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Can't remember the last time I cried chopping onion

rainey Oct 17, 2011 01:17 PM

Really. Maybe it's *years*.

Have they hybridized onions to cut back on the irritating gas? Is it because I tend to keep them in the fridge? Is it because I prefer the sweeter, fleshier varieties? Is it because I have better, sharper knives? Or can people develop an immunity?

Whatever it is I'm grateful.

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  1. coll RE: rainey Oct 17, 2011 01:28 PM

    Did you start wearing contact lenses by any chance? I always forget about the tears, then when I'm not wearing them on a weekend, whoa!

    5 Replies
    1. re: coll
      Chris VR RE: coll Oct 17, 2011 01:38 PM

      Heh same thing happens to me!

      1. re: coll
        rainey RE: coll Oct 17, 2011 02:02 PM

        Nope. No contacts. No gadgets. No special techniques. Just stopped tearing up.

        1. re: coll
          mattstolz RE: coll Oct 17, 2011 02:14 PM

          same here. contacts are definitely a savior for onion chopping! protect those corneal nerves, no tears!

          1. re: mattstolz
            LulusMom RE: mattstolz Oct 20, 2011 09:26 AM

            This is so absolutely true! I wear a contact in one eye and leave the other without (just easier for reading) and one eye tears up and the other doesn't.

          2. re: coll
            WILocavore RE: coll Oct 25, 2011 02:29 PM

            This was an "aha!" moment for me. I never had a problem chopping onions, and then about a year ago they really started bothering me. I thought I was getting weak in my old age ;) (Just turned 30). But it has to be that I stopped wearing contacts. Thanks!

          3. j
            jzerocsk RE: rainey Oct 17, 2011 01:31 PM

            Putting them in the fridge definitely keeps the tears down. You can also develop an immunity. Yellow onions don't get me anymore, but red onions? Fire up the waterworks!

            2 Replies
            1. re: jzerocsk
              HillJ RE: jzerocsk Oct 18, 2011 12:02 PM

              Putting whole onions, of any type of size, in the freezer for 5-10 mins will def. end the tear production. I don't wear glasses or contacts but always tear up...the freezer removes the irritation.

              1. re: HillJ
                kscooley RE: HillJ Oct 18, 2011 02:55 PM

                Awesome tip! I don't like to store them in the fridge, so the freezer idea is perfect.

            2. b
              Blush RE: rainey Oct 17, 2011 01:40 PM

              I'm also wondering about contacts. I thought I never cried while chopping onions and made fun of my husband for being a wimp (all in good fun). Then I had my glasses on one day, started chopping and finally realized the connection.

              1. w
                wyogal RE: rainey Oct 17, 2011 01:45 PM

                I second the fridge... also the sweeter variety.

                1. i
                  Isolda RE: rainey Oct 17, 2011 02:57 PM

                  I wear contacts and have done for 30 years, but I know I'm not immune to the power of the onion. I don't cry. I sneeze. Every time. It's really annoying. And grinding black pepper makes me cry. I must have crossed pipes or something.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Isolda
                    pdxgastro RE: Isolda Oct 17, 2011 04:09 PM

                    Yes I completely cover my eyes too, but the fumes go up my nose and affect me in much the same way.

                    1. re: Isolda
                      coll RE: Isolda Oct 18, 2011 04:00 AM

                      You're right, I notice I sometimes sneeze instead when I wear contacts. Guess the fumes go up your nose instead.

                    2. w
                      Wisco RE: rainey Oct 17, 2011 03:38 PM

                      I don't know, but I wish I knew you so that you could come over and deal with some super-sulfuric onions I have at the moment.

                      Seriously, though, I think your fridge is helping keep away the tears. In my experience onions seems to vary a lot, even those that are the same type.

                      1. c
                        calliope_nh RE: rainey Oct 17, 2011 04:31 PM

                        Interesting, because I hadn't really thought about it until the last bunch of plain yellow onions I bought. Every single one has brought me to tears. My daughter noticed the same on the night she cooked dinner. Neither one of us could remember the last time onions made us cry. I use red, yellow and sweet. This batch wasn't jus making me a little teary, it really burned. I wonders if it was a different variety if yellow onion than I usually get at the store (I am sure the ones at the farmer's market are different varieties, they look quiet different at each booth) or maybe growing conditions affect the burn.

                        1. PotatoHouse RE: rainey Oct 17, 2011 04:56 PM

                          For me, Yesterday.

                          I bought a bag of small yellow onions and man are they strong!

                          1. greygarious RE: rainey Oct 17, 2011 04:57 PM

                            It's the refrigerator. That's where I keep them too, but if I am chopping a lot of them, so that the chill is off the last few by the time I get to them, it's tear time.

                            1. kscooley RE: rainey Oct 17, 2011 05:14 PM

                              Frequently! My poor eyes just are sensitive, I suppose. I need to start doing the trick I learned while working in my dorm's caf way back when. When we were prepping onions, we'd peel them & then toss them in a sink of icy cold water. Always helped keep the tears at bay.

                              I don't store my onions in the fridge, but maybe I should... LOL

                              1. pinehurst RE: rainey Oct 17, 2011 05:18 PM

                                That's a great question...I'm experiencing the same. What ups the weird quotient is that to my taste buds, even "sweet" onions are have more bite than I recall in years past. Used to be Vidalias were quite mild...not so, at least, not where I shop in Mass. I won't stop using them or cooking with them (or yellow onions, or red onions), but it seems the piquancy of the onions has increased while my eyes' response has decreased. Weird.

                                1. m
                                  megjp RE: rainey Oct 17, 2011 05:26 PM

                                  Ha! I remember thinking that it was odd I was crying as I ploughed through a huge white onion the other day. I wear glasses which you'd think would help, but seem magically to trap fumes.

                                  1. cowboyardee RE: rainey Oct 17, 2011 05:30 PM

                                    Have they hybridized onions to cut back on the irritating gas?
                                    Not that I know of.

                                    Is it because I tend to keep them in the fridge?
                                    That's definitely part of it.

                                    Is it because I prefer the sweeter, fleshier varieties?
                                    This too.

                                    Is it because I have better, sharper knives?
                                    Most definitely. This, along with good cutting technique and getting the onion[s] cut quickly rather than standing over it for a long time, makes the biggest difference by far. Sharper knives = less cell damage = less sulfuric compounds in the air and your eyes. Also, sharper knives = quicker, more efficient cutting = less time spent hovering over cut onions.

                                    Or can people develop an immunity?
                                    No. Onion burns your eyes because its vapors react with your tears to form sulfuric acid. That's not the kind of thing you can really build an immunity to.

                                    6 Replies
                                    1. re: cowboyardee
                                      rainey RE: cowboyardee Oct 17, 2011 05:41 PM

                                      Ah! Over the years I've been able to get higher quality knives than I once had. Altho I cut too many years with *no* skills and developed bad habits I've never been able to break, I still didn't factor the time differential in. But it makes perfect sense! ...even for an awkward amateur like me. ;>

                                      I watch that classic scene in Julia & Julie where Julia is chopping a mound of onion and Paul walks in and out as tho he'd encountered mustard gas and just LOVE it every time I see it. It made me wonder why I just don't have that reaction any more. I certainly remember what it used to be like!

                                      1. re: cowboyardee
                                        RGC1982 RE: cowboyardee Oct 17, 2011 05:47 PM

                                        I think you are on to something about sharp knives. I think my eyes have only teared up once in about ten years. Now, I do like sweet varieties, but I also buy reds. I think I have just learned to cut them quickly with a sharp knife, and that seems to release fewer fumes. I don't store my onions in the refrigerator unless the are partially cut (some onions are very large and I only use half at a time),

                                        1. re: cowboyardee
                                          kscooley RE: cowboyardee Oct 17, 2011 05:58 PM

                                          Hmm... Now I need to chop an onion. I recently got a knife sharpener and hone the blade with the steel from my set every time I use it. Come to think of it, I don't think I even shed one tear the other day when I chopped one at room temp. Need an onion, stat!

                                          1. re: cowboyardee
                                            mateo21 RE: cowboyardee Oct 17, 2011 10:32 PM

                                            Yeah... I wish my knives helped my sensitivity, I have some rather sharp knives, and, well as I've upgraded my knives my onion situation seems to be getting worse and worse. I can't chop a large onion without tearing up to the point where I'm relying completely on feel and muscle memory to cut for the last few chops.

                                            1. re: mateo21
                                              cowboyardee RE: mateo21 Oct 18, 2011 07:56 AM

                                              "Yeah... I wish my knives helped my sensitivity"
                                              They are helping - if you think otherwise, next time you've got to cut one of those big, eye-burning onions, cut the first half with one of your nice, thin, sharp knives, and then cut the other half with a dull serrated piece of junk (readily and cheaply available at Goodwill, garage sales, supermarket kitchenware sections, etc). It would be hellish.

                                              Sharp knives aren't a cure-all. Some onions just release more sulfuric vapor than others - a lot more. You can try refrigerating like the OP - it helps. A little fan on the counter blowing across your cutting board is said to work really well. And of course you could always pull out the big guns and just wear goggles.

                                              1. re: cowboyardee
                                                mmmmmmmmmgood RE: cowboyardee Oct 30, 2011 04:27 PM

                                                I can't believe the difference my new Japanese knife made in chopping onion. Not only did it take a fraction of the time to cut, but it's the first time I haven't teared up cutting onions in years. I was honestly considering those ridiculous goggle thingys - glad I went with the gyuto instead!

                                          2. g
                                            guilty RE: rainey Oct 17, 2011 05:37 PM

                                            I think it's the fridge + sweeter onions are more popular and thus more prevalent now. I cried chopping onions the other day. It's actually sulfuric acid that makes you tear; not sure that building up an immunity is that easy.

                                            1. s
                                              sueatmo RE: rainey Oct 17, 2011 05:49 PM

                                              The big sweet onions don't seem to cause me to cry as much as regular onions. I cut up a red onion last week, and definitely shed tears.

                                              1. Chemicalkinetics RE: rainey Oct 17, 2011 08:34 PM


                                                Keeping onion in the fridge makes a big difference. I suggest next time you should take your onion out and microwave it on the low setting to warm it up just to bring back the nostalgic good old time. Repeat after me:

                                                1) Take onion out

                                                2) Put it in microwave

                                                3) Set on a low setting for a minute

                                                4) Take out and cut the onion.

                                                Good old time await you


                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                                  kscooley RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 18, 2011 05:01 AM

                                                  LOL Good times indeed!

                                                2. a
                                                  Allice98 RE: rainey Oct 18, 2011 05:20 AM

                                                  I thought it had to do with the onions age? The older the onion the more tears. They can be stored for so long before they are sold and I find that as we get closer to spring that i cry even more than usual because they are getting towards the end of the stored batch.

                                                  1. Jay F RE: rainey Oct 18, 2011 05:45 AM

                                                    It's the sweet onions (could be the refrigerator, too; I've never done that). Try cutting into a red onion, though. They're as teary as ever.

                                                    1. 3catsnh RE: rainey Oct 18, 2011 06:02 AM

                                                      That is so funny you mentioned this! The same thing has been happening to me, and I have been getting fresh onions from my local farm. The leeks also made me tear up. I remember years ago seeing a neighbor wearing goggles while she chopped and I am thinking of doing the same thing!

                                                      1. ChristinaMason RE: rainey Oct 18, 2011 10:28 AM

                                                        Onions no longer make me cry, but for some reason, shallots tend to!

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: ChristinaMason
                                                          Caitlin McGrath RE: ChristinaMason Oct 18, 2011 08:53 PM

                                                          I was just thinking about that yesterday, eyes smarting like crazy as I peeled and chopped a shallot. Of course, it hadn't been in the fridge, and the onions usually are...

                                                        2. m
                                                          Matahari22 RE: rainey Oct 18, 2011 04:07 PM

                                                          I was actually mulling this over the other day. I couldn't figure out why, when I cut up onions at home, I didn't ever cry. When I cut up onions at my BFF's or my dad's house, I cry like crazy. So the other day, I was went to the store, and came home to cook. One if the things I came home with, was onions, because I had run out. I took one out of the bag right away and chopped it up, and teared up and cried like crazy. Then it hit me. I keep my onions in the fridge. Dad and my best friends do not.

                                                          4 Replies
                                                          1. re: Matahari22
                                                            Jay F RE: Matahari22 Oct 18, 2011 04:49 PM

                                                            Is there any incidence of other food absorbing onion flavor in the fridge (assuming whole onions only)?

                                                            1. re: Jay F
                                                              Matahari22 RE: Jay F Oct 18, 2011 05:29 PM

                                                              Not that I can tell, but I have them in the bottom veg bin by themselves, and only whole ones. If I have a cut one, it goes in air tight Tupperware.

                                                              I also run through onions pretty quickly, even though it's just me, so they are always pretty fresh. I use an onion a day.

                                                            2. re: Matahari22
                                                              mattstolz RE: Matahari22 Oct 18, 2011 07:51 PM

                                                              time to find a new BFF if ya cant cook there without crying.

                                                              the dad i think you're kinda stuck with though

                                                              1. re: mattstolz
                                                                Matahari22 RE: mattstolz Oct 18, 2011 10:08 PM

                                                                Lol. I'm stuck with the 3 of them I think.

                                                            3. l
                                                              luciaannek RE: rainey Oct 18, 2011 07:14 PM

                                                              I find that the easiest way to not cry is to just chop them faster. I got a job cooking and can now chop an onion in under a minute. I only start crying if I'm doing more than 3 or 4 at once. Maybe you just got faster?

                                                              1. raygunclan RE: rainey Oct 19, 2011 07:36 AM

                                                                i just wear swim goggles. 8) my kids think it is hilarious (except when they have friends over) and it keeps my peepers tear free! i even bought some (a couple of years ago) for the ladies who worked in my kitchen and had to cut ALOT of onions. they (also) thought i was nuts until they tried it! ;)

                                                                1. g
                                                                  GutGrease RE: rainey Oct 19, 2011 09:50 AM

                                                                  I never cry anymore since I started cutting my onions at arm's length. I don't have to wear goggles, or contacts, or stick them in the fridge/freezer. I just don't put my eyes over the onion. It's quite a simple concept. Cut onions - vapor rises - eyes tear. Cut further away from eyes - vapor rises - vapor does not have ability to seek out your eyes!

                                                                  One other helper is to turn on an overhead fan (or desk fan) to blow the vapors away before they reach your eyes...but the obvious one about putting your eyes over the onion is the real winning solution.

                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                  1. re: GutGrease
                                                                    HillJ RE: GutGrease Oct 19, 2011 10:44 AM

                                                                    Hilarious. I'm neither tall or long armed, GG. The freezer method works quite well handling the vapors since my height and arm length aren't changing any time soon.

                                                                    1. re: HillJ
                                                                      GutGrease RE: HillJ Oct 20, 2011 09:22 AM

                                                                      I'm only 5'8 so not tall or long-armed by any means. I'm just talking about chopping at arms-length and not like most people do it, standing directly over the cutting board. It's not hard unless you have little T-Rex stubs for arms!

                                                                      1. re: GutGrease
                                                                        HillJ RE: GutGrease Oct 20, 2011 09:57 AM

                                                                        I'm not near 5'8", lol...

                                                                  2. s
                                                                    Solstice444 RE: rainey Oct 25, 2011 09:58 AM

                                                                    I've tried all the tricks that I've heard about - putting the onion in the freezer before cutting, lighting a candle nearby, chewing gum while cutting, and nothing seems to help. I always store them in the fridge. Shallots make me tear up too but not as badly. I probably just need to get faster with my cutting. I'll try the arms length away trick if I can next time.

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