Wednesday, April 25, 2007

WFMW: Why onions make you cry!

As anyone that cooks with onions knows, cutting up an onion can bring on a stream of tears, make your eyes sting, and really messes with the sinuses. But alot of cooks don't necessarily understand why an onion causes us to have that reaction.

Well, to make a very long story short, when you slice through an onion, you are breaking a lot of onion cells, which in turn, causes the enzymes that are inside of the cells to escape. The enzymes cause some of the other substances that have escaped from sliced cells to rearrange themselves into an acid which turns into a gas . The gas is what irritates the eyes, and the brain reacts by telling your tear ducts to produce more water to dilute the irritating acid so the eyes are protected.

You'll get the same types of acids by cutting up garlic, chives and leeks, among other vegetables, but they don't always form the same irritating gas, just a strong smell.

There are all kinds of remedies and wives tales for dealing with this problem, and some are more effective than others, but the one I find works the best, and has a proven scientific reasoning behind it, is to store your onions in the refrigerator, and only peel or cut a chilled onion.

Why? Well, when you refrigerate the onion, the release of gas is minimized because the change in temperature alters the compounds in the onion.

Quick chop tip: To easily chop onions, I cut it in half so that there is a part of the root on either half. Then, I peel the skin back to the root, KEEPING THE SKIN ATTACHED. Holding the skin to steady the onion, I'll cut in half (vertically) nearly to the root end, then to the left and right of that cut, about 3 or 4 times (nearly to the root end). Next, still holding the root end by the skin, I'll then slice finely across the onion, the result will be nicely chopped onion.

So there you have it... a quick and dirty scientific explanation as to why we cry when we cut open an onion, and the best method to minimize that gassy problems!


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Rocks In My Dryer said...

Did you know that if you take a sip of water before you chop onions and hold the water in your mouth (lips closed, obviously), they won't make you cry? Have no idea why it works, but it does.

Susanne said...

My eyes cry buckets. I'll have to try this and Shannon, really, does that work? Now who would have come up with that? Amazing.

Anonymous said...

Holding a dinner knife between your teeth works too!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I've always rinsed my onions in water and that has helped with the tears. I'll try the fridge thing though. :0)