The Crying Game: Onion Cutting Solutions Examined

25 03 2009

In a world where we can put a camera, an internet savvy computer, a phone, a GPS device, a calendar, a clock, a filing cabinet, a TV, a video monitor, a dictionary, entire music libraries, and much more … all into a single handheld unit smaller then a deck of cards… something’s not quite right. crying-onion

In a world where we can take a pill to stop sneezing, to stop itching, to stop smoking, to start breathing, to stop aching, to lose weight, to suppress urges, to feel happy, to feel ‘level’, to be ‘lovable’, to be more alert, and much more… something’s not quite right.

Not because a high-end cell phone is not REALLY cool… it is. Not because modern medicine has cures for almost anything… because that’s cool too. What’s not right, is that in a world with such incredible technical & scientific advances, we have such a hard time simply cutting an onion without crying.

In today’s blog I’ll explain why onions make you cry… explore the seemingly endless folk-remedies which supposedly alleviate the tears… and, unfortunately, offer the very few REAL solutions. The list of remedies I’ll put out there today are REAL suggestions… offered by folks who claim success with said advice… left for you to decide. (If you do try any and actually have success with them… PLEASE leave a comment).


Stay with me here, it won’t be too wordy and it’s not rocket science… it’s onion science. When we cut into an onion we break up cells which allow certain enzymes to react with certain amino acids which result in sulphenic acids. These acids, being unstable, create volatile gasses. When the gas reaches the eyes it once again changes states into a somewhat mild form of sulphuric acid which, although mild, can really irritate the sensitive membranes in the eyes. The body then causes your tear ducts to work overtime in an attempt to flush out the invasive irritants.


I’ve broken down the supposed ‘remedies’ into several categories as follows:

  • The Mouth Remedies  scuba-mask
  • The Nose Remedies
  • The Eye Remedies
  • The Water Remedies
  • The Culinary Technique Remedies
  • The Location Remedies
  • The Science Remedies
  • The Wimpy Remedies
  • The Foolproof Remedies

The effectiveness scale of 1 – 10 is 1=totally ineffective & 10=works like a charm

Category Recommended Remedy Effectiveness
MOUTH Hold a tablespoon in your mouth while you cut 1
MOUTH Hang a piece of bread out of your mouth while cutting 1
MOUTH Only breathe with your mouth while cutting 2
MOUTH Clench an unlit wooden match between your teeth while cutting 1
MOUTH Chew gum while cutting   (ineffective and lowers perceived IQ) 1
MOUTH Put a toothpick in mouth (does nothing but you’ll look cooler) 1
MOUTH Keep a slice of lemon in your mouth while cutting 1
MOUTH Suck on a mint lollipop while cutting 1
MOUTH Hold a mouthful of vinegar… cut… then swallow 1
MOUTH Hold a pencil sideways under your tongue while cutting 1
MOUTH Lick the onion first… then cut   (then don’t tell anyone else!) -2 (c’mon)
MOUTH Bite on cardboard (like you’re blotting lipstick) while cutting 1
MOUTH Chew on raw onion while cutting (Then audition for role on 24… you tough-guy) 1
MOUTH Eat sugar cubes while cutting  (brings you closer to dentist) 1
MOUTH Put the ‘sulphur’ end of match in your mouth w/out biting 1
NOSE Breathe red wine vinegar fumes prior to cutting 1
NOSE Shove some tissue paper up each nostril … then cut  (Nice!) 1
NOSE Wrap a damp cloth around mouth & nose while cutting 1
NOSE Hold your breath while cutting… leave room to take new breath 1
NOSE Stick a burnt (cool) match up your nose business end first 1
EYE Wear a scuba mask and breathe through snorkel  (Yeah) 5
EYE Squinting while cutting   (caution is in order on cutting board) 1
EYE Wear good foam sealed swimmer’s goggles while cutting 10
WATER Soak onions in ice water 2 hours before cutting 3
WATER Peel onions under running water before cutting 3
WATER Actually cut the onions under water in large baking dish 3
WATER Boil the onions for 5 minutes… cool… then cut  (nice texture!) 2
WATER Hold your wrists under cold water before cutting  (Huh?) 1
WATER Wash your hands and leave them really wet  (nice knife grip!) 1
CULINARY Use a really sharp knife… a dull knife ‘crushes’ more cells 4
CULINARY Work faster   (improve knife skills & onion cutting technique) 4
CULINARY Remove the ‘bulb’ by cutting out cone shape from root 2 (wasteful)
CULINARY Cut off the root end first, then the top, then peel, then chop 1
CULINARY Don’t cut the root end at all 2
LOCATION Sit down on a chair while cutting the onion 1
LOCATION Stick your head in the freezer every now & then while cutting 2
LOCATION Place cutting board on cold stovetop & turn on exhaust fan 2
LOCATION Cut near a lit candle or lit gas burner so flame will burn gasses 1
LOCATION Cut next to a fan blowing across your cutting board 1
SCIENCE Rub your cutting board w/ white vinegar before cutting 1
SCIENCE Lime juice on the knife blade before cutting 1
SCIENCE Leave a slice of bread near the onions as you cut them 1
SCIENCE Stick a chunk of bread on end of knife while cutting  (clumsy?) 1
WIMPY Have someone else cut the onions earlier in the day 10
WIMPY Purchase onions that are already chopped 8 (restrictive)
FOOLPROOF Contact lenses (just plain soft lenses = ZERO crying) 10
FOOLPROOF Have someone else cut the onions earlier (wimpy but foolproof) 10
FOOLPROOF Wearing tight, foam-sealed swim goggles  (can fog up though) 10


While you may get some relief by employing a few of the tactics listed above… not only will you still be crying… but you could injure yourself as well.contact_lense Keep matches out of your mouth… keep your head out of the freezer… don’t lick onions before prepping them (unless you live alone and only cook for yourself and don’t mind still crying [not from loneliness, but from cutting onions] )…don’t shove tissue up your nose (it looks pathetic)… and don’t use a sharp knife with wet hands. C’MON PEOPLE!!! Here’s the bottom line: There are 3 ways to avoid shedding tears while cutting onions;

  1. Wear contact lenses
  2. Wear tight, foam-sealed swim goggles (they actually make ‘onion’ goggles but they’re just fancy swim goggles and cost twice as much)
  3. Have someone else cut your onions earlier in the day.

Please comment or contradict if you have some more REAL remedies !



4 responses

25 03 2009

Number 3 always works best for me. But for the most part, I think of it (the crying) as hazards of war. Just part of the job. The crappy part.

25 03 2009
Stacey Hess

I never knew that wearing contacts prevented onion tears! No wonder I don’t mind cutting onions. That’s reason enough not to get lasik! I can’t believe how many folksie remedies are out there…..I think my favorites are ones involving bread. Nice onion baby…..kinda creepy. 🙂

26 03 2009
Debbi Dubbs

Hey Supperman,
Thanks for the laughs! (You didn’t really try all those suggestions, did you?)

28 03 2009

Alfred started to chop onions for me 40 years ago. This seems to work well. He isn’t bothered at all….must be the glasses as he doesn’t wear contacts. He didn’t really believe me, however, when I suggested he be careful with bare hands chopping jalapenos.

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