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How To Cut an Onion Without Crying

How To Cut an Onion Without Crying

There are a few things that will make even the most stoic of people cry – watching the end of “Titanic,” seeing the first flower bloom in spring, and cutting onions. If you somehow manage to do all three at the same time, we wish you luck. 

For the purposes of this article, we will be focusing on the tear-jerking nature of cutting onions. But if you do figure out how to watch “Titanic” without the waterworks (get it?), please let us know.

Even Gordon Ramsay himself is likely to shed a tear or two when getting deep into a yellow onion or a shallot. 

Luckily, there are ways to keep the crying to a minimum while cutting onions. Not only will it be more comfortable for you, but your tissue budget will go down significantly.

Why Does Cutting Onions Make You Cry?

The fact that cutting onions makes us cry can be perplexing to many. After all, other veggies don’t give us this kind of reaction. 

Why would onions be any different? Sure, an amazing French onion soup can be good enough to bring us to tears, but usually only after it’s cooked. The only way to guarantee our eyes will be protected is by understanding the scientific reasons behind this reaction in the first place.

All members of the Allium genus have the capacity to make us cry, but some types of onions are less irritating than others. Sweeter onions fall into this category, so red onions or green onions might be less painful. The reason that sweeter onions aren’t as irritating is that they contain less sulfur than their counterparts.

Onions are full of sulfur, which they absorb as they grow. The sulfur is necessary for the onion because it is used in different amino acids. The act of cutting into an onion also cuts open the cells within it. The combination of these enzymes and the onion’s amino acids form syn-propanethial-s-oxide, an eye-irritating chemical.

This chemical reaction makes its way up to your eyes and is registered as a potential threat. 

In order to neutralize the said threat, your eyes reflexively tear up to get the irritant out. We get that this article is probably turning more into high school chemistry class than you were expecting, so here’s a summarized version.

The bottom line: Irritating chemicals are released when you cut an onion. The chemicals go into your eyes, completely uninvited. Your eyes kick them out, and you cry.

What Is the Best Way To Cut Onions Without Crying?

Congratulations, you passed the impromptu chemistry test. 

Now it’s time to put the tissues away for good and keep those tears in your eyes (where they belong).

1. Refrigerate Your Onions Prior to Your Meal Prep

By sticking your onions in the refrigerator about half an hour before you’re ready to cut into them, you slow the evil enzymes down. 

The one downside to this technique is that you have to work quickly. As the cold onions warm up, their capacity to cause you pain increases.

2. Use a Sharp, High-Quality Knife

Breaking open the onion’s cells is what kicks off the whole chemical reaction to begin with. 

If you use a dull knife, your chops will inevitably be clumsier and less precise, and this will result in even more cells being ruptured. Instead, you should use a sharp chef’s knife to prepare diced onions and the like.

The sharper the knife, the better — and that rule doesn’t just apply to cutting onions, either. Having sharp knives on hand is a general cooking tip that you should always keep in mind.

3. Put on Goggles or Eye Protection

The chemicals in the onion need to make contact with your eyes in order to irritate them, so you can take away that opportunity in the first place. 

A pair of safety goggles or onion goggles can make all the difference when it comes time to cut these pesky root vegetables. Even though it might not make you look like the coolest home chef in the world, you will be the most comfortable. 

4. Keep the Sliced Side of the Onion Down on Your Board

One of the best methods to protect your eye from an onion’s spray is to keep them as far away from your eyes as possible. 

After you cut your onion in half, keep the open face of it down on the cutting board rather than facing upward.

What Are Some Myths About Preventing Tears While Cutting an Onion?

Since crying while cutting onions is such a common problem, we as a society were left with only two possible solutions: stop cooking with them, or find our own ways around it. 

Let’s be honest, it was never an option to stop cooking with onions. They enhance countless dishes, so it would be a shame to say goodbye to them.

In that case, the option we’re left with is to try to prevent crying, or at least keep it to a minimum. We already covered a few techniques that you can employ to keep the tears at bay, but what about common tips that are less successful? 

Plenty of anecdotal methods to stop the crying have been passed down from generation to generation, but that doesn’t mean they work.

While there is something to be said for the powers of the placebo effect, we are looking for solutions that we know really work. If your grandma lovingly told you about any of the following “tips,” it’s time to tell her that she was oh so wrong

Then, when you inevitably feel terrible for talking to your grandma that way, you can make her a fantastic dish with onions to make up for it.

Myth 1: Keeping Bread in Your Mouth 

Listen, if you want an excuse to eat more bread, we aren’t about to stop you. 

However, we would recommend going the honest route rather than doing it under the guise of stopping eye irritation. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no scientific backing to this theory.

Sometimes people recommend that you chew the piece of bread slowly. Other times, people say that you should let the bread hang out of your mouth like you’re a gluten-loving dog. 

The reason the messaging behind this so-called trick is so inconsistent is that neither version of this strategy actually works.

It’s also an old wives tale that chewing gum will help keep the waterworks at bay. So just enjoy eating your bread or chewing your gum, but don’t look for onions to justify it.

Myth 2: Running Your Arm Under Water 

While putting your arm under water won’t keep your eyes from watering, it is certainly a creative way to stop your hands from smelling like onions. 

The thinking behind this hack is that the sulfuric enzymes will be dissolved by the water, keeping your eyes comfortable and tear-free. There is some merit to that, but you would have to literally cut the onions under water if you tried this method.

Getting a perfect chop or dice to your onions can be challenging enough when you have a sharp knife and a sturdy cutting board and are working in the open air. 

Add flowing cold water to the mix, and the task takes on a whole new level of difficulty. The prospect of chopping onions under running water is almost as tear-inducing as the sulfoxides themselves.

Myth 3: Breathing Through Your Mouth

The thought process here is that breathing through your mouth will stop the enzymes from reaching your eyes. This isn’t true, but it is an interesting way to end up with onion breath.

The Bottom Line

There’s a lot of misinformation out there about how you can keep from crying while cutting onions. With our tips, though, you’ll be tear-free in no time.

Sources:

Allium – An Overview | ScienceDirect

Why Do Onions Make You Cry? | Britannica

Root Vegetables - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics

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