There are some questions I feel like humans have been asking since the beginning of time. At the top of that list is how to cut an onion without crying or wanting to jab your eyes out. And please don’t tell me to put on a pair of ski goggles, because I just can’t go there (though I’m sure my kids would get a kick out of it).
When you cut an onion, a complex chemical reaction takes place, often irritating the eyes. Your body goes on the defense by producing tears, and because we are all splendidly different, some of us have a higher tolerance to tearing up than others. (I credit my contact lenses with my high tolerance.) The internet is teeming with crazy theories on how to cut an onion without crying, but I wondered which ones actually work and are practical. I wisely ignored any ideas that required stuffing things in my mouth or purchasing special headgear. Oh, and I tested all these without my contact lenses. Ouch.
Here are the four tips that worked best for cutting an onion without crying. Well, at least without crying much.
How to cut an onion without crying, or at least with fewer tears
1. Use a sharp knife. This is rule number one: Use the sharpest knife you own. The duller your knife, the more cells rupture and irritants are released. More irritants equals more tears. For a simple, yet comprehensive tutorial on how to chop an onion, pop on over to Cook’s Illustrated.
2. Chill out. As in, chill your onions in the refrigerator for about an hour before chopping. This was the first method I tried and I was pleasantly surprised. There was a bit of stinging, but it wasn’t that bad and no tears! I get that sometimes it’s hard to plan ahead or even be in your kitchen an hour before meal-prep time. For when that’s the case, read on.
3. Light a candle. Flames supposedly draw eye-stinging compounds away from you, so it can help to work near a lit candle or a gas range with one or two of the burners turned on. When I chopped near two lit candles, I had no tears, but my eyes stung a little more than they did when chopping the chilled onion. The plus here? I like the idea of prepping my veggies by candle light with a glass of wine. Though, sadly, I don’t think the wine has any scientific basis here.
4. Cut under a kitchen fan or near a vent. The theory here is that the high force of a kitchen fan or vent will suck up the onion vapors, moving them away from your eyes. I tested this tip by putting a cutting board on top of my stovetop (turned off, of course) with the vent on. After half an onion, there was minimal stinging and no tears—although, I didn’t love prepping on top of the stove burners. Working on the counter adjacent to the vent also helped, though not quite as much.
After slicing and dicing, my conclusion is nothing beats my contact lenses. Barring that, these ideas all helped and require minimal effort, so it’s worth giving one—or a combination of several—a try if your eyes are sensitive. Because we could probably all use a little less crying in the house.