it within 3-4 min, no tears, no issues.
geez people!!! just keep your onions in the fridge!! no tears!!
another tip is to not cut off the root end and use it as a handle…