How to Cut an Onion Without Crying
Ah the onion…it is a loyal (and rather clingy) vegetable – a vegetable that stays with you (through lunch and dinner). A vegetable that never leaves your mind (because its pungent odor never leaves your hands). A vegetable that will make you cry after revealing its true colors. A vegetable you hate to love and hate to slice. But, this love-hate relationship can be fixed. There is a solution to the fickle feelings you hold towards the onion. That solution is to learn how to keep your feelings in check and cry like a winner (on the inside).
15 Tips and Tricks to Cutting an Onion Without Crying
There’s no crying in cooking…unless you’re cutting an onion. Or you’ve just ruined an entire pot roast by forgetting to add water and that beautiful $10 piece of meat that you spent 8 hours cooking (in the crockpot) has turned into a shriveled up hunk of rubber…yeah, that didn’t happen to me, I swear. ANYWAY, there are several tips and tricks (that may or may not work) for keeping those tears at bay when cutting through an onion. But first…
Why do Onions Make You Cry?
Onions are bulb vegetables, which means they grow partly underground with a leafy shoot that grows above ground. We primarily eat the bulb (the part that grows underground), which is where the whole process of creating, or rather absorbing, its tear-inducing compounds begin. Onions, and other bulb vegetables, actually absorb sulfur from the ground which helps them form amino acid sulfoxides.
So, when you cut into an onion, it releases irritating compounds with tiny little sensors designed to find the closest set of human eyes. Okay, not really, but really: According to PBS, the compounds released from an onion actually do produce a volatile sulfur gas, and when this gas reacts with the natural water in your eyes, it then forms sulfuric acid. So, when you feel that infamous stinging pain while cutting an onion, you’re basically feeling the pain of battery acid in your eyes.
Say what? That’s science for you.
Which Onions Make You Cry the Most?
Before we get into the tips and tricks, let’s do a little roll call on these onions, starting with the ones that make you cry the least:
- Sweet onions: they might bring on some tears, but apparently they’re sweet enough to stop there.
- Red onions: while categorized as one of the three types of onions that contain the most tear-inducing compounds, they’re quite mild compared to the other two (some can even bite into a red onion without shedding a tear).
- White onions: they can definitely make you cry, but it could be worse…
- Shallots: some people (including me) say these can make you cry as much or even more than the next one on this list. Seriously, I wasn’t prepared for that sob-fest…
- Yellow onions: general consensus says that these are the bullies of the onion family (as in they’ll make you cry the most).
Now, this tear-factor scale might be different for everyone. Some people might be lucky enough to never shed a tear while cutting any type of onion, while others end up looking for an extra bowl to catch the tears. If you’re one of those who needs that extra bowl, then here are some onion-cutting tips and tricks that may (or may not) turn off the tears.
Make Sure Your Knife is Up to the Task at Hand
Before you go slicing through that onion, make sure your knife is sharp – and we’re not just saying that. Whether you prefer using Western-style chef's knife, a Japanese-style Santoku or even a utility knife or paring knife (depending on how big that onion is), not only will a sharp knife help you cut through that onion a bit faster, It will also help keep some of those powerful fumes in the onion and away from your eyes.
Just imagine cutting up a juicy piece of fruit with a dull knife: what happens? Most of your juice ends up on the cutting board. The same goes for the onion, except instead of delicious juice, it releases its tear-inducing compounds. In other words, the duller the knife, the more rigidly it cuts and the more fumes are released.
Try Cutting With the Grain
According to the professionals, how you cut an onion can affect its flavor. Cutting the onion with the grain (also referred to as “pole to pole”) actually releases less compounds and gives off a less pungent odor and flavor compared to cutting it through the middle. So, when you slice your onion in half, make sure you slice it from pole to pole (root to top). The onion even has nice little lines to follow while performing this little trick.
Another trick, according to Gordon Ramsay, is to leave the root of the onion intact – you can still slice it in half from root to tip, just don’t slice off the remaining root from the two halves. Not only does the root end contain most of those tear-inducing compounds, keeping it intact can help make the slicing and dicing (and cleanup) a bit easier.
F.N. Sharp Prep School: The Ultimate Guide to Cutting up Those Veggies
Try Putting Something in Your Mouth
Much like a tub of ice cream is used to drown your sorrows after a breakup or relieve the stress of a hard day’s work, putting something in your mouth apparently has healing powers for fighting tears while cutting an onion.
Here are two methods that involve sticking something in your mouth:
- Stick a piece of bread in your mouth. It doesn’t matter if this works or not, at least not to me. If someone told me to put a piece of bread in my mouth, there would be no argument, no matter the circumstances. I love bread. Anyway, when you stick the bread in your mouth, be sure to leave some of it hanging out. Apparently the bread can help absorb the fumes before they reach your eyes. I recommend a nice, long loaf of Italian bread (with marinara sauce on the side).
- If you don’t like bread, then we’ll never be friends. Just kidding, we’d never be friends anyway. But if you don’t like bread, then you can try holding an unlit match between your two front teeth. Apparently the red end of the match has magical powers that can absorb the onion’s fumes. Kinda makes you wonder what happens if you light the match afterwards, eh? If you try it, just be sure to take the match out of your mouth first.
- Try chewing some mint gum. Apparently, this method forces you to breathe through your mouth so the irritants don’t reach your nose, and the mint is believed to help counteract the burning sensation.
Try Giving it the Cold Shoulder (or just drowning it)
Apparently, the colder an onion is, the nicer it will be (to your nose). Simply place the onion in the refrigerator and let it chill out for about 30 minutes. If you don’t have 30 minutes, you can place it in the freezer for half the time, but keep in mind these methods will make the onion a little harder to cut – another reason why you need a sharp knife (like an F.N. Sharp Chef's Knife 😜).
You can also try peeling the onion then soaking it in a bowl of cold water for about 15 minutes. You don’t have to hold it down like you see in the movies. Just let the onion hang out and watch the water reflect the light while it reflects on all the things it has done wrong in life (like making people cry). Keep in mind, this method will leave you with a slippery, harder-to-cut and sad (very sad) onion, and it may lose some of its powerful flavor.
Another drowning method is to cut the onion under running water. But, we only recommend this if you’re not a fan of fingers and think they’re a useless part of life.
Random Onion-Cutting Methods (very random)
The Internet is full of tips for cutting an onion without crying, and these totally random methods are at least worth the experiment. First up is a breathing exercise: simply breathe through your mouth while sticking your tongue out (seriously, this is a tip from Google – go ahead and Google it).
Some say that microwaving an onion can draw out and weaken the tear-inducing compounds, so you can try heating it up for about 30 seconds before cutting. You can also try cutting the onion near an open flame (one of Martha Stewart’s go-to tricks, apparently). It is believed that the flame can draw in and burn off some of those irritating compounds before they reach your eyes.
Another random method that may actually work (if you have a flat stovetop) is to try cutting the onion under a vent. But if you’re still living in the 80s (like me) and have uneven rings for burners, then this may not be the best method. If you still want to go with the moving air method, though, you can always try placing a turbo fan next to you. Okay not a turbo fan – any small fan will do, but if you do decide to try a turbo fan, then be sure to record the experiment and send it to us. Everyone needs a good laugh.
And if all else fails, you can always buy some onion goggles. Yeah, you read that right – onion goggles.
So which of these tricks to cutting an onion without crying actually work? There seems to be a general consensus across the interwebs that both the frozen and chilled onion methods actually do work, while the microwave trick really is a trick (as in it doesn’t work). But, the trick to making the cold onion work is following the advice of Gordon Ramsay and leaving that root in tact (trust me, I tried the cold onion trick without keeping the root in tact and ended up reaching for that extra bowl for the tears 😅).
There are mixed feelings about the bread method (some say it works, others say it doesn’t). When it comes Martha Stewart’s little trick to cutting onions near an open flame, apparently it works…until it doesn’t. Cutting an onion under a vent apparently works quite well (as long as you have that flat stovetop). As for the goggles, apparently you really do need those onion goggles for this trick to actually work – snorkeling goggles got a big “no”.
As far as the overall best method for cutting an onion without crying – and without attempting some of the daredevil tricks on this list (or looking like an amateur superhero) – is to follow the advice of the professionals: use a sharp knife, cut with the grain, and keep that root intact. Pair those three tips with a chilled onion, and you can save those tears for something worth crying over.
Try Cutting Onions (Without Crying) With This Recipe: Caramelized Onion DIp