How to Chop an Onion and Not Cry

Tired of shedding tears over dinner? Check out these ways to stop those onion-induced tears.


We’ve all heard that this trick or that works for stopping onion-induced tears, but what if you don’t happen to have a sharp enough knife on hand – is there another method that you can use? Why of course, and we’ve created a roundup of the all ways that we could find to stop onions from making you cry.

Why do we cry you ask? Well, according to food scientist Harold McGee, onions, and others in the onion family, make our eyes water as part of a defense mechanism through the use of sulfur. The growing plants take up sulfur from the soil and turn it into a weapon when cells are damaged through chopping. Onions, shallots, and leeks in particular are the ones that make us cry; this sulfur product is called the “lacrimator.” While the onions are cut, the chemical escapes from the injured cells and enters the attacker’s eyes and nose where it apparently strikes nerve endings resulting in tears aplenty. How do you prevent this from happening? Check out what we found below.

 

Tricks for Not Crying:

1. McGee recommends chilling the onions with the skins on in ice water for 30-60 minutes to slow down the release of the enzyme, giving the cutter more time to get the work done.

2. Put the onion halves in the freezer for 20 minutes before chopping. (Again, this probably works in a similar fashion to the chilling-in-water method, but requires less prep time.)

3. Using a very sharp knife while cutting seems to be a feasible option as that would reduce the amount of damage done to the cells, therefore lowering the amount of chemicals released.

4. Chop the onions under a powerful hood or next to a very strong fan that will blow the gas away from you. (Although if you don’t have a hood, then this could get messy with a fan if onion pieces started flying. )

 

More, Less-Explainable, Methods:

I’m not quite sure why these other methods are believed to work, but there seem to be plenty of people who stand by them – try them out and let us know what happens!

5. Place a piece of bread between your teeth while chopping. Maybe it distracts or absorbs the chemicals?

6. Chew on gum or another bite of food (might be just an excuse to eat while you prep, but we’ll take it).

7. Put a metal spoon or other utensil in your mouth while peeling and chopping – sounds weird but it works.

 

Some Questionable Methods:

8. Cutting an onion under running water – wouldn’t your hand slip? Especially if you are using a sharp knife?

Our thoughts: Don’t try it.

9. Burning a candle next to you while you chop so that the flame pulls the gases toward it and away from you.

Our thoughts: Possibility of danger/fire is high, especially if it doesn’t work and you start crying and swatting at things.

10. Wear goggles or a ski mask while chopping.

Our thoughts: Eh, those are always a pain to adjust and you might get stuck with old goggle face. And you could end up looking like this guy: 


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12 Comments

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The chef who taught me to cook 40 years ago simply taught me not to breathe through my nose when I chopped onions... and I had to chop as much as 30 to 40 pounds at a time! I don't believe that the onions attack your eyes directly because when you breathe only through your mouth your eyes don't react. It takes a little practice. One sniff and it's all over.

tdm-35-icon.png

Cut the onion at a comfortable arms length distance - most of the fumes rise straight up and an arms length I find quite adequate to protect me from most of the smell.

tdm-35-icon.png

When I was a kid, I just started wearing swim goggles when cutting onions... it remains effective to this day.

tdm-35-icon.png

Here's a tip. Peel the onion first, cut off the ends. From the top, cut it on the bias.Core the halves, set face-down and slice lengthwise or chop finely. And, never ever tear-up again. Been doing it for over 30 yrs.

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A small clip-on fan will mount on the underside of your cabinets. Pointed at the cutting board, it will blow the sulfur away from you. It doesn't have to be very powerful.

Kacy's picture

Breathe only through your mouth. It takes much longer for the irritation to start. Then rinse off the knife and cutting board immediately to remove the juice. If I am doing a mise en place, I cover the chopped onion with a wet paper towel.

tdm-35-icon.png

Cut the medium onion in quarters, put in blender with water to cover. Blend on high until the pieces are the size you want; drain. Voila!

tdm-35-icon.png

Cut the onion in quarters, put in your blender with water to cover, blend on high until the pieces are the desired size, drain. Voila!

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When I'm wearimg my contact lenses I never have a problem; with my eyeglasses, sunamis of onion tears!

Yasmin Fahr's picture

Great tips, thanks! The heart one sounds very interesting, I will definitely have to try it!

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Don't cut the heart. If you cut around it and use the rest of the onion you won't cry. It really works, I'll usuall throw the heart in whole to cook it anyway just because I love onion.

Valaer Murray's picture

what also works is sticking a couple of (un-lit) matches in your mouth, the phosphorus side sticking because it counteracts the gas from the onions.

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