We all know the feeling. You’re slicing into a crisp onion, and suddenly the waterworks come on. As if you were watching the last scene of Titanic and every pet-adoption commercial rolled up in one, tears are streaming down your face.
Why do onions make us cry?
Onions produce a chemical called syn-propanethial-S-oxide, which is known to trigger tears. When the onion is cut, this chemical sprays into the air, causing even the most masterful cooks to well up.
So perhaps the real question is how do you cut an onion without crying?
On this front, wild claims abound. We’ve heard that everything from chewing candy to lighting candles can help prevent the tears. Naturally, our Test Kitchen wanted to try them all. Follow along as Taste of Home‘s Test Cooks, Nick Iverson and Matt Hass, debunk the myths and ultimately settle on the best way to cut an onion without crying.
Method #1 “I put onions in the freezer for 15-20 minutes before I cut them, and I use a very sharp knife.” -Elizabeth Bramkamp, Gig Harbor, WA
Does it really work? The freezer method was a no-go.
Notes from our Test Kitchen Freezing the onion made it slightly more difficult to cut and didn’t assuage any of its tear-producing fumes.
Aside from getting our fingers frosty-freezy, this method didn’t do much in the service of stopping those free-flowing tears. We recommend keeping onions at room temperature prior to chopping; however, it’s perfectly fine to freeze onions for long-term storage.
Method #2: “I chew gum while breathing through my mouth instead of my nose. Sounds crazy, but it works!” -Allison Ochoa, Hays, KS
Does it really work? Sadly, no.
Notes from our Test Kitchen: Although enjoyable, chewing a stick of gum had no effect. (But it was fun to see our Test Cooks blowing bubbles in the kitchen.)
Method #3: “Drink a tall glass of water a few minutes before chopping onions. Dry eyes grab for any bit of liquid in the air.” -Helen Nelander, Boulder Creek, CA
Does it really work: Nope.
Notes from our Test Kitchen Drinking water didn’t make any difference, but it did keep us hydrated in our warm kitchen!
Method #4: A wooden spoon held between your teeth will help absorb the onion smell.
Does it really work? Not for us!
Notes from our Test Kitchen: Unfortunately, the tears just kept on coming. On the other hand, it did give our cooking spoons some rugged-looking bite marks.
Method #5: Light a candle near the cutting board.
Does it really work? No!
Notes from our Test Kitchen: It looked nice…but did nothing.
This one made us chuckle a bit. The candle provided a bit of romantic ambiance, but it didn’t stop the tears. (A larger flame might work better, but we’re certain it’s not worth the risk.)
Method #6: “I have worn regular goggles (the kind you get at a hardware store) instead of onion-cutting goggles after seeing someone do the latter on TV. It works great-and you look pretty cool, too.” -Deborah Pennington, Decatur, AL
Does it really work? Yes!
Notes from our Test Kitchen: The goggle lenses blocked the fumes from the onion, which in turn stopped the tears.
At last, we found a tip that truly works! Despite making the team look like a bunch of mad scientists, this method definitely kept our cooks from crying.
After trying each of these techniques, we asked our Lead Test Cook, Nick Iverson, how he achieves tear-free chopping:
“The most foolproof way is to use a sharp knife. With a sharp knife, you are less likely to rupture the cell walls that contain sulfur compounds in the onion. (The sulfur compounds in the onion react with the moisture in your eye, causing irritation.) The second best way is to work in a well-ventilated room. Open a window or turn on the exhaust fan above your stove.”
Of course, you could always keep a pair of swimming goggles beside your cutting board, too.