I’ve heard this question far too often in our classes: You guys keep asking me how you stop crying during onion prep. Let’s go through the urban myths and some truths – How do you avoid onion tears?
Let’s break the problem down:
when slicing/cutting onion – they release an irritant known as syn-propanethial-S-oxide into the air, essentially making you cry.
Myth #1: Tongue Holding.
Involves holding your tongue to the roof of your mouth and breathing through your mouth only.
“Hopefully” the onion irritants bypasses your nose and eyes; and goes straight into your mouth.
Fail. Instant tears – you might just want to avoid this one. Your mouth and nose has nothing to do with the irritant ending up in your eyes.
Myth #2: Light a Candle / Flame.
Simply lighting a candle or a scented candle close to you while you chop them onions.
By some voodoo magic (I joke) or smoke, lack of oxygen will neutralise the the onions.
Them voodoo magic don’t work. Realistically, you’ll need a whole room of candles to make a dent of the oxygen supply / give enough CO2 to choke?
Myth #3: Chewing Gum (illegal) or others.
Chewing anything (since gum is banned in Singapore) – like a carrot stick (watching the waistline here) or those highly addictive ‘wan wan’ rice biscuits should negate crying.
Eating or chewing will negate the the irritants or distract your body.
Those ‘wan wan’ biscuits have officially worked their way into my all time ‘love’ snacky foods list but your eyes are not connected to your stomach; no amount of food will distract your body.
Myth #4: Freezing (them) onions.
Freeze the onion for 15mins, or keep onions cool.
Theory goes if that if the onion is cold enough, it either inhibits the onion irritant release mechanism or nullify the irritant.
Somewhat works. Problem is too long in the freezer make onion popsicles; and they’re unkind to you knifes.
Myth #5: Venting / Blowing.
Venting or placing a well position fan to blow away the irritants as you slice you way.
If the irritant can’t get to me; they can’t make me cry.
Mostly works. Too many variables to consider: fan angle, speed, access to fresh air, natural ventilation. If your neighbouring chef doesn’t mind the tears; blow away!
Myth #6: Running Water.
Cut onions in a sink, under some running water.
Let water wash away the irritants.
Somewhat works BUT I have so many problems with this one. Its a safety hazard to cut onion in the wet, what a waste of precious water, over hydrating the onions make bland onions and the list goes on.
Myth #7: Onion Bathtub.
Cut off the roots of the onions and soak them for a few minutes.
Leeching out the irritants into the water and thus have less irritants.
Mostly works – Less tears for sure. But also less flavour from the onions because you’ve ‘leeched’ all the flavours away in your onion bath water (eww..).
Myth #8: Waterproof-grade Protection.
Wearing goggles or a snorkel set will avoid all irritants!
No contact with eyes = no tears!
This one totally rocks. I, myself used this method when I was a lowly prep chef. Unfortunately, you’ll have to look like an idiot for that duration.
So there you have it if you want a sob-free onion cutting session do these are my top tips:
1. Work quick and fast with a sharp knife (most important).
2. Make sure you are in a well ventilated area.
And if all fails; get a snorkel kit to avoid the tears. Most of all, have a great excuse (no, the end of titanic where Jack dies is not one of them) if you end up crying anyway. Have fun and chef out! – Chef Gary