I am often asked, "How do I prevent crying when cutting onions?"
No one enjoys this eye-burning sensation followed by what seems to be an emotional breakdown.
Watery eyes are caused by a chemical gas released from the onion. The gas reacts with tears and turns into a mild form of sulfuric acid, making our eyes water more to flush away the irritant.
I've heard ways to prevent the reaction, some more effective than others.
I have heard that burning a candle near the cutting board will help, as the flame burns off the released gases. However, through trial and error, all I found is that the tender glow from the candle just makes you look more romantic while crying.
I also heard that holding a spoon between your teeth, or a slice of bread hanging out of your mouth will eliminate tears. The theory was that the metal spoon reacts chemically with the gas to disperse it, while the bread simply soaks up the gases.
We brought up those theories during a cooking class one evening, and a man claiming to be a scientist explained that it isn't what you are holding between your teeth that matters, just the fact that you are biting onto something. anything! When holding something in your teeth, your breathing pattern changes, and you tend to inhale/exhale through your mouth more, helping keep the gases from your eyes.
I tried it many times, with a wide variety of objects hanging out of my mouth (yes, my wife still thinks I'm handsome), and it does work. but not 100 per cent.
There is a rumour floating around the chefs' society that cutting onions in a certain way limits the amount of fumes released. However, I have yet to find what the technique is, and I highly doubt this theory anyway.
A best bet is refrigerating your onion at least an hour or two before cutting it. Warm gas rises, cold gas doesn't. The fumes stay nearer the cutting surface, and further from your eyes.
Cutting onions near the overhead fan of your stovetop is also an option, as long as it is powerful enough to suck the fumes in away from your eyes.
Using a summer fan on a stand, positioned to blow in the opposite direction of where you are standing at the cutting board is also ideal. Even better is a mini-sized fan that sits on the counter for these tearful chopping moments.
Finally, I want to tell you about the method that I use more often than the others: onion goggles specifically made to keep the harmful vapours away from your eyes. They can be purchased from any specialty food or kitchenware stores or online. They have a foam backing on them and they sit on your face like glasses, better than swimming goggles or ski masks.
I have cut many an onion with this great invention, and since they come in an array of colours, too, not only will your eyes and cheeks stay dry, but you will also look stylish.
by Chef Dez Chef Dez is a food columnist and culinary instructor in the Fraser Valley. Visit him at www.chefdez.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or to P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, B.C. V2T 6R4