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Onions are one ingredient that goes into many dishes, but when chopping, slicing or dicing them, your eyes can suddenly well up and burn. According to a chef, “some people are more sensitive [to onions] than others”, and if you’re looking for an alternative way to chop them without tearing up, here are a few.
Why do onions make you cry?
The reason humans tear up when chopping onions is to do with an evolutionary defence mechanism that’s meant to protect the plant from damage.
When an onion is cut, enzymes called alliinases are released from the broken cells, and in time a gas is released that moves through the air and irritates the membrane of the eyes.
Chef Julie Andrews added: “The body’s reaction to the gas touching the surface of the eye is to create tears to flush the gas out of the eye.”
But not all onions are equally as powerful; sweet onions or spring onions contain less sulfur than traditional white or red onions, so a smaller reaction is caused.
How you cut onions can also reduce the reaction, here are a few tried and tested ways to cut onions without crying.
1. Cut onions underneath a cooker hood
Airflow can make a huge difference, and Julie said chopping onions in a “well-ventilated area” means “less of the gas comes into contact with your eyes”.
Try working underneath a cooker hood with the vent on high – just make sure the air is blowing down, and not sucking air upwards.
You can also try opening a window and letting a breeze come through to dilute the gas in the air.
2. Use a sharp knife
Keeping knives sharp is a good kitchen habit, but said to be particularly important when cutting onions.
Using a sharp knife “causes less damage to the onion flesh” therefore reducing the “amount of gas that is released”.
A blunt knife, on the other hand, can make slicing and dicing onions more difficult and increases the time you spent around the gas.
3. Refrigerate onions before chopping
Some keep onions in the fridge already, but if you’re someone who keeps them ambient, in a dark cupboard, consider placing one or two that you want to add to a dish that evening, into the fridge a few hours before.
It is said chemical reactions slow down under colder temperatures, so cold onions should release less sulfur when chopped.
If you’re pinched for time, you can freeze the onion for 10-15 minutes instead. When chopping the chilled onions, store them in a bowl of very cold water as you slice, and this too can halt the gas being released into the air.
4. Leaving the root on
When cutting an onion, be sure to leave the root on. Allegedly, the rough root end of the onion is where the most enzymes and molecules are concentrated, so if you leave the root intact while chopping, there might be fewer tears.
5. Use eye protection
For particularly strong onions, you could always create a barrier between the gas and your eyes.
Standard glasses or sunglasses can help, but eye protection with a seal will “be the most effective”. There are specialist onion goggles available to buy, but swimming or safety goggles can also work well.
6. Use alternative kitchen tools
Anyone with a food processor that has an attachment to dice or slice, consider using it.
It not only speeds up the whole process of chopping an onion but “reduces the chances of crying because your exposure time is lower and sometimes, the onions are in a closed environment,” Insider reported.
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