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No-cry onion methods

I'll be making a big ol' batch of latkes tomorrow, and that means that I'll be chopping up onions. What tricks have worked for you to keep you from crying -- and what the heck do all those TV chefs do? They never cry! Thanks, all!

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  1. For me, I'll happily cut onions if I have my contacts on. Doesn't affect me at all. But if you don't wear contacts, that's not helpful, is it?

    Other people say that cutting the ends off helps...

    1 Reply
    1. re: silleehillee

      Me too. I chopped about 7 lbs. of onions this AM and my eyes were not irritated at all. Food processor is another good option but wait a few minutes before taking the top off. I've also heard that if they are well chilled it will help.

    2. I saw Alton Brown give a tip about this. He cuts the onions next to an open flame (gas cooking top...maybe candles could work?) something about it vaporizing the odors. I honestly don't remember why he said it works, I just remember the tip.

      6 Replies
      1. re: Azizeh Barjesteh

        I second this suggestion. Put your cutting board on the front burner of the stove and light the rear burner. Doesn't have to be gas flame, either. Electric works also. It works like a charm every time.

        1. re: Azizeh Barjesteh

          I use a small votive candle next to the cutting board and it works like a charm

          1. re: suzannajoy

            I third (fourth?) this suggestion-- I have extremely sensitive eyes and was so relieved to discover the candle trick WORKS!!! It _is_ because the flame burns away the vapors rising from the onion that cause the ocular irritation.

            1. re: sloepoke

              Fascinating. Anyone know the chemistry of this?

              1. re: maria lorraine

                I'm pretty sure that it's not chemistry. The convection from the source of heat moves the air containing the sulfur compounds away from the user. A small fan blowing away from the user will do the same thing. Use a very sharp knife to minmize damage to the onion.
                Bob

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  I just saw Alton's bit about this last night. Something like this...

                  Cutting action mixes two chemicals from the onion which makes a gas that rises and then another chemical reaction in the eye makes...I think he said "sulphuric acid"...in your eye, which hurts.

                  I saw him turn on a gas burner, but wondered it a candle worked as well. I guess it does! I'll be trying that.

          2. My husband passed along a tip that was rather odd and that works. Put a piece of bread in your mouth as you cut the onions. Just let it sit in there, don't chew it or anything. This works most of the time if you don't chop too many onions. Replace the bread if it gets all slimy.

            7 Replies
            1. re: Fuser

              I've also heard this before - it's also in my Little House on the Prairie cookbook :)

              1. re: SashaBee

                I just bought this book last summer at a book sale out of nostalgia but haven't looked at it much yet...

              2. re: Fuser

                the bread trick works for me too. Am going to try the stove burner thing though, just cause I don't really enjoy holding bread in my mouth...either it isn't good bread, in which case no fun to keep in mouth, or it is good bread and I want to eat it! :-)

                1. re: Fuser

                  I've heard about--and used--this tip as well. I'm not a scientist so I can't remember the exact details, but what I do remember is that most (if not all) of these tips have to do with preventing the sulphur component (which dissolves very quickly in water) of the onion vapour from combining with the tears in your eyes to produce sulphuric acid (the burn!). So with the "bread in the mouth" trick, what it does is make you breathe through your mouth (because you're trying to keep all of your saliva in) and the vapour gets dissolved into your saliva (notice it gets more pungent when you swallow the longer you're cutting), and thus preventing your eyes from tearing. In fact, now I just breathe with my mouth open (without bread) and it works the same. (Then you also don't have to worry about slimy bread!) ...But yes, it sounds funny to listen to me when I'm cutting onions.

                  I guess you just do what's most comfortable for you, whether it's burning the vapour off with a flame, blowing it away with a fan, blocking it with goggles, or breathing it in your mouth; as long as that dastardly vapour is kept from dissolving into your "eye water", you're fine. The kitchen is my "domain" in our home so this is practical information for me, not just party trivia!

                  P.S. Like I said, I'm no expert, so the "contact lens" tip baffles me. Maybe because it's a physical barrier too, and even the slightest squint is enough to cover up the rest of the exposed eyes? (lol... somebody else take over! please!)

                  1. re: homebaker

                    By far the greatest number of nerve ends in the eye (or in anyplace on the body, actually!!) are in the cornea (the clear part of the eye that you see through, and also the part of the eye upon which the contact lens rests). This is the body's protective response so that you are sure to feel something that gets on or embedded into your cornea....since scarring there from a foreign body can permanently affect sight. (A foreign body on the white of the eye is irritating, but unless it penetrates the eye totally - not easy to do - it is not usually sight-threatening. Therefore, less nerves are needed there....). So this is all a long way of explaining why the contact lens works: it is indeed a barrier to the fumes that irritate all those nerve ends on the cornea, which then cause the eye to water in an attempt to flush out the source of irritation. Of course, if you use the contact lens as a barrier in this way, you must take extra care to wash your hands thoroughly before removing the contact, or your efforts to keep your eye free of irritation will be moot. This caution is especially important if you have also been handling anything in the capsicum family.....

                    (I do this for a living. The eye thing; not the food thing. And yes, I have seen patients who have caused corneal burns from removing contact lenses after handling peppers and not properly washing.....)

                    1. re: janetofreno

                      Fascinating. That's why glasses didn't work for me.

                      I'm grateful to the person who shared the 'gas on/fan on' trick!

                      1. re: janetofreno

                        Your expertise is much appreciated! So good to learn something new...

                  2. wear goggles! the people at work who cut large batches of onions wear ski goggles.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: paloucsd

                      hubby swears by his scuba mask....

                      1. re: susancinsf

                        I've done that when grinding 5lbs of horseradish.

                      2. re: paloucsd

                        i wear a pair of aviator goggles from an old costume. they are perfect! plus, i get to use them again and again.

                      3. jfood also cuts them in from of his downdraft on high.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: jfood

                          this was going to be my suggestion as well.

                        2. Of course, the best solution is to get your partner to cut them for you! Works for me everytime....

                          But when I have to do it myself, I'll cut of the ends first and peel them, slice it in halves, then rinse the halves in water, it does reduce the fumes a bit and helps overall.

                          If you need chopped onions, there is a gadget called an alligator onion chopper which chops onions with one fell swoop, because it is quick, it gives less time for the fumes to hang around. You put the half onion onto the bottom part of the chopper, then drop the top part onto the onion like a paper cutter, and you have chopped onions. Speed is of the essence when chopping large quantities of onions. The onion fumes will still hit you, but it is over much faster, and as my partner points out, "at least you're not wielding a sharp object that can cut your fingers off while you're crying".

                          1. I've heard refridgerating the onions for 30 minutes or so before cutting helps, but I keep forgetting to do it, so I can't vouch for it.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: violette o

                              I keep at least 1 large onion in a zip-bag in the refrigerator at all times. They last for weeks and I never cry.

                              Do not cut the root end if necessary.

                              1. re: Kelli2006

                                Agreed. I stopped keeping onions in the drawer after they started sprouting too often. And yes a happy side effect of refrigerated onions is that they are less tear-inducing to chop up.

                            2. Julia Child and Mark Bittman say it's all about a sharp knife, which cuts cleaner.

                              Cut off ends, cut in half and peel, slice horizontally, then make vertical cuts, cut vertically at 90 degrees, and it should be almost diced. It's the release of those juices when you chop, chop, chop that burns the eyes.

                              (I've been watching old shows of The French Chef on DVD, what a pleasure young Julia was -- no glamour, no tight shirts or ear to ear smiles. Just straightforward cooking!)

                              1. For the first time ever, I was able to chop onions this year for my onion Thanksgiving stuffing without crying. This does work!

                                I just set a small fan (very small personal-type fan I got over the summer at Bed Bath and Beyond) to the right of the cutting board and chopped away. Absolutely no tears. The fan blow the fumes across the cutting board to the left and away from my face.

                                1. Try breathing through your mouth, or cut them right next to the kitchen sink with the water running. Or both! Works for me . . .

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: LordOfTheGrill

                                    I second the breathing through the mouth tip. I'm not sure why it works. Perhaps you're sucking in the gases before they can get to your eyes. I don't know except that if I stop breathing through my mouth, my eyes start to water immediately.

                                  2. I can't speak for the TV chefs, but last time I chopped a big batch of onions, I used swimming goggles and a fan. Worked beautifully. Here's a recent thread you might find helpful. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/435103

                                    Good luck!

                                    ~TDQ

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                      As an Asian food fan and frequent cook, I hear ya. The flame thing works also, sweet onions don't tend to be as tear inducing, Mayan sweets or Hawaiian sweet onions. Besides being easier on the breath, for whatever reason they're easier on the eyes. Oh, and I'll be by for the latkes at 7 ;-)

                                    2. A very sharp knife helps a lot!

                                      1. cut them right next to the sink with cold water running works!

                                        1. If you have one, set up a little fan blowing across the onions and away from you. It's true that chilling them and using a sharp knife helps. JFood's suggestion of chopping next to a downdraft or under a good hood makes sense, too.
                                          Bob

                                          1. Wow, great ideas! Here's what I've tried:
                                            -- chopping next to the open flame of the gas burner. Worked great. Scared the bejeezus out of me. I kept thinking I would set my arm on fire.
                                            -- chopping with the downdraft on. Works great, but I needed a steady cutting board as I needed to place it directly on the cooktop. (Yes, I did turn off the burner this time.)
                                            -- chilling the onion. Didn't work as well. Don't know why. Don't care, because the downdraft thing worked so well.
                                            Maybe I'll get a nice little votive which is not only not scary, but quite cute.
                                            Thank you, everyone, for your suggestions.
                                            The latkes, by the way, were delicious.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: bards4

                                              >>chopping next to the open flame of the gas burner.

                                              I tried it and it worked. I also put on the microwave fan.

                                              It probably looked silly if anyone walked in, but hey, it worked!

                                            2. i've also found that wearing contact lenses completely eliminates this problem, which is no help to those of you with perfectly fine vision. but i've never understood why. when you wear contacts, only a portion of your eyes is protected by the lens. the area around your iris is still exposed. anyone have any insider knowledge to shed on this?

                                              i also wonder about building up a tolerance. for example, i've walked into many a taqueria and seen people assigned to the onion station, chopping away at a mountain of onions with no sign of weepy eyes. no goggles, lit candles, open flames, matches in teeth, or any other such remedy. maybe it's about toughing it out? or maybe i'm just bitter about having weak vision. but hey, IF you test out for bad vision, try contacts. you can chop onions with impunity. and eat hot foods, especially soups, without steaming up your glasses.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: augustiner

                                                I was all ready to call everyone a bunch of sissys until I read your post. I have worn contacts since I was 16. I can remember onions making me tear up as a youngster, but I got to thinking that I haven't had that probelem in forever. How very interesting!

                                                1. re: augustiner

                                                  See my attempt above at an explanation as to why the contact lens is effective when it only covers a portion of the eye. The key is that it happens to cover the most sensitive portion of the eye.

                                                2. Nychowcook referred to this method in an earlier post.

                                                  I just tried it and found that it worked very well.

                                                  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyItxA...

                                                  1. Most people (and I did too) cut the top and bottom of the onion off and then start to chop them. Well my pampered chef lady went to a class with top chefs and found out how to cut them without crying. The heart of the onion is the end with the hairs, so cut past that and as long as you leave that as one piece you can chop up the rest with out any crying, try it, it works every time.

                                                    Just set that part aside and then you can peel and start slicing/chopping tear free! I was amazed, I never put onions in my food b/c I never wanted to deal with them and I even used slicing and dicing things, but it never helped, as soon as I cut the top and bottom off it was all over! Good Luck!

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: todayhooks

                                                      That is the root end you're talking about; it's always left out of a dish as it has a higher concentration of oniony bitterness that may affect the flavor of your dish. I've never noticed that removing it early in chopping lowered the incident of a gas attack. I initially cut off both the root and stem end and peel, to get started.

                                                      I keep my onions in the frig, use a very sharp knife to lessen the cut onion cell damage, and if they are a bit strong, they can be at certain times of the year, I run a trickle of cold water in the sink to attract the sufuric gas molecules, or so someone told me that's what happens, and get those onions chopped as fast as possible. The fan thing works as well.

                                                      I had a friend who used to put a clothespin on his nose until I explained to him that the sulfuric acid from the chopped onion affects the eyes.

                                                    2. The only thing that works at all for me (with the exception of having the DH chop the onions!) is to peel the onion, cut it in half, and put it in a bowl of cold water for about 15 minutes. I also bought one of those onion dicing gizmos at TJ Maxx, and I find that works very well as long as I move the chopped onions away from where I'm working as soon as they are chopped. I am highly sensitive to chopped onions, and will even cry when someone else is doing the chopping!

                                                      1. Someone gave me a set of Onion Goggles and they have completely solved this problem for me. http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_nos...