Chef Tip: How to Cut Onions Without Crying
This tip for cutting onions without your eyes watering is, believe it or not, NOT something one learns at culinary school.
When I was starting out working in kitchens, the head chef would give me kilos and kilos of onions to slice, dice, julienne and chop.
Though I never realised it at the time, I rarely became teary eyed when working with them. Yet on my days off when knocking up a meal at home, after cutting half an onion I would be balling like a 1960’s teenager at a Beatles concert.
What on Earth could I be doing different at home than at work?
I later discovered it had nothing to do with what I was doing. It had everything to do with what the kitchen itself was doing. You see at work there were 6 huge extractor fans across from me and my chopping board and there was a long corridor running down to a huge door behind me that was kept open to the fresh air.
At home I had the windows in my apartment shut and the tiny overhead fan turned off. So the answer is no more simple than making sure you have great air circulation and air being drawn out of the kitchen.
- When chopping onions, try to face or be as near as possible to your exhaust fan and open some windows and doors to allow air to flow.
- If all else fails, take the board out to the patio table and chop them in the great outdoors.
What does the science say?
Cutting onions releases a chemical compound known as propanethial S-oxide, which is an eye-irritant. This chemical compound is what’s causing the tears. So working in a well ventilated room, or outdoors for that matter, substantially decreased the chances that this chemical compound will come into contact with your eyes.
Besides good ventilation, what else can you do to prevent crying while cutting onions?
- Use a very sharp knife. This will greatly decrease the chemical compound released by the onions.
- Refrigerate your onions. Chilling your onions will prevent most of the chemical compound being released into the air, hence, less watery eyes.
- Use a vegetable chopper, which will get the job done easily and without tears.
- Buy some kitchen goggles. These will keep away those nasty irritants from your eyes.