Fall recipes call for the seasonal ingredients we all know and love. Pumpkins, squash, zucchini and fresh broccoli are all displayed in full color at local farmers markets. Sitting next to them are delicious red onions. Sure, we know that onions are available year-round, but now is the time of year when they are at their peak. Those delicious round vegetables not only enhance our favorite recipes, but they also provide an entire list of awesome health benefits. For starters, onions are rich in sulfur, ultimately making them a food that improves both eyesight and blood pressure. They are also rich in chromium, which is known to improve gastrointestinal health. Better still, onions are known to offer anti-inflammatory agents that reduce symptoms of asthma, arthritis and respiratory issues. So, with all the benefits they offer, why do onions make you cry like a baby when you chop them?
You know what it’s like. You chop the onion and a few seconds later your eyes fill with tears. It’s downright uncontrollable. What is actually happening is a chemical reaction. Your first chop splits through the onion cells and releases amino acid sulfoxides. These enzymes, once released from the delicious onion, mix with air to create a sulfuric acid known as S-oxide. This compound is a gas that interacts with the human eye. The vapors drift upwards to the eye and create a chemical reaction when mixed with water from the eye. The result is a burning, stinging sensation caused by the newly formed chemical of sulfuric acid, which causes tear flow. Ouch.
What can you do? We have a few preventive suggestions for how to chop onions without crying.
- Before chopping your onion, refrigerate it for an average of 30 minutes. (Do not freeze the onion). The cold slows down the cells and the activation of sulfuric acid.
- Use a super sharp knife when you chop. Make sure to run the knife under cold water before you start. The wet blade will absorb sulfuric enzymes. Sharp knife blades cut through the onion’s cells most efficiently and avoid causing the onion to bruise. This also helps to reduce the amount of sulfuric vapors released.
- Set up a fan to help blow the onion vapors away from your face and eyes and stop tears.
- Do not trim the ends of the onion before beginning to chop it. Leaving the root end in tact helps to reduce the release of sulfuric vapors. This is because a majority of the onion’s sulfuric enzymes are more concentrated at the root.
- Create a spray made from a half vinegar, half water mix. The vinegar in this mixture will help to halt the sulfuric reaction from the onion. However, you might wonder what smells worse: the vinegar or the onion vapors?
Warning: Do Not Handle Your Contact Lenses After Chopping Onions
Many contact lens wearers swear that they can chop onions to their heart’s delight. The contact lens covers the most sensitive part of the eye and prevents the chemical reaction of sulfur with tears. However, when the same contact wearer reaches into their eyes later to remove their contacts before bedtime, they begin to experience a burning and excruciating pain. Even after washing their hands with soap, onion vapors or sulfuric acid can remain on the skin. It is actually quite difficult to remove onion from your hands. If you’re experiencing the burning sensation, don’t worry; it will pass within a matter of minutes as your eyes naturally flush the particles with natural tears.
One of the ways to remove the onion juice and smell from your hands is to create a chemical reaction of your own. Believe it or not, if you open up your silverware drawer and take out any piece of cutlery, like a stainless steel spoon or knife, and hold it so each of your fingers is touching the metal, and then turn on the faucet and place your hand and the utensil under the running water for about 15 seconds, the vapors and smell should be eliminated. Another alternative is to purchase a stainless steel bar of soap. They are available in most grocery or big box stores. Of course, many professional kitchen workers also recommend squeezing some lemon juice into your hands. Lemony fresh might be best, though make sure to wash your hands afterwards.