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Onions - Fact or Fiction?

I have two things about onions that I was hoping to get some feedback on.

1. I've heard that onions tend to slightly iritate your taste buds, but this is a good thing, as it will heighten your ability to taste the other ingredients in a dish. Is this true? If so, should I be adding onions to every dish I make?

2. I'd love to hear if anyone else agrees with this one. I tend to tear up quite a bit when I chop onions. I find that if I cut them over the stove top and turn on the fan, it helps. I've also seen these goofy tight fitting goggles you can buy to protect your eyes, but that seems silly. Today I read that if you chew gum while chopping onions, you won't tear up. Has anyone else heard that? Any other tips or myths related to chopping onions?

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  1. I think I heard Martha Stewart say once that if you cut onions near an open flame (like a candle), it will prevent you from tearing up.

    Personally, I find that nothing helps. I have an allergic sensitivity to onion, and even things like shallots and sweet onions have me crying like a baby.

    1 Reply
    1. re: QueenB

      Here's info about the onion goggles with lots of info on how to keep from tearing up

      Chow has an article on onions in general

      "The bite of raw onions is due to sulfur compounds. When an onion is cut, the crushing of the cells and contact with air releases allicin—which in turn causes one’s eyes to water."

      So maybe it is the sulfur that irritates the taste buds. Don't know that heightes taste. I wouldn't add onions to ice cream.

    2. Don't cut through the root end of the onion, that should make a big difference.

      I don't know about this option, but cutting them under water will stop the tears - like I say not one I would use but it does work.

      2 Replies
      1. re: rob133

        This does not work for me. I am so sensitive to onions that I have to stop half way through the chopping process and wash my hands, my face and leave the room for a minute or two to recover. Running them underwater just made the process more dangerous but did not help the tearing.

        1. re: rob133

          I heard that if you just turn on the tap and let the water run nearby, you won't tear. However, my kitchen is very small and this hasn't worked yet. Now I just don't eat onions.

        2. The best tip I know is to slice, (not chop), with a very, very, very, very sharp knife. The idea is that you want to limit the onion “spraying”......

          Uncle Ira

          1 Reply
          1. re: Uncle Ira

            I agree that a sharp knife does help because in addition to limiting the spraying or crushing of the onion it makes the job faster.

          2. The only thing that I know for sure works is the goggles. Some cheap swimming goggles work fine. I've heard that people who wear contacts are somewhat protected, but I don't know that first hand.

            12 Replies
            1. re: Pat Hammond

              i do it's true, i never tear up when i chop
              but when i remove my contacts, wow

              1. re: monkeyinthemiddle

                Same here. With contacts, no problem. If I'm wearing my glasses, I tear like crazy.

                1. re: Megiac

                  I never teared up much while chopping onions until I had laser eye surgery (PRK) about 8 years ago. Now I have tears gushing down my face any time I chop an onion. I use the same method desctibed by JMF below, use a super sharp knife, and sometimes run the water while cutting, but mainly I just chop as fast as I can and get the onion into a covered container ASAP.

              2. re: Pat Hammond

                I never thought that the reason I don't tear up is because of my contacts (duh!). I wear them 24/7, so never gave it a thought. Will have to take them out and see what happens>
                I will say, however, that I really have a hard time getting the smell of onions off of my hands. Not sure why, but is is an issue.

                1. re: macca

                  Martha Stewart shows a cool tip - rub your fingers with a metal spoon under water - there's some sort of chemical reaction, but it removes the smell of onions an garlic from your fingers

                    1. re: Biggie

                      I used to do this all the time while working in restaurant kitchens. it works best with stainless steel.

                      Uncle Ira

                      1. re: Uncle Ira

                        Yep. It's true. I don't even bother with the spoon. I just clean up my faucet with my soapy hands.

                        1. re: bryan

                          There is actually a product marketed as "Nonion", which is just a nicely molded block of stainless steel, they tell you to hold it under running water and Wow! magic! no more onion smell!!! I hope no one was stupid enough to buy it.


                          I guess they don't teach you this trick in chef school. I showed this to a friend who graduate from one and he was surprised.

                  1. re: Pat Hammond

                    contacts protect me, but for everyone else, you really should keep your knife sharp and up your knife skills. after some practice, one, even two onions can be quickly chopped in no time. i mean, in seconds. but for god's sake, never chop anything underwater. you'll be crying harder over lost fingers.

                    1. re: Pat Hammond

                      I too wear contacts and never tear up while chopping onions. and for that I am very happy.

                      1. re: frankiii

                        Yes, it really works. In a similar thread a while back someone posted that a snorkeling mask works too!

                    2. This has been discussed before here on CH, but after much experimentation I find that:

                      Large sweet onions make you tear less (and taste good too.) I rarely use the smaller onions any more.

                      Very sharp knife so you slice, not chop, tear, crush the onion.

                      The technique you use is very important. The more the cut onion is exposed to the air and thew longer you take to cut the onion, the more of the juices (and so fumes) get into the air. This isn't how I was taught in culinary school. I cut of both end and remove the outer layer. I cut the onion in half top to bottom. I then lay the onion cut face down and slice the onion to the proper thickness, again top to bottom, and make sure it all stays together. I then slice the onion perpendicular to the other slices. If this is done carefully the onion stays together until done and by regulating the thickness of the slices you get exactly the size pieces you want, all relatively uniform squares. Without having to chop like crazy and expose the onion to the air.

                      But the most important is to chill the onions well. I keep mine in the loosely sealed plastic produce bag and store in the veggie bin in my fridge. Slicing chilled sweet onions produces no tears. Since I started doing this I haven't had my eyes water once.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: JMF

                        Sweet onions are the best for me also but I do tear up and the chilled thing does not seem to help much for me anyway.

                        1. re: bonmann

                          Same here bonmann. I just think that we're more sensitive.

                        2. re: JMF

                          chlled onions? Like in the fridge? am I wrong in thinking that onions shouldn't be kept in the fridge?

                          I know I've always been told that it affects there flavour to keep them in the fridge. and just a point on you only using large sweet onions, I find the type of onion that I use depends very much on what I'm making, dishes calling for sweet yellow onions are not that prevalent on our table, but white onions, green onions, shallots and red onions play a much greater role in the cooking.

                          1. re: rob133

                            Well of course it depends upon the dish what onions you use. But in many it doesn't always matter.

                            I never found chilling changes the flavor in any way.

                          2. re: JMF

                            >>But the most important is to chill the onions well. I keep mine in the loosely sealed plastic produce bag and store in the veggie bin in my fridge. Slicing chilled sweet onions produces no tears. Since I started doing this I haven't had my eyes water once.<<

                            I concur 100%. Chilling the onions really does work.

                          3. Wear contacts! When I'm wearing my contacts, the onions have absolutely no effect on me and I can chop to my hearts content. When I'm wearing my glasses, I cry like a baby!

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: Katie Nell

                              I find that amazing as when I wore contacts the stinging was so bad I used to have to stop, go to the bathroom, throughly wash my hands, remove the contacts, clean them and reinsert them to complete the job.

                              1. re: bonmann

                                It probably depends on what type of contacts they are and how breathable they are, but I don't know! It works for me!

                                1. re: Katie Nell

                                  I used to wear soft, now Toric lenses and have had no problems with either..

                              2. re: Katie Nell

                                It may be just my imagination, but I’ve always felt that wearing glasses actually makes things worse then no glasses or contacts at all. I think they can trap the fumes or spray or whatever it is near your eyes, instead of allowing for circulation....

                                Then again, I often don’t know what I’m talking about.

                                Uncle Ir

                                1. re: Uncle Ira

                                  I think you may be right there. I almost always have contacts in during the day. Every so often just feel like giving my eyes a break. Forget and start to cut an onion and I too think the glasses have trapped in the "spray" or oder. Take them off and although the tears are still there, they seem to calm down a bit.

                              3. There are different levels of sensitivity. My sister and I are extremely sensitive while our mother is not at all sensitive.

                                That said my sister and I have tried every method short of goggles to stem the problem but nothing seems to work for us. The only thing that works is to chop them in the food processor or some other mechanize system so that we don't have to come in contact with the onion while it is being chopped and it is over very quickly.

                                1. Regarding the tears; evaluate your head position when chopping, many (most?) people chop with their heads over the cutting surface, try cutting at arms length.

                                  Heard/Saw that tip in a television cooking show, works for me.

                                  1. I"ve always been sensitive to tearing up while chopping onions, shallots, etc. I found it interesting that my gf's young sisters were hovering over me while I was chopping (and tearing up) one day, that they weren't having a problem. I brought this up on another forum, and they theorized that many young children are prone to breathing through their mouths rather than their noses.

                                    I gave it a shot - now whenever I'm chopping, I only breathe through my mouth, and I haven't had an issue chopping since.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Biggie

                                      This proves one method I often employ. Try whistling while you chop! In doing so, you're unable to breathe through your nose, this reducing the irritation.

                                    2. One tip for not tearing up that I don't see mentioned here or in the link, is to take a large piece of bread and hold it in your mouth while chopping...I have no idea where I first read that (I guess the bread is supposed to absorb the fumes?) but it seems to work for me.

                                      have to admit though, refridgeration sounds much easier and wouldn't look nearly as wierd!

                                      Hubby swears by his scuba mask when he has to chop onions, but mine is prescription and I don't like wearing my prescription in the kitchen (it tends to remind me that I need to mop the floor! :-))

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: susancinsf

                                        I have heard that taking a big sip of water and keeping it in your mouth while you chop helps....I've tried it and it did seem to help a bit. But I do seem to be one of those that isn't that bothered by onions...a tear, but not a lot (and no, I don't wear contact lenses....). The amount of tearing does seem to vary depending on the onion......

                                      2. Some onions are worse than others so if I am cutting a bad one I stand back a bit. There is no mythology, just simple physics to: Whistle while you work, work near candles or the flame on the stove, use a fan. All you are doing is moving the fumes away from your eyes and or dispersing them. Even a small flame creates a current that moves air rather quickly toward the ceiling.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: atheorist

                                          In addition, the candle may burn off some of the more volatile compounds.

                                          You're so right about some onions being worse than others (and I don't just mean different types of onions). Usually I don't have any problems, but occasionally I get one that really gets to me.

                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                            Me too. Strangely, since I moved to England, I cry like a baby cutting onions. Shallots too. Never happened back home in New York. I suppose it's because they're just different here.

                                            And the other day, I got a clove of garlic that did the same thing. I started sauteeing it, put my nose over the pan to smell, and the sharpest garlic odor I ever smelled stung my nose and eyes. Don't know what that was about!

                                            1. re: Kagey

                                              Maybe you just miss New York, and use the onions as an excuse to cry. :)

                                        2. The only thing that works for me in stopping the onion tears is to store the onions in the refrigerator. I actually got this tip from chowhound YEARS ago, and have not shed one onion tear since. It really works!

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: DanaB

                                            YES! If the onions are refrigerated, you won't tear up. (You can acctually peel then for storage, but it's not a big deal.) Or cop out entirely and buy the pack of frozen chopped onions (I used those when my arm was immobile, and they were absolutely satisfactory and waaay better than no onions at all!).

                                          2. Just breathe thru your mouth - I do a very exaggerated mouth-breathing thing and it works. If I stop or forget for even a minute I tear up instantly. Maybe that's the deal with the bread in the mouth.

                                            1. I'd imagine the gum chewing is related to the sip of water/bread in the mouth/mouth breathing idea; which, I've never tried, but seems like it ought to work since it keeps the fumes away from the whole connected nasal passage/tear duct area.

                                              I used to work in a campground kitchen making food for 400+ people, which involved A LOT of onion cutting, and I eventually settled on a technique similar to JMF's above. The longer I keep the cut face of the onion away from the air the better.

                                              One of my coworkers used a method that was hilarious, and effective, but mostly funny. He wrapped his head in plastic wrap. The first time he only wrapped from about the cheekbones up, but he found that the fumes would creep in past his nose and then he'd be wrapped in tear-filled plastic wrap. After that he wrapped his whole head and poked a whole for his mouth. Not the safest thing I've ever seen..and not really something I'd recommend...but it sure was funny to watch.

                                              But anyway, a combination of mouthbreathing and efficiant fast chopping seems to be the best bet.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: wawajb

                                                The plastic wrap thing is hysterical... I almost wish I was still working in kitchens just so I could do that and freak people out;-)

                                                Uncle Ira

                                              2. Learned this trick while working in a restaurant years ago. Soak your onions in a bowl of ice water for about 20 minutes prior to cutting. Dry off, then cut. This reduces or eliminates most of the tears.

                                                1. I just love to read these e-mails about different people having all different situations.
                                                  I don`t have this problem, I just over look it. I`m 6" 7 so the onion gas dosen`t reach
                                                  me. I know how it feels though and I teared up one time while I was bending over the
                                                  sink so bad that I had to get a dish towel to wipe my eyes. I have seen where the
                                                  gas stove burns the gas a way when you are near stove, but I think the best is when
                                                  you keep them cold.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: bigjimbray

                                                    Has anyone tried using those newish plastic onion dicer things that you put the onion in and close down the top of it and the onion comes out all chopped? Wms-Sonoma has it and I was thinking of buying it but don't really need more gadgets if not really useful.