Mythbuster: Stopping Onion Tears

25 Jun, 2018 | Editorials

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.

Myth: Involves holding your tongue to the roof of your mouth and breathing through your mouth only. Logic: “Hopefully” the onion irritants bypasses your nose and eyes; and goes straight into your mouth. Results: Busted. 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.

Myth: Simply lighting a candle or a scented candle close to you while you chop them onions. Logic: By some voodoo magic (I joke) or smoke, lack of oxygen will neutralise the the onions. Results: Busted. 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.

Myth: 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. Logic: Eating or chewing will negate the the irritants or distract your body. Results: Busted. 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.

Myth: Freeze the onion for 15mins, or keep onions cool. Logic: Theory goes if that if the onion is cold enough, it either inhibits the onion irritant release mechanism or nullify the irritant. Results: Undecided. Somewhat works. Problem is too long in the freezer make onion popsicles; and they’re unkind to you knifes.

Myth #5: Venting / Blowing.

Myth: Venting or placing a well position fan to blow away the irritants as you slice you way. Logic: If the irritant can’t get to me; they can’t make me cry. Results: Undecided. 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.

Myth: Cut onions in a sink, under some running water. Logic: Let water wash away the irritants. Results: Undecided. 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.

Myth: Cut off the roots of the onions and soak them for a few minutes. Logic: Leeching out the irritants into the water and thus have less irritants. Results: Undecided. 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.

Myth: Wearing goggles or a snorkel set will avoid all irritants! Logic: No contact with eyes = no tears! Results: Confirmed. 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