HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
Nov 30, 2007 09:09 PM

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!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  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.

                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.