We’re ugly-crying over our cutting board, and it’s not because the grocery store was out of oat milk. Nope, it’s the big batch of onions we’re chopping. The flavorful ingredient is the backbone to myriad recipes, so we’re not about to call it quits. Instead of passing the tissues, we set out to stop the tears altogether.
We Tried 7 Hacks to Stop Crying While Chopping Onions (and Here’s What’s Worth Your Time)
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Why Do Onions Make You Cry?
Science time: The reason you tear up around sliced onions (and their allium cousin, the shallot) is an evolutionary defense mechanism that’s meant to protect the plant from damage. When an onion is cut, enzymes called alliinases are released from the broken cells, which then break down the amino acids in the onion into super volatile substances like allicin and a gas called syn-Propanethial S-oxide. The gas moves through the air and irritates the membrane on your eyes. Cue the waterworks.
Since no one wants to shed tears over their cutting board, many tricks have surfaced that claim to reduce or eliminate your eye irritation when chopping onions. Here’s what we’ve found to be effective (and what’s a waste of time).
4 Ways to Stop Crying When Chopping Onions
Since the onion enzymes are the culprit of your tears, the key is to either stop the enzymes, reduce their activity or cover your eyes. Here are four hacks that, in our experience, actually work.
- Wear goggles. If you’re willing to look like a nerd and spend a few bucks, you can buy a pair of onion goggles. We usually write off single-use kitchen gadgets as gimmicks, but these do work, because they shield your eyes from allicin in the air. (Your nose might still sting, but it’s better than nothing.) Similarly, we’ve found that wearing contacts while chopping can reduce symptoms.
- Use a sharp knife. A culinary instructor once claimed that our entire class had dull kitchen knives because he couldn’t hold in his onion tears. As it turns out, a super-sharp chef’s knife will damage the onion cell walls as little as possible, releasing fewer enzymes in the process. (Plus, it’s safer for your fingers to use a sharp knife than a dull one.)
- Chill the onions. According to cookbook author Nik Sharma, chilling onions—in the freezer for about 30 minutes or the fridge for two hours—will reduce tearing. The cold temperature basically makes the enzymes sluggish (think molasses in a freezer, heh), lending you time to chop without crying. Keep in mind, though, that as the onion warms up it will release that pesky gas more quickly.
- Ventilate your kitchen. If you’re able to, open a window or, even better, turn on the vent in your range hood. Circulating the air will clear the irritating vapors out of the kitchen and away from your eyes.
…and 3 Hacks That Don’t *Really* Work
- Lighting a candle. When we tried this hack, we were sobbing as hard as if we’d just finished Old Yeller. The smell of the candle did nothing to cover up the onion fumes.
- The damp paper towel trick. According to a viral TikTok, placing a damp paper towel by your cutting board will draw the irritating gas away from your eyes. But we still shed a few tears when we tried this trick…maybe we’re just highly sensitive?
- Microwaving the onion. According to legend (er, the internet), microwaving the onion before cutting it will weaken the amino acids that cause crying. In our test, it just stank.
We’re vain and lazy—so we won’t be donning onion goggles or sharpening our knives any time soon. But you can bet we’ll be chilling our onions the next time we want to make French onion soup. (And since we’ll probably forget, the vent hood trick is our second-best bet.)