January 6, 2011

Tips for Cutting Onions Without Tears

We all know that you cry when you cut onions, it's just one of the facts of life. While it can often be amusing though, where it's very severe it can be quite unpleasant, and in some cases it can even be enough to risk making you make a mistake and cutting your hand.

Nobody gets that upset when they're chopping vegetables, so why do you cry when you're cutting onions in the first place? Well this is because cutting the onions actually creates a chemical reaction – this is when you cut the cells and release sulfur and a particular enzyme which react together in order to release molecules such as ethylsufine which are irritants and cause the eyes to run. Interestingly it is often the smaller onions that make your eyes water more, though they are variable and you can never be sure when one is going to have a strong reaction on you.

Luckily there are some steps you can take in order to reduce the problem and prevent yourself from blubbering like a baby.

Run the Onion Under Some Water

This can be effective because it helps to dissolve some of the sulfur compounds. Better yet, you should put the onion in the sink on your chopping board, and then run the tap at the same time as this will prevent a lot of the sulfur from making it to your eyes. Make sure you do use a chopping board though or hold the onion in your hand – as you don't want to risk cutting the bottom of the sink.

Freeze It

Another option is to put the onion in the freezer for a few minutes. This works because the cold temperature slows down the reaction between the enzyme and the sulfur and this means that fewer molecules are released. Heat speeds up any reaction conversely because it provides energy – so at the very least keep them somewhere cool (not over the oven). Don't leave the onions in there too long though or they will become frozen and impossible to cut.

Protect Your Eyes

Of course actually protecting your eyes is a good way to keep out the particles that are causing the problems. You can do this with glasses simply and that will get the job done, but actually if you own contact lenses then they will be even more effective. Alternatively you can go the full hog and just wear goggles, though it might look a little extreme.

Chew Gum

It's an old wives' tale with no real science or explanation behind it and yet many people claim it helps them. It doesn't hurt to try – often these old wives' tales started somewhere.

Light a Candle

This is another one that might not be as effective as rumor would have you believe. Yet it does have some theory – that the heat from the flame will draw in some of the gas.

Use a Fan

More effective yet is to use a fan such as an extractor fan. Most people have these over their cookers to remove smoke, so just try cutting the onions on the oven while it's switched off (on a chopping board of course) and turn on the extractor fan.

Cut Correctly

Cutting with the correct pattern can help. Cutting out the core first for instance can help in many cases as this is where the majority of the cells are kept that do the damage. Likewise you should leave the skin on until the last minute cut the onion first and then remove the skin. This will shield you from the particles by encasing them in the onion.

Use a Food Processor

Of course this will mean you don't need to be anywhere near the onions while you cut them, and in turn that will mean there's no reason for your eyes to start tearing up. Just drop the onions in the processor and press 'on'.

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