We Tried All The Tricks To Prevent Onion Tears And Here's What Actually Works

No need to pass the tissues.

chopping onions
Photo: Getty Images

It’s almost impossible to avoid cutting onions as a home cook. Whether yellow, red, white, or Vidalia, they make their way into so many of our favorite recipes, from dishes where they're the star (like Tennessee Onions and homemade pickled red onions) to those where they're combined in the traditional mirepoix mixture that serves as the base of countless Southern dishes. from chicken noodle soup and pot pie to pot roast. Not only do onions enhance the flavor of our food, they're nutrient dense and full of antioxidants, as well. But no matter how often we use this much-loved veggie, one thing holds true: cutting onions will make you cry.

We’ve heard countless wives tales to ward off the tears—biting a spoon while cutting, holding a wet paper towel in your mouth, lighting a candle, chewing gum, and even holding a match between your teeth—ouch! Some people say the fresher the onion, the less likely you are to cry. So while we’ve yet to find the end-all-be-all answer to the problem, we have a few tricks worth trying to help minimize eye irritation.

Why Onions Make You Cry

All onions contain sulfur and an enzyme called synthase, which react with each other when you cut into the vegetable. They release a chemical irritant called sulfoxides, which is what triggers the stinging feeling and stimulates our tear ducts.

How To Prevent Onion Tears

Use A Sharp Knife

A sharp knife is key. The sharper the knife, the cleaner it cuts, which means that a smaller amount of the enzyme that makes you cry is released. You might still be fighting back tears, but the sharpness of your blade should keep some waterworks at bay.

RELATED: How Often Should You Sharpen Your Knife? And Other Essential Knife Tips to Know

Create Ventilation

According to Alton Brown, the best tear-free way to cut an onion is with a fan. While most professional kitchens have powerful industrial vent hoods, home kitchens typically do not. He suggests having a table fan ready to blow away the chemicals that lead to crying while chopping. If a table fan isn’t an option, open a window.

Refrigerate Your Onion

According to the National Onion Association, chilling your onion for about 30 minutes in the fridge (or 10 to 15 minutes in the freezer) helps hold back the tear-inducing chemical from affecting your eyes as quickly. This simple trick means no dilly-dallying when it comes to cutting: As the onion warms up, the enzyme activates.

Don’t Cut The Root End

The National Onion Association states that “the root end that has the highest concentration of the sulphuric compounds that cause your eyes to tear,” so by keeping the root end intact, you’re able to minimize the effect. To do so, cut off the top of the onion and then peel back the outer layers. You can hold this section while chopping, then discard or reserve for homemade stock.

Protect Your Eyes

It might not be your first choice, but the most effective method to keep the flood gates at bay when cutting an onion is a barrier between the bulb vegetable and your eyes. This is why those who wear contact lenses or glasses are typically less affected by the task. “I wear glasses every day and I know it affects me less,” says Assistant Food Editor Alana Al-Hatlani. 

The best answer we’ve found to avoiding teary-eyed cooking? Onion goggles. While they might not be winning you any points in the fashion department, they’ll at least keep your mascara from running! Not all heroes wear capes, but some wear glasses.

I grew up in a family that loves to cook, which meant someone was always cutting onions, so naturally as a ten-year-old, I gifted my mom a pair of onion goggles for Christmas. I was so proud of my gift then, and fifteen years later, they're still in our kitchen drawer. It's safe to say they're worth the $19 investment.

BUY IT: $18.95 (orig. $27.95), amazon.com

onion goggles


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