While the best part about onions is the flavor they infuse into any dish, for many, getting there is quite the battle.
Cutting onions could be one of the most dreaded jobs in the kitchen — perhaps besides stirring a big bowl of stiff chocolate chip cookie dough. Sometimes, however, the ends DO justify the means.
American columnist Elizabeth Robbins Pennell said it best: “Banish (the onion) from the kitchen and the pleasure flies with it. Its presence lends color and enchantment to the most modest dish; its absence reduces the rarest delicacy to hopeless insipidity, and dinner to despair.”
Being loaded with all sorts of good nutrients, cancer fighting agents and great flavor additions doesn’t come without its hitches. For the onion, the sulfur compounds within it mix with its alliinase enzymes, which brings on the tears. Each type of onion has a different concentration of these sulfur compounds, making their tear-inducing sting a bit different.
There are ways to reduce those tears — unless you really just need to let it all out and have a good cry.
Here are some basic tips to help you out:
» First, chill your onions at least 30 minutes before cutting them. Refrigeration will slow down the chemical reactions. Carucci advises a couple of options: grabbing the all-important goggles for those large jobs; and storing onions at refrigerator temperature. That’s a tip from Robert L. Wolke, author of What Einstein Told His Cook. He stated that an “an onion at refrigerator temperature causes tearing only 25 percent as quickly as an onion at room temperature.” Couldn’t hurt to try. And for one more option, Carucci has known people to hold a piece of bread in their mouths while chopping onions to deflect the fumes.
» Be sure to use a sharp, straight-edge knife when cutting onions. That minimizes onion cell damage, thus creating fewer tear-producing compounds.
» Finally, cut the root end of the onion last, as it generally has the highest concentration of tear-producing compounds.