Taste

The Ultimate Solution To Keep From Tearing Up When Cutting Onions

10/30/2015 04:31pm ET | Updated November 2, 2015
Bart?omiej Szewczyk via Getty Images

My best friend Chloe hates chopping onions so much, she firmly believes that, if there's a God and He has a Dantean taste for customized punishments, she will be damned to an eternity of onion chopping in the afterlife. She also doesn't care for the taste of onions. So she never willingly chops them.

I do like the taste of onions. Not so much raw. But certainly caramelized or fried or sautéed as a base of flavor in lentils or chili or braised short ribs. So I chop onions regularly, though not happily. Onion chopping is one of two things in the world that can consistently make me cry. (The other is "Friday Night Lights.")

Once, after my eyes had stung and wept with unusual viciousness, I Googled the phrase "onion tears eye drops," in the hopes that some modern-day Edison had invented such a product. None had. But I quickly found that the gods of industry were shilling a host of other potential solutions, and that generations of wise, teary-eyed cooks had developed dozens of ad hoc methods for stemming the flow of tears.

So I decided to test an array of 15 of these methods and products. I diced a relatively mild yellow organic onion using each potential cure, waiting several minutes between each test to take notes and reset my tear ducts. Then I went back and re-tested each method using red and white onions to make sure the mildness of the first ones hadn't skewed the results. Click through below to see what I found:

My Normal Method (AKA "The Control")
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Method: Hacking away at the onion using my dull Ikea chef's knife on a standard cutting board. Results: Slight pain and tearing up after a minute of chopping, but since this was my first bulb, nothing too crazy.
Sharpen Your Knife
Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
Method: HuffPost Taste editor sharpened the dull Ikea chef's knife using an ancient family method involving the bottom of a ceramic mug, then I hacked the same way as before. Results: It's definitely a little easier and faster to chop the onion with a sharp blade, but only slightly less painful. I still started to tear up after a couple minutes. Note: We tried this method first, and you can't unsharpen a knife. So the knife was sharp, rather than dull, for all subsequent knife-based methods.
Soak The Onion
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Method: Halve and peel the onion, then soak it in water for an hour before cutting. Results: This cut crying a bit, but didn't wholly eliminate it. Plus the resulting diced onions were a little waterlogged, and you have to plan an hour ahead to prepare the onions.
Freeze The Onion
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Method: Put the onion in the freezer for about half an hour before chopping. Results: Totally worked: I was tear- and pain-free while chopping this onion. Then again, the onion slices were cold, which could be a problem if you're serving them raw or cooking them with other ingredients. Also, you have to plan ahead at least a half an hour.
Cut The Root Last
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Method: Carefully cut the onion so that you leave its root intact for as long as possible, as demonstrated in this video from the Culinary Institute of America. Results: This worked well, with few tears, and required no advance preparation. But the technique was tricky; I had to wield the blade slowly and carefully to avoid slicing down through the root.
Cut Under Running Water
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Method: Let a stream of running water wash over the onion as you cut it. Results: I felt like a buffoon reaching down into the sink to try this one, but it admittedly passed the tear test. No crying whatsoever. Only it introduced a whole other set of problems: my fingers got numb from the cold water, it was hard to keep my cuts precise and the diced onions ended up wet, even waterlogged, at the end.
Put Vinegar On The Cutting Board
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Method: Pour distilled white vinegar all over the cutting board before chopping the onion. Results: This didn't seem to do anything but waste a bunch of distilled vinegar and lend a slightly acidic taste to the onions.
Put Salt On The Blade
Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
Method: Dampen the knife then pour a bit of salt over it before chopping. Results: Pounding all that salt into the onions made them weep a noticeable amount of water, significantly more than normal -- and, strangely, seemed to help ward off tears a tiny bit.But not much.
Chew Gum
Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
Method: Chew gum (in this case, Trident Spearmint gum) while chopping an onion. Results: This didn't help at all. It was also weirdly hard to concentrate on the gum chewing and the onion chopping at the same time.
Hold Bread In Your Mouth
Bonnie Kavoussi/The Huffington Post
Method: Hold a piece of bread in your mouth, with half of it sticking out, while chopping the onion. Results: SHOCKINGLY, this didn't help at all. I did look like an idiot while doing it though!
Light A Candle
Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
Method: Light a candle near the chopping board before you chop your onion. Results: Remarkably, this seemed to work well, and was relatively easy to do. The flame of the candle got larger and brighter every time I chopped, perhaps indicating that it was burning the irritating oils away.
Wear Onion Googles
Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
Method: Wear official Onion Goggles, like these ones from RSVP, which were purchased at Sur La Table for $22.95, while chopping onions. Results: Here's the deal with Onion Goggles: You have to commit. If you start your chopping session wearing goggles, they work great. But if you start without goggles, chop a few, then put them on, they're awful. In this latter case, they strangely made my eyes sting more, not less -- perhaps they decrease the amount of air circulation in my eye socket, intensifying the tear effect of any irritants already in the air.
Wear Swimming Goggles
Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
Method: Thinking that maybe the Onion Goggles didn't have a tight enough seal, I tried intense swimming goggles out for size as well.Results: Pretty much the same deal as the Onion Goggles, only more so. That's to say, if you put them on before chopping, you'll be 100% protected from crying. But if you put them on mid-chop, you might as well be watching "Terms of Endearment."
Use A Vegetable Chopper
Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
Method: Use a top-pressing chrome vegetable chopper, like this Cook Pro Chrome Vegetable and Onion Chopper, $16.16 on Amazon.com, to chop your onion. Results: The three machine-based methods all share one fatal flaw: you have to peel and halve the onion before using them, which puts you at risk for a few tears right away. But this one has the additional drawback that it doesn't work properly. It just wouldn't chop the onions properly. At all. Who cares about crying if you can't get a proper chop?
Use An Onion Chopper
Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
Method: Use a mechanical chopper designed specifically for onions, like this $14.22 one from Progressive, to dice your onions with one firm press of the arm. Results: Though this has the same caveat as the other two "machines," it's by far the best among them. As long as you put a little elbow behind the press, you get a clean, delicate dice of onions, without any tears whatsoever. The only problem was that it was slightly hard to clean. Still, a winner.
Use An Electric Chopper
Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
Method: Peel the onion, then pop it into a food processor or a specialty electric chopper like this Black & Decker one, which is $14 on Amazon.com. Results: This chopper (which was basically a micro-food processor) was so small that I actually had to quarter, not just halve, the onion to fit it in, bringing me basically halfway to dicing. And the blades had trouble reckoning even with an object as big as a quarter onion; by the time they'd gotten through the entire thing, they'd shredded the first few slices they'd touched into a pulpy mush. That said, no tears after peeling and quartering the onion.
In Conclusion...
Rebecca Orchant/The Huffington Post
A slim majority of these 16 methods helped fight onion tears, but some of those had other major problems. A sharp blade made a big difference, so hone your knives regularly if possible. If you have good knife skills, cutting the root last makes a big difference. If you don't mind your diced onions being cold, go ahead and freeze them in advance. Lighting a candle was a surprisingly effective method for cutting tears during all the cutting board techniques. Finally, if you're averse to wielding a knife, the Progressive Onion Chopper I tested worked great.
Bonus Tip
Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
I chopped nearly 20 pounds of onions for this experiment, using all the different "cures." This photo represents less than half the total onions I diced. And midway through my test -- after I'd tried all the methods and products once and was going back to double check using different kids of onions -- I noticed something strange. The onions weren't really making me cry much at all. Even when I tried a method that I'd found not to work, or no method at all. My eyes seemed to have built up resistance to the effects of the irritants in the onions. So if you find yourself needing to dice a whole bunch of onions, without recourse to any of the methods I liked, take solace in the fact that it gets better.

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