Cutting onions is frequently the bane of a cook's existence and can make even the manliest chef cry. By understanding why they cause tears, people can reduce how much they cry while cutting onions.
Why Onions Cause Tears
Onions cause people to tear up, because their cells release a liquid when they are broken or sliced. Some of the liquid evaporates and forms sulfuric acid. The acid, which is in the air, then rises to people’s eyes. To combat the acid, tear ducts produce tears.
There are a number of ways to interrupt this process and prevent the acid from reaching one’s eyes. Here are some of the most effective techniques cooks use to prevent crying while cutting onions. Some, such as freezing an onion or wearing contacts, are more effective than others, but all are worth trying.
Prevent Acidic Vapors from Forming
If the onion’s juice never comes into contact with air, then acidic vapors can never be created. These are some of the ways people can prevent an onion’s juice from contacting the air.
- Freeze the Onion - If an onion’s juice is frozen, then it cannot evaporate. Freezing an onion for 15 minutes before slicing it can have a great impact, but it can make the knife slide.
- Place the Onion in Cold Water - alternatively, an onion can be placed under cold water. This is not as effective as freezing, but it can be repeated several times while cutting.
- Cut the Onion under Running Water - By cutting the onion under water, the onion’s juice never has a chance to reach the air. This is an extremely effective technique, but it is not always practical. The water can be warm or cold.
Prevent Acidic Vapors from Reaching One’s Eyes
Cooks have also been known to stop the process at the other end. They do not worry about vapors forming, but concentrate on preventing them from reaching one’s eyes.
- Wear Goggles - Goggles act as a physical barrier between the eyes and vapors. With a snug-fitting pair of goggles, cooks should have no issues cutting onions. (They might have a problem with people making fun of them, though).
- Wear Contact Lenses - Contacts, in principle, work the same way as goggles. Contact lenses, however, are much smaller than goggles and do not cover the entire eye. Contacts can be effective though, and they are much less noticeable than goggles. Those who have prescription contacts can wear their contact lenses instead of glasses. Professional cooks who do not need glasses might want to consider purchasing non-prescription contact lenses. Contacts have the additional advantage of being easily put in, taken out and stored.
- Eliminate the Vapors - A third option is to eliminate the acidic vapors by one of the means below.
- Cutting the Onion Near a Fan - A fan can be used to blow the vaporous air away from the cook and out of the kitchen. Either a table-top fan or overhead fan on a stove will work. People who are cooking at home should be aware that this might cause their house to smell like an onion.
- Lighting a Candle - A candle can be lit next to the cutting board. In theory, the vapors will be eliminated when the air is burned by the candle. In reality, it is difficult to move all the air toward the candle; some inevitable rises to the cook’s face.
There are many ways to stop tears from forming while cutting an onion. Some of the techniques people use focus on stopping vapors from forming, others prevent the acidic air from entering the eyes. Still other techniques try to move the vapors away from one’s face. The best solution is a combination of these methods.
Jamie Lechler writes for EZ Contacts USA, which sells contact lenses.