5 Ways to Cry less when you chop onions!

We have a love hate relationship with onions, we hate the tears they bring but we love the flavour they add to so many dishes!   Everyone has their favourite ways of reducing the tears, some are based in science and others in fiction.

To understand how to reduce the tears we need to understand why we cry when we chop an onion.  As your knife blade cuts through the cells of the onion it releases two compounds, methionine and cystine (both amino acids), when these compounds combine, they create a new compound – a lachrymator compound, a form of sulfuric acid that irritates the lacrimal glands in our eyes.  So, the objective to crying less, is to try and suppress as much of this compound from being formed – easier said than done.

Here are 6 simple ways to help reduce the tears you produce when chopping onions.  Note, there is no such thing as a 100% guarantee to reducing the tears (unless you go the snorkel and goggles route, wear contact lenses or use your handy KitchenAid chopper, which will only give you protection until you open the lid of your chopper, because the blade has made fine work of the onion you may cry more as more chemicals were released)

  1. Use a sharp knife:  When you use a sharp blade to chop the onions it produces less damage to the cells of the onion, which in turn means that the onion produces less of the irritating compound that makes us cry.

2. Chill the onion before chopping it, 10 minutes in the freezer should help, this will help suppress the volatility of the compounds in the onion but remember to cut the onion while it is still cold.  (NB do not freeze the onion and try and cut it in that state it would be dangerous)

3. Cut the onion into quarters and place the pieces into a bowl of ice-cold water, this will help dilute some of the amino acids present in the onion.

4. Take a piece of kitchen paper, or a dish cloth, and fold it in half, then wet it, place it next to the onion on your chopping board.  Then while you are chopping, the damp paper towel will absorb and trap some of the volatile lachyrmator compounds.

5. Whenever you chop an onion, leave the root on the onion until the very end.  The highest concentration, of the compounds that make us cry can be found in the root of the onion, so by cutting towards the route you will release less compounds into the air until the very end.

6. Ensure your kitchen is well ventilated, preferably with a nice cross breeze, this fresh air will help to clear the irritant from the air.

The fact of the matter is, no matter how much onions make us cry we still love them and we will always find a way to get them into our food, because no pain no gain!

We would love to know what methods you use and how effective they are, leave us a comment below.