How to Cut Onions Without Crying Ever Again, According to a Chef
Many delicious recipes call for a serving of onion. Whether it be tossed into a stir fry or baked into a casserole, the root vegetable gives just about any dish that extra special boost in flavor. Unfortunately, there is a rather major pitfall to onions, and that lies within having to be the person to slice them up. Cue the tears—literally.
Why do onions make you cry, anyway? According to the New York Times, the mere act of cutting into the bulbed vegetable releases a chemical called lachrymatory factor (LF), which is essentially a gas. It immediately triggers the sensory nerves in your eyes, causing them to burn and well up with tears. Who knew such a tasty vegetable could pack such a potent substance?
Fortunately, there is a way to avoid coming face-to-face with the tear-inducing chemical. After all, chefs have to cut them on the fly all the time, and they definitely don't have time to stop and cry. We spoke with Chef Vincent Olivieri, Chef De Cuisine at Fairway Market and Fairway Café & Steakhouse, to get the lowdown on how he dodges the burn.
Is there a type of onion that causes you to cry more so than others?
"An onion is an onion is an onion is an onion, whether it be red, white, purple, yellow, or green. Whether the shape is a bulb, a globe, a sphere, or a stalk, it's all the same," says the chef. "I find that older onions are sometimes more potent and can cause a tear."
OK, so how do I cut an onion without crying?
"I myself am an experienced onion slicer and have become immune to the irritating burn that cutting an onion causes to your eyes," says Olivieri. "I have found a couple of things that have worked for my employees in the past."
Olivieri suggests using a sharp knife to cut the onion.
"Slicing an onion with a sharp knife does not break down the cell walls inside the onion's membranes. A dull knife causes a rougher cut, which in turn releases more of the noxious gases that cause our eyes to burn," he says.
It makes sense: using a dull knife prompts you to dig more aggressively into the tough vegetable, which means you end up releasing more of the LF in the onion than if you made a clean slice through it with a sharper knife.
A sharp, multi-purpose chef knife will do the trick.
Olivieri recommends putting a wet paper towel around your neck while hacking away at an onion.
"Some of my newer employees still cry when they cut their first onion, despite how sharp we keep our knives," he says. "I have found that a dampened paper towel draped around the front of your neck catches those gases before they have time to make it into your sinuses. It works."
So there you have it: a sharp knife and keeping a wet paper towel on your neck are all you need to never shed another tear while chopping up onions again. These quick fixes will come in handy the next time you want to make a French onion soup or caramelize some onions on the stovetop! We're so happy we could just cry.