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Onion Expert

Why do onions make you cry?

Blake Branen Rosencrantz - Wednesday, January 25, 2012
It’s dinner time and you can’t stop crying. Who do you blame? The onion of course! We’ve all been there. There you are, chopping an onion for dinner and all of a sudden it attacks. Sometimes, the reaction is just a mild irritant and other times, it’s a full-on cry. It’s not your emotions (unless you are an extremely emotional chef.) So what is it? There are three types of tears: basal, psychic and reflex. Basal tears are what keeps your eyes lubricated, psychic tears come from emotions, they are the type of tears you experience after reading a sad book or watching old yeller. The third type of tears, reflex are kind of tears you cry when crying onion tears. This type of tear occurs as a reflex to some outside stimulus or irritant. Stimuli can be anything from sharp objects to simply the presence of natural irritants like dust. When you are cutting onions, there is a naturally occurring sulfur compound known as sulfide that is responsible for bringin’ on the tears. Sulfides are converted to synpropanethial S-oxide enzymes called allinases, which are released when the cells of the onion are damaged by the blade of your knife. This potent lachrymatory agent is then released as a gas and causes the stinging sensation many of you know all too well. Tears are released when this hits your eyes not because it hurts, but because your body is attempting to dilute or wash away the irritant. How to do you keep form crying when cutting onions? Simple, do anything you can to keep the gases from reaching your eyes. Here are some ways:
  • Always turn the cut side of the onion away from your face.
  • Turn a fan on to blow the fumes away from your face as you slice the onion.
  • Wear eye protection. A simple pair of glasses can prevent the gases from reaching your eyes.
  • Chop the onion in a food processor to contain the gases. Be prepared when you remove the lid, though — turn your face away, or turn on a fan.
  • Fresh lemon juice can help dissipate the smell of a cut onion. Also try wiping your knife with lemon juice before cutting the onion. Some swear by this simple strategy to prevent crying.
  • Some claim that it helps to cut the onion under running water. You’ll have to try and see if that works for you.
  • Put onion in the freezer 20 minutes before cutting. Some swear on this tactic!
  • Time. The more time you spend cutting onions, the bigger tolerance you will build up. Eventually leading to no tears at all.
  Do you have any tips to keep from crying when cutting onions? Please share by leaving a comment below or visiting us on Facebook!  

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