The Red Wedding in “Game of Thrones.”
The first 15 minutes of Pixar’s “Up.”
Videos of returning soldiers reuniting with puppies.
Picking up on a theme yet? Spot on — rivers of salty tears. Crying is natural. “Homeward Bound” wouldn’t be doing its job if you weren’t sobbing on the floor in a crumpled heap.
Wait, onions? I thought you had my back, onions. I just innocently chopped up some onions for a stir-fry. Why do I now have to explain to your folks that everything’s okay?
“I’ve been chopping onions,” you say. No-one believes you. And then you start crying for real this time. Because of the stinging sense of betrayal. Damn you, onions.
Tired of letting onions get under my skin when I get under theirs, I decided to look for an exit from the never-ending Morrissey gig that is trying to make an onion behave.
I researched the science behind the unsuspecting onion’s tearjerker-tendencies and tried seven relatively simple strategies for stemming the tide.
(I skipped completely ridiculous or dangerous suggestions, like trying to chop an onion in a bowl of water or holding a match in my mouth.)
Why have onions got it in for you?
In a nutshell (onion skin?), it’s all about the chemicals. Onions contain amino acids called sulfoxides, and when you cut into them, you damage the skin.
This skin damage converts the sulfoxides into a super-annoying chemical. The onion releases it into their air, and it then wafts into your eyes. The windows to your soul respond by stinging and producing tears to wash the chemical away.
Essentially, an onion revenge-farts at you so powerfully when you cut it that it reduces you to tears. If it wasn’t so painful, it would probably be pretty cool and quite funny.
But it’s not. So get out my damn face, sulfoxides.
Food can make you cry from the other end of your body too. We explain what causes burning diarrhea and how to make it stop.
I stepped out on my quest to rid the world of spiteful onion farts once and for all, hair flowing in the breeze, a single tear sliding down my cheek.
Yes, it was the onions again. But they had sulfoxided their last sulfoxide. I’d already put up with shallot of their nonsense, and I wasn’t going to take anymore.
Experts at the University of Bristol reckon that the best bet for preventing onion-induced tears is to keep the gas away from your eyes in the first place.
If only it were that easy.
Website after website recommended tactic after tactic for keeping the gas at bay, but not all of them worked. And some of them were downright bizarre.
Here are the methods that got the job done. I’ve included those that were a total waste of time because it’s fun to try things that aren’t physically possible and look foolish.
Tip 1: Freeze the onion
Some people suggest that freezing onions takes away the sob factor. I’m a person, so I tried it out.
So I stuck a peeled onion in the freezer, figuring that peeling it would help the cold better penetrate the deeper layers. Half an hour later, I started slicing.
My hands felt like they were on the verge of getting frostbite, and I couldn’t get “Let It Go” out of my head. But I didn’t cry!
The verdict: It works.
Humans 1️⃣ vs 0️⃣ Onions
If this gets you hooked on freezing things, we suggested some freezer meals to take you to sub-zero and back.
Tip 2: Soak the onion in cold water
A cold water bath chills the onion, which slows down the production of the chemicals.
But it wasn’t quite as effective as the freezer method. Plus, I was worried that my knife might slip on the damp onion.
To avoid the natural outcome of sharp objects and damp onions (a decrease in my average number of fingers), I had to slice slower, which gave the onion some time to warm up.
Cue the waterworks…
The verdict: Not the best, but better than nothing.
Humans 1️⃣ vs 1️⃣ Onions
Tip 3: Use a super sharp knife
A sharper knife, like a ginsu, cuts cleaner. In theory, this would damage less onion skin and trigger the release of fewer gases.
Since I wasn’t in the market for an entirely new slicing device, I figured the next best thing would be to sharpen the knife I already have. It made chopping a little less uncomfortable, but it still wasn’t as helpful as freezing the onion.
The verdict: My half-hearted attempt yielded half-hearted results.
Humans 1️⃣ vs 2️⃣ Onions
We chopped it up and found the best kitchen knives for the job.
Tip 4: Microwave the onion
I couldn’t find an official explanation for why nuking a whole onion would make me less weepy. Maybe the catharsis of crushing my foes. Microwaving the onion only made it slightly soft and, as a result, harder to slice. And it smelled like fried pee.
The difficulty of slicing a microwaved onion meant that I caused more damage to the cell walls of the onion. Yep. More chemicals. More tears for me.
The verdict: Total failure. Even microwaving onion cannot end its reign of terror.
Humans 1️⃣ vs 3️⃣ Onions
Here’s how to reheat meals without hurting them.
Tip 5: Keep a piece of bread in your mouth
This sounds totally ridiculous. I looked like a duck. And yet, it worked.
I held it between my front teeth with my lips slightly open. The spongy texture of the bread seems to have absorbed some of those noxious chemicals before they had the chance to attack my eyes.
Who doesn’t love a little snack while they cook? Mmm. Dry bread.
The verdict: It works, plus you get bread.
Humans 2️⃣ vs 3️⃣ Onions
On a Paleo diet? Never fear, we found several ways to make bread and stay paleo.
Tip 6: Wear goggles
If goggles can keep water from getting into your eyes, surely they can block an onion fart?
Except, I didn’t have any goggles. So I put on a pair of sunglasses instead. Which, aside from making me a person who wears sunglasses indoors, didn’t really have much of an effect.
Sunglasses didn’t create a seal around my eyes the way the goggles would. Also, I was still breathing, so the gases could still sneak in through my nose.
Maybe the real deal is more effective. But if you’re not a professional fry chef, are you honestly going to go out of your way to see the world through onion-tinted goggles?
The verdict: Didn’t really work, but maybe full-on onion-cutting goggles would have made a difference (but seriously who has those?).
Humans 2️⃣ vs 4️⃣ Onions
Tip 7: Keep the sliced side on your cutting board
If the cut-side of the onion is face down, fewer chemicals will float toward your face.
The catch is you need to pull off an “Inception“-level abberation of physics to keep all sides of a cut onion facing your cutting board at the same time.
Doesn’t one side always have to be on the cutting board, unless you’re slicing the onion while holding it in your hand? (Which you should never do.)
This didn’t seem much different from how I normally cut an onion, so I cried the regular amount.
The verdict: It didn’t work, didn’t even make sense, and now I’m both crying AND confused.
Humans 2️⃣ vs 5️⃣ Onions
My eyes took a beating so yours didn’t have to.
I found that there are plenty of suggestions out there that supposedly help you cry less while chopping an onion. But not all methods are created equal.
The most effective tricks are those that slow the creation of the stinging gases, like freezing or creating a physical barrier between you and the onion. Freeze them or shove a slice of bread in your mouth while you chop.
As for the rest? They just don’t cut it.
Adam Felman is an Editor for Medical News Today and Greatist. Outside of work, he is a hearing impaired musician, producer, and rapper who gigs globally. Adam also owns every Nic Cage movie and has a one-eyed hedgehog called Philip K. Prick.
Mary Grace Taylor is a health and wellness writer who has written for Parade, Glamour, and Men’s Health, as well as co-authoring the award-winning book Allergy-Friendly Food For Families.