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How To Cut an Onion Without Crying

How To Cut an Onion Without Crying

If you’re planning on cooking a meal, any meal at all, chances are that onions will be in attendance. But, as most of us know, these simple root veggies come with a catch: they’ll make you cry when you cut them.

If you’re seeking ways to get through your prep work while keeping the waterworks in check, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to learn the best tips and tricks to cut an onion tears-free with HexClad. 

What’s the Best (Tear-Free) Way To Chop an Onion?

No matter how often you cook, we’re willing to bet your cutting board is well-acquainted with the distinct flavor of onion, just like your tear-ducts.

This common vegetable seems innocent enough, so why do they make you cry? These bulb vegetables grow mostly underground and absorb sulfur from the earth, allowing them to form amino acidsulfoxides. Enzymes within the onion can convert these amino acids into sulfenic acid. 

Basically, this sulfuric acid becomes an irritant when it interacts with the water in our eyes. When we (or any animal out in nature) break into the cell walls of an onion, it releases this sulfuric acid as a chemical called syn-Propanethial-S-oxide form of self-defense against predators. 

We’re the first to admit that this is a solid defense mechanism. Yet, onions are a cooking staple. Their subtle sweetness and unique unami flavor compliment just about any dish, adding a richness and complexity to the final product that is sure to delight your tastebuds. 

With so many recipes calling for the slicing or dicing of onions and so many meals enhanced by their presence, how can you cut into the onion without facing their tear-inducing wrath? 

There are all types of old wives' tales on how to cut onions without crying. They range from chewing gum as you slice and dice to holding a piece of bread in your mouth, but we recommend trying some of the following methods to see which works best for you. 

Sharp Knives Only 

Honing your knives regularly and having them sharpened once or twice a year is already a key component for cooking safely. Dull knives require more pressure to cut through your ingredients and are, therefore, more prone to slipping. 

But, when onions are involved, using a sharp knife can help protect your eyes as much as your fingers. 

A knife with a thin and ultra-sharp edge will cut neatly through the onion. This thin slice can help limit the number of sulfuric irritants that escape.

Think about cutting into a juicy fruit, like a tomato. The sharper the knife, the better the food stays intact. A dull knife, on the other hand, is more likely to create a mess of juice as it cuts less precisely. The onion’s irritating fumes are like the juice of a fleshy fruit — more prone to spilling when cut into with a dull knife.

By only using a properly sharp knife to slice into your onions, you can create quicker and more precise cuts that don’t damage the cells of the onion as much, leading to less acid release and happier eyes. 

Cut With the Grain

Do you know those perforated lines guiding you where to cut or tear papers? It turns out you can use the lines of an onion as a similar cutting guide, too.

The trick here is to cut with the grain of the onion. Move your knife in the same direction as the lines that reach from the root end to the stem end of the onion. Also known as cutting “pole to pole,” slicing your onion with the grain causes less cell damage and releases fewer compounds. 

By releasing fewer compounds, cutting this way not only helps reduce tears but also leads to a less intense and pungent taste. 

The connection between pungent taste and eye-irritating compounds is also why certain types of onions make you cry more than others. 

Mild green onions and sweeter red onions release less pungent chemicals, while yellow onions are a bit stronger. The truly pungent white onions can have you looking like you just watched a bunch of videos where animals reunite with their people. (No? Is that just us?)

Quick-Freeze Onions Before Cutting

When it comes to the onion, we’ll take the cold shoulder any day. Why? A colder onion is typically a kinder one. The drops in temperature can help mellow out some of the irritating effects of the onion, much to the relief of our poor eyes.

Just fifteen minutes in the freezer can do the trick, as can chilling in the fridge or giving the onion a short ice bath before chopping.

Remember that freezing an onion will make it firmer, so having a sharp knife on hand is all the more important.

Put Onion Pieces in Cold Water as You Chop

The idea here is that water helps wash away some burn-inducing chemicals, moving the fumes away from your eyes before they have a chance to make you cry. 

A few water-related onion hacks out there include:

  • Resting your onion in water before and after cutting
  • Placing your cutting board in the sink and chopping your onion directly under a soft, slow stream of running water
  • Cutting your onion as it is submerged in a bowl of water 

These last two suggestions can get a little dicey, though (pun intended), at least as far as the well-being of your fingers is concerned. We’d recommend putting your onion pieces in cold water as you go, rather than trying to cut them directly under said water. 

Try Kitchen Goggles

Haven’t you heard? Wearing kitchen goggles is what all the cool kids are doing.

We know it can feel a bit silly, but comfort in the kitchen should be a priority. When you’re laboring away to prepare a delicious meal, you deserve to feel good doing it. 

Wearing goggles as you chop your onions creates a seal to keep those sulfuric fumes from contact with your eyes. There are even onion goggles made specifically for this task, but any pair of safety goggles or swimming goggles you have around the house will do the trick.

What Kind of Knife Is Best for Cutting Onions?

We know you need a sharp knife to cut onions without crying, but is there a specific type of knife best suited for the task? In our humble opinion, you can’t go wrong with any of the following three.

Utility Knife

The utility knife has a sharp edge and pointed tip ideal for doling out quick and precise cuts needed to keep those onion fumes in check. Slightly shorter and thinner than a chef’s knife, the utility knife is powerful enough to slice through a whole onion. It’s also thin enough to reduce cell damage as it does so. 

Along with preserving your tear ducts when chopping onions, a utility knife is ideal for small or tender ingredients such as fruits, herbs, and softer meats. 

Chef’s Knife

A must-have for any hook cook, the chef’s knife is the ultimate kitchen companion. It won’t let you down when it comes to cutting onions.

The chef’s knife has a long curved blade that makes it easy to rock the knife back and forth against the cutting board. It’s a cinch to slice, dice, chop, and mince your ingredients mess-free. The tip of the chef’s knife is pointed for detailed work, while the broad heel can break into tougher ingredients without requiring too much force.

The chef’s knife can slice neatly through an onion and create uniform pieces with ease for diced onions.

Paring Knife

The paring knife is the shortest of the bunch, typically no longer than 3.5 inches. But don’t underestimate the power of this little knife. Lightweight and precise, this knife is well-balanced and easy to control with an ultra-sharp blade capable of competing with the big guys. 

The sharp edge of the paring knife makes it the ultimate tool for intricately detailed work, such as peeling, deseeding, coring, or trimming. This sharp knife can finely slice an onion, creating thin and even slices while reducing the number of compounds that escape.

The Bottom Line

At HexClad, we know that cooking should be as fun and as tear-free as possible. Unless, of course, you’re tearing up from how incredible your kitchen creations taste or how easy it is to clean your new HexClad pan, then, by all means, cry away.

Onions are in just about every dish you make, and you shouldn’t have to burn your eyes out to enjoy their flavorful taste. Whether you’re using sweet onions, shallots, or the dreaded white onion, using these tried-and-true cutting tricks and having the right tools in your kitchen drawer arsenal can help sweeten the onion chopping experience. 

At HexClad, our full-tang Damascus steel knives provide superior balance, durability, and sharpness that can easily tackle any onion you throw their way. 

Our Essential Six Piece Japanese Knife Set includes a chef’s knife, utility knife, paring knife, santoku knife, serrated bread knife, and honing rod to keep your blades sharp enough for even the toughest of tasks.

With rare forest green pakkawood handles and a unique waving pattern on the blades formed from the 67 layers of forged Damascus steel, these knives will look as good chopping onions as your eyes will feel. 

Ready to upgrade your entire kitchen collection? Check out our full collection of knives and cookware at our shop.

Sources:

Just Ask: Why Do Onions Make Us Cry? | PBS NewsHour

Yellow vs White vs Red Onions: What's the Difference? | Kitchn

Different Knives and the Best Uses for Each One | Escoffier

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