Onions are one of the most beautiful, delicious, basic ingredients that are absolutely essential in many Asian, Middle Eastern and Western dishes. If you cook, you will know how important onions are, and how difficult it is to avoid cutting, chopping or slicing this god-sent vegetable.
The only problem I have with onions, despite my long-term, complicated affair with them, is that they always make me cry. No matter how I chop them, dice them or cut them, it always results in tearful cooking sessions. It’s certainly not very funny or fun at all.
Picture source: www.made-in-england.org
Why Onions Make you Cry:
According to Wikihow.com, onions are made up of a tunic of outer leaves (the brown layer), scales (the white firm juicy edible part), and the basal plate (often called the “hairy part” or the “root”).
Onions make you cry because:
1. When you cut the basal plate or shoot, they release an enzyme.
2. That enzyme reacts in the rest of the onion to release a gas.
3. When that gas combines with water, it creates an acid.
4. If that water is in your eye, you have acid in your eye. That makes you cry.
So how can we cut onions without crying?
Here are some very practical methods provided by Wikihow.com to keep your onion-chopping sessions tear-free and pleasant (because we will always end up having to cut onions).
1. Use a very sharp knife:
The enzymes are released when cells are broken or crushed; using a sharp knife slices through the onion rather than crushing and thus, fewer enzymes are released.
2. Chill the onions before cutting them:
Chill your onions in the freezer for 10 – 15 minutes before cutting them. This reduces the amount of the acid enzyme released into the air. This was found to be the most effective way to reduce tears by the television program Food Detectives.
3. Avoid getting the gas in your eyes:
Wear gas tight goggles or a mask, or cut the onions next to a strong draft from a fume hood or a fan (this causes the gas to be directed away from your eyes). Wearing contact lenses may also help create a barrier between the surface of your eyes and the onion gas.
4. Absorb the gas in water:
Cut the onion under water, or near running water or a cloud of steam.
5. Slow down or stop the gas-producing reaction:
You can try putting vinegar on the chopping board (as the acid from vinegar denatures the enzyme); or soak onion in water before cutting them (the enzyme gets denatured by the water-air boundary); or soak the onion in salt water (the ionic solution denatures the enzyme).