Discover the Truth Behind the Cry-Inducing Onion and More!

man cutting onions and crying

You're in the kitchen preparing a gazpacho, a French onion soup, or a variety of toppings for burgers. In mere seconds after slicing into an onion, your eyes begin to water and burn.

When an onion is cut, a chemical compound and an enzyme inside it combine to produce an irritant gas. This, according to Eric Block, food chemistry expert and emeritus professor at the University of Albany, and author of Garlic and Other Alliums: The Lore and the Science, helps protect the bulb from being eaten by animals as it grows in the ground.

"This is how the onion fights off its enemies," he explains.

When you cut an onion, why do your eyes tear up?

Because of the chemical compound and the enzyme that are synthesized when an onion is cut, onions can cause both burning and watering of the eyes. By doing so, syn-propanethial-S-oxide, a highly flammable gas that causes severe eye irritation and rapid tear production, is produced.

What happens is as follows:

  1. Both the chemical precursor to the gas and the activating enzyme float around in vacuoles (tiny, walled-off areas) in onion cells.

  2. One cuts, chops, or bites into an onion.

  3. When the precursor and enzyme combine, a highly reactive chemical irritant is produced.

  4. This irritant becomes airborne as soon as it reaches room temperature.

  5. Pain receptors in the eyes and nose, designed to protect you from chemicals, smoke, and other threats, are activated by the gas.

  6. When the eyes become irritated, the lacrimal glands (tear producers) release tears to flush out the offending substance.

“It’s a very small molecule,” Block says of the noxious syn-propanethial-S-oxide Although small, it packs a powerful punch. ”

Exactly how do tears shield your eyes from harmful elements?

Lubricating and protecting your eyes from dust and other irritants are two of the many functions of tears, according to Dr. Optometrist, writer, and public speaker Darryl Glover

There are two main categories of tears produced by the eyes:

  • Base of the Eye Tears - These Tears Keep Your Eyes Healthy By Lubricating Them

  • The eyes produce tears reflexively to lubricate and cleanse them.

Reflexive tears help wash away irritants and protect the eyes, while a healthy tear film (plenty of basal tears) helps prevent your eyes from becoming irritated in the first place, as stated by Dr. According to what Glover has to say

To prevent tears from getting into your eyes while cutting an onion, Dr. Recommendation from Glover Avoid using tissues because they may be contaminated with lotion and shed lint, both of which will only make matters worse. Last but not least, you should try using some preservative-free artificial tears.

When asked if that would help, he says, "That may give you a little bit of relief."

Wearers of contact lenses more (or less) likely to be affected?

Contact lens wearers claim to be protected from potentially irritating onion vapors when wearing their lenses. In order to test this, I used both my contact lenses and my backup pair of glasses.

As I prepared to conduct my experiment, I consulted Dr. So I asked Glover if he thought wearing contacts would help or hurt my eyes while chopping onions.

According to his words, "I could see it going either way."  

As Dr According to Glover, when you cut onions, the gas released from them irritates your eyes, but a contact lens protects your eyes from this irritation. However, contact lenses have been shown to disrupt the tear film, which can lead to dry eyes and ultimately affect the body's ability to produce tears at rest. Cutting onions can be irritating enough without adding dry eyes to the mix.

Here's a little experiment: dicing onions with your eyes vs. No glasses, please.

With Dr In light of Glover's advice, I attempted to cut several varieties of onions while wearing my contacts, and then again while wearing my glasses.  

Contact lens use

When I tried to intentionally inhale the fumes while cutting onions, I found that doing so with contacts in only mildly irritated my eyes.  

Being a glasses-wearing

Without my contacts in, cutting the same kinds of onions made me cry.

The worst part was chopping up a yellow onion without my contacts in, which resulted in a torrent of tears and so much irritation that my right eye began to twitch.  

Can't you see that Tears streaming down my cheeks, I yelled at my husband as he sliced a nice, mild green pepper. My eye is literally twitching." ”


If you were asked to name the onions that made you cry, which ones would you choose

I went to the store and bought a variety of onions to try out in the kitchen: yellow onions, white onions, red onions, sweet onions, and green onions.  

Depending on the severity of the onion, I would either have a severe reaction (tears, sniffles, coughing, and swearing at the onion) or a mild one (watery eyes, mild nasal and throat irritation, or almost no reaction at all). Except for the green onions, every other kind of onion brought tears to my eyes.  

When I eat onions, I always end up crying. I did some research and ranked the different onion varieties based on their ability to induce a sobbing fit, and here are the results:

  • Yellow onions as a metaphor

  • Red onions

  • For white onions, see:

  • Sugary onions

Surprisingly, sweet onions can still bring you to tears, whether you eat them in thin slices on burgers or in a summer salad.

To that end, which types of onions don't induce tears? Only tearless onions are guaranteed to not make you cry.  

Sunions are a type of onion that are seasonal and only available during specific times of the year. They are the offspring of a carefully orchestrated breeding program in which sugary temperament and lack of shedding were prioritized.

Block, who first saw Sunions in a Colorado grocery store, claims that their "apparently the taste is pretty decent." Unfortunately, I can't say that I've tried them yet. ”

Avoiding Tears While Chopping Onions

If you're a home cook, I have good news: you don't have to cry while chopping this "savory allium." We've been looking for a way to prepare onions without shedding tears for as long as we can remember.

Chewing gum, holding a baguette in your mouth, or lighting a match, blowing it out, and letting the smoke drift around you as you chop are all examples of ridiculous suggestions for preventing tears while chopping onions.

In addition, a TikTok video describing a hack for chopping onions went viral earlier this year, much to the delight of onion lovers everywhere. It turns out that not everyone benefits from keeping a wet (or damp) paper towel on their cutting board.

Block says of the more outlandish strategies, "That's a lot of nonsense."  

When I first heard this tip, I dismissed it as another urban legend, but the National Onion Association strongly endorses not cutting into the onion's root end. It's because the compound that turns into the gas that makes you cry is more concentrated in the root.

Testing methods for slicing onions without shedding tears is the subject of yet another experiment.

I tried out five commonsense methods to see which would help me cut onions without crying.  

I tried:

  • Onion slicing in the kitchen sink with the water running.

  • Putting on your onion goggles (here's our top pick for onion goggles).

  • For best results, chill an onion in the freezer for 30 minutes before slicing.

  • Spinning the exhaust fan while dicing onions on the range

  • Taking an onion apart without severing the root

The method of cutting an onion in the sink while the water was running was effective, but it was cumbersome (I cut my thumb) and rendered the onion soggy. I'd say the freezer trick reduced the vapor by about 70%, but I was still getting some in my eyes.  

In addition, as Block points out, the onion's performance and flavor in the dish may be affected by wetting or chilling the onion.

In that case, what does How to cut onions without crying, according to my experience:

  1. To peel an onion without accidentally slicing into the root end, cut off the top of the onion and peel the skin away from the bulb without cutting into the onion. Begin cutting at the stem's top and work your way down to within a quarter inch of the root.  

  2. Peel and slice the onion over a hot stovetop, preferably with a fan blowing on you.

Block says, "That's by far the most reasonable and practical thing to do without changing the flavor of the onion" (noting that doing so under a vented stovetop is the best option).

How do cooks avoid tears when chopping onions?

Interesting fact: the more you pulverize (or otherwise reduce in size) onions, the more they will cause you to cry. This is because the physical act of cutting triggers the chemical reaction that results in tears.

Can you explain the secret of how professional chefs can cut onions without crying? Jason Hawk, a chef and instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE), claims that crying in the kitchen isn't a problem for chefs.

"The most important things are, first, a sharp knife and, second, the right way to cut," he says.

Starting closer to the tip of the knife, you should "rock down and roll through" the onion rather than pressing straight down, which can bruise the onion, break down the cell walls, and release the onion juices.  

In case you've ever wondered how a chef slices an onion The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has released a knife-use tutorial video.

Furthermore, Hawk stresses, "Keep your knives nice and sharp."

Wearing onion goggles may reduce the need for Kleenex.

Make room for a new kitchen appliance if you frequently cook with onions.

Onion goggles should be worn now.  

Cooks prone to dry eye may benefit greatly from wearing onion goggles or similar protective eyewear, as suggested by Dr. This is what Glover claims

Although goggles can help, they aren't always necessary. As Block observes, the irritating effects of onion fumes extend beyond the respiratory system. One more way the fumes can reach the brain and cause tears to flow is through the nose.

He suggests that sealing the eyes shut completely might be useful. It's true that you can try to limit your exposure to the toxins, but as long as you keep breathing, you'll continue to take in some of them. " 

Jokingly, he suggests a solution that would be even stranger looking than onion goggles: "You could cook with a scuba mask and an oxygen tank on your back." If that were the case, "the effect would be null." ”

Next, learn the health benefits of crying.

Today's page launch date is Wednesday, September 15, 2021.

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