How not to cry while cutting onions, according to the experts

Expert Tips to Keep Tears at Bay While Chopping Onions

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From CNN —

Feeling like you need a good cry? Grab an onion and start chopping.

Onions add flavor to countless dishes, but the tears they cause can make you question if it’s worth it.

Everyone seems to have a secret trick to avoid crying while cutting onions. CNN consulted experts to find out which methods actually work.

Dr. Abbey Thiel, a food scientist and the creator of the Abbey the Food Scientist YouTube channel, explains that the irritation onions cause is actually a defense mechanism designed to protect the plant from being eaten. Like thorns or a bitter taste in other plants, onions have their own way of deterring predators.

The defense mechanism of an onion lies in its cell structure, which keeps certain substances separated to avoid reactions.

Dr. Bryan Quoc Le, a faculty research fellow at Pacific Lutheran University, explains that cutting an onion causes an enzyme and an amino acid to mix, producing sulfur compounds. These compounds turn into a vapor that, when it reaches our eyes, reacts with the moisture to form a small amount of sulfuric acid, irritating the cornea and causing tears.

Placing a fan near your chopping area can help direct the irritating vapors away from your eyes, reducing the chance of tears, suggests Thiel.

Goggles might not be the most fashionable choice, but they are an effective way to shield your eyes from the onion vapors, according to Thiel.

Thiel also notes that wearing contact lenses instead of glasses can offer some protection, acting as a barrier for your eyes.

Cooling onions in the fridge, freezer, or a bowl of icy water before chopping can also be helpful, says Le. However, freezing can alter the onion’s texture, making it suitable only for certain recipes like soups.

Le advises against storing onions in the refrigerator long-term as it can affect their flavor. Instead, he recommends chilling them briefly before you need to chop them.

Microwaving onions before cutting can reduce the vapors, according to Le. The time needed varies depending on the onion’s size, but it’s best used when the texture of the onion isn’t crucial to your dish.

Adding acids like lemon juice or vinegar to onions can also lessen eye irritation while enhancing flavor, Le explains. This is because the enzyme responsible for the irritation operates best within a specific pH range, and acids can slow down its activity.

Some people find that lighting a candle near the chopping board helps reduce tears when cutting onions. Le says this might work by either blocking the vapors or interacting with them in a beneficial way, though it’s not a guaranteed solution.

Holding a piece of bread or toast in your mouth is another method some swear by, though its effectiveness is uncertain, according to Le. It might work for some by absorbing the vapors or simply as a psychological distraction.

In conclusion, while onions are a staple in many dishes, their tear-inducing properties can be a nuisance. However, with tips from experts, there are several ways to minimize the tears and make cooking with onions a more pleasant experience.