chef holding onions

How to cut onions without crying

If you've ever cut the onions out of recipes because you dread the crying associated with chopping them, here are three reasons we'd like for you to reconsider.

1) Onions are an extremely nutritious food: Rich in vitamins B6 and C, minerals and fiber, some studies show that the nutrients in onions may help lower blood cholesterol, slow the growth of cancers and prevent strokes and heart attacks.

2) The taste and appearance of onions adds just the right touch to so many dishes: Lasagna, pizza, tacos, kabobs, omelets, salsa, soups, salads... they all benefit from the addition of fresh, fried, sauteed, roasted or grilled onions.

3) It IS possible to cut onions without crying! (When you're eyes water cutting onions, you're not really "crying."Chemically, tears produced while cutting onions or flushing dust or debris from your eyes are different than emotional, "crying" tears.)

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Do a quick online search and you'll find all sorts of ways to cut onions without crying:

  • cut them with your mouth open (so you don't breathe through your nose)
  • cut them with your mouth closed (so you do breathe through your nose)
  • cut them while holding your breath
  • cut them while holding a chunk of bread in your lips
  • cut them while holding a lit and snuffed-out match in your teeth
  • cut them with lit candles next to your cutting board
  • cut them near a gas stove with all the burners lit

... except for tips on "how to get rid of hiccups", it seems that few topics have more folklore (and creativity) associated with them than "how to cut onions without crying."

To quickly slice through the many options, we turned to several respected cooking authorities. Surely they should know the answer:

  1. The National Onion Association (NOA): refrigerate onions before chopping. Cut the root last because it has the highest concentration of eye-irritating compounds.
  2. Women's Day magazine: avoid cutting the root section entirely. Just slice it out and discard it.
  3. Scientific American: heat the onions beforehand. Cut them on a breezy porch, under a stream of water or in a closed container.
  4. Cooks Magazine (who, by the way, tested almost all of the tips listed above): wear contact lenses or ski, swimming or special onion cutting goggles. Also effective is burning candles or gas burners next to your cutting board. (In the opinion of Cooks Magazine, the tip of refrigerating onions before chopping, provided by the National Onion Associate, made a slight difference. The suggestion of leaving the root intact and cutting under a stream of water, offered by the NOA, Women's Day and Scientific American magazines, made absolutely no difference.)

One universally accepted tip that's mentioned with surprising frequency: after cutting onions, wash your hands before putting-in or removing your contact lenses.

What is it in onions that makes us cry?!

That's hard to summarize in just a word or two -- so we will defer to the folks at the Library of Congress. For a scientific explanation of the chemical reaction that occurs between the onion and our eyes, visit http://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/onion.html.

Now that we know how to cut onions without crying (?), one lingering onion issue remains: how to get rid of onion breath.This one is simple: chew a few sprigs of parsley! A Nigerian-based blog sums up the power of parsley in this way, "parsley will even sweeten a camel's breath." That's so sweet, I think I'm going to cry.

For more information about cutting onions without crying, visit:
womansday.com: Everything You Need to Know About Onions
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=what-is-the-chemical-proc
http://www.onions-usa.org/faqs/why-do-your-eyes-water-when-you-cut-onions
http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/archive/index.php/t-9942.html
http://www.nairaland.com/nigeria/topic-100942.0.html

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