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Let’s Talk Onions

Posted by in Kitchen Talk

Tasty Kitchen Blog: Let's Talk Onions!

All of us have treasured bits of culinary wisdom that we learned as children, often simply by watching the cooks in our family move around the kitchen. To this day, I still peel hard-cooked eggs with a spoon the way I’ve watched my mom do it, I always add a pinch of sugar to pasta sauce because that’s how my aunt did it, and when I cook rice in a pot, I measure the water with my fingers like my grandmother did.

There are so many little tricks for dealing with everyday kitchen tasks, and we’d like to hear yours. After all, our goal here at Tasty Kitchen has always been to create a community where everyone can share favorite family recipes. So why not share all those favorite family kitchen tips as well! I, for one, am excited about this because it’ll be like learning from all of your food heroes. I think that’s pretty cool.

So today, we’re kicking off our own version of a fireside chat. Except this is a two-way thing, so it’ll be more like a stovetop conversation. Warm oven banter. A hearth-to-hearth talk. (Har dee har har.)

Let’s start!

Tasty Kitchen Blog: Let's Talk Onions!

This week’s topic is ONIONS. Specifically, chopping onions without ending up in a pool of tears crying for your mama and reaching for the bottle of onion powder instead. Of course, it helps to know how to chop an onion in the first place (thanks, Ree!). But how, pray tell, do you keep those pesky tears at bay once you’ve cut into it and unleashed the evil lurking inside?

Tasty Kitchen Blog: Let's Talk Onions!

I’ll go first and say that my favorite trick is to ask my husband to do it for me while I go and pour myself a glass of wine. Done! Okay, but what do you do when he’s not around, you ask? When that happens, I just chop/slice/dice/mince as fast as I can, or I do it in batches, walking away from the counter periodically to breathe in fresh air and wipe my eyes. I’ve heard that lighting a candle and keeping it close by while chopping helps but I’m afraid to try it. I get so easily distracted that I might see some cool new commercial on TV, walk over to the living room, and 3 episodes of Castle later, my cutting board is on fire. Me no likey that kind of fire.

Betsy says she read once that if you keep your mouth closed while chopping, it minimizes the tears. So she always does that. She’s not sure it works but thinks there must be something to not breathing through the mouth. Nanci says she’s heard some people hold a match between their teeth but she tried it once and it didn’t seem to work for her, so she just cries.

I heard that same match trick mentioned in the movie “The Help” and I figure there must be something about the sulfur in the match head reacting with the tear-inducing gas from the onion. However, I haven’t tried it to see if it works because I never have any matches lying around. (See previous paragraph about not liking fire.)

Tasty Kitchen Blog: Let's Talk Onions!

Some of our contributors chimed in as well to share their tips! A few involve some kind of physical barrier protecting the eyes. Adrianna says that wearing her contact lenses yields a better overall onion-cutting experience because the contacts offer some protection from the onion’s gases. Maria says she and Josh wear ski goggles. Erica is a gal after my own heart: She asks her husband Reuben to chop them for her if it’s particularly bad (he wears contacts). That’s what Maggy does too—she’ll grab anyone in the house with contacts and make them chop.

Gaby is emphatic: “Knives! They are a must! They make cutting an onion a hundred times easier and you won’t cry.” Calli agrees. She says she’s tried many different tips, even spraying a little vinegar on the cutting board (via Alton Brown) but she chops too many onions to be bothered with using the tips on a regular basis. She swears by simply keeping her knife sharp and knowing how to cut an onion efficiently so it goes fast. If you need a very fine dice, say for meatballs or meatloaf, Laurie suggests skipping the chopping altogether and using a grater instead.

Jessica likes to stick the onion in the freezer for half an hour or so, making it easy enough to still chop but not so bad on the eyes. Faith peels the onion first and lets it soak in cold water for about 5 minutes before cutting it. Finally, Georgia includes this tip in her forthcoming book: “Some may call this an old wives’ tale but it has always helped me considerably. If your eyes tend to weep while you chop onions, put a toothpick between your teeth and clench down before chopping.”

There ya go! Those are a handful of tips to get us started. Now it’s your turn. If you have a foolproof tip that works for you, we want to hear it! Shout it out below and maybe you can help someone discover his or her new favorite onion-chopping tip. Our weepy eyes thank you in advance.

Happy cooking (and chopping), everyone!



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Linda S. on 10.27.2013

I also keep my onions in the vegetable bin and don’t have a problem with tears when chopping.

Mandy on 10.25.2013

Off topic but have you guys heard the urban legend (?) that onions have a ton of bacteria in them? The article I read said onions aren’t even safe to keep in the fridge once they’ve been cut, and I *ahem* do that constantly.. I’ve even been known to use the same cutting board the next day without rinsing it if all I cut was an onion.. nobody’s died yet, but I’m curious if this is just an urban legend or not. You’d think the same compound that stings your eyes might also keep some of the germs off!

Rede on 10.23.2013

I heard it’s healthy to let onions sting your eyes. Keeps them sanitized and what not. If you don’t want the sting you can always place the onions in water when you cut them. That way the vapors won’t bother you.

KarenJ on 10.23.2013

1) Make your initial cuts from top to bottom,. You cut through fewer cell walls this way , ergo less gas at the beginning of the operation. even though you’ll have to go the other way later. Still it’s less time with the greater volume of gas.

2) Get the teenagers in the house to do it! Works like a charm, they love to help and think it’s amusing when they cry. :)

3) I’m with you, get the husband! Not only has mine been a professional chef and can really cut with speed, looking up and away when he needs to, but , at 6’4″ he’s thirteen inches further up from the cutting board than I am, giving the fumes some time to disperse!

Margaret on 10.23.2013

Cut the top off the onion and only a small amount from the root end. Next cut the onion in half from top to bottom. With the halves lying cut side down on your cutting board cut lines from about a half inch from the root to the top. Then cut across these lines starting at the top of the onion and working your way toward the root. About a half inch or so from the root turn the cut side down and chop toward the center on each side. Most of the juice stays in the onion or on your cutting board, very little of it goes up in the air toward your eyes.

Kristina on 10.21.2013

I peel the onion and then set it in the sink and run cold water on it for a few minutes. I never have tears that way!

Jessica M. on 10.21.2013

I don’t remember where I read it, but I heard cutting them under water works. However, that seems very awkward! So I just do it fast. A lot of interesting comments here, like using the same onions from the same store and rubbing water or onion skin around your nostrils and such. I don’t mind sooo much but I think I might try a few things out…

Sara on 10.21.2013

One tip that I recently learned from a family member, which sounded odd at the time, is this: rub your cheeks and nose with the dry peel of onion’s skin.

Mary on 10.19.2013

I’ve never teared up, so I suppose cooks have different sensitivities. I do keep my onions in the refrigerator though, and that seems to be the common solution in the posts so far.

vetta on 10.19.2013

My tip: Just buy the sweet kind and you have no problem and they taste better anyway.

Love your blog !!

Shelby on 10.19.2013

We buy onions every week and eat them almost every day. I always buy sweet onions and never have a problem. We use Vidalias for as long as they are available and then go to the imported sweet onions. They are now available nearly year round.

Patty White on 10.18.2013

I do one of three things:

1). Onion Goggles available at (

2). Use my Vidalia Chop Wizard also available at (
I used the Vidalia first at someone’s house, and loved it but bought the a progressive to save a few bucks. Big mistake: not nearly as good. And last but not least,

3). I use my small, three-cup Kitchenaid food processor, that is, what do you know, available at Amazon! (; mine is not exactly like this but you get the drift!)

I use the food processor the most. It’s small and cheery red and I can “pulse” the onions so I can control how finely they’re chopped. It’s quick; no fumes, VERY easy clean up and put away. I highly recommend!

Mandy on 10.18.2013

put them in the refrigerator for 30 mins before chopping!

Laura on 10.18.2013

I tear off a small piece of bread and hold it between my teeth while I chop. It seems to absorb most of the gasses. Cold onions definitely help too!

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Patricia @ ButterYum on 10.18.2013

My tip to tear-free onion chopping is to do so while wearing my contacts. Makes all the difference in the world for me.

Melinda on 10.18.2013

I keep my onions in the crisper drawer of my refrigerator. Haven’t shed a tear yet!

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slickquilter on 10.18.2013

I use sharp knives and a food chopper when processing lots of onions or garlic so onion ”tears’ haven’t bothered me in a long time. I also rub a peanut shaped stainless steel hand ‘cleaner’ along with dish soap on my hands to clean away the onion aroma; actually any stainless steel item will work.
I also raise a large variety of alliums/onions in my garden so have learned that usually the fresher the onion the less strong the aroma and tear producing alkaloids.

Sarah on 10.18.2013

I keep my onions in the fridge. The last time I remember crying from an onion, it was at someone else’s house, and the onion was room temperature. Before that, it was every single onion that I ever cut before finding the fridge solution. Cold onions don’t release the sulphur the same way. They also release their juices differently, not leaving a runny mess on the cutting board. I just cut up an onion from the fridge and held my face directly over it for about 30 seconds…. nothing happened.

Lynne on 10.18.2013

I have found that rubbing the cut edges on the cutting board before the dicing almost eliminates the tears for me. Chopping quickly (carefully) and with sharp knives are also musts. But I seldom chop more than one or two onions at once.

Sandijo on 10.18.2013

I didn’t realize until reading these suggestions that, yes, when I pull the left over onion out of the fridge, no tears!

RAchel on 10.18.2013

My dad is a chef so I learned most of my culinary tricks from him. I had always been really sensitive to onion chopping, but with his two simple suggestions I never have a problem: Use a really sharp knife, and if the onion is cold, it won’t make you tear. I always put my onion in the fridge the day before or morning of and don’t experience any tears or sensitivity.

Terrie on 10.18.2013

I forget who told me this but it works every time for me and it is so simple. Just go outside. Works in summer and winter.. rain or shine. If anyone tries this I would like to know if it works for you.

Kathie B on 10.18.2013

I have good luck not cutting the root end of the onion until the very end of the chopping. It sounds hard to do but you can manage it with a good sharp knife just maneuver around the onion and leave the root end until the END. HTH!

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califgirl on 10.18.2013

I love cooking with onions…Like many others, doing so makes me weep uncontrollable, stinging tears of frustration. So in a moment of insanity, I decided to test the numerous tricks that I’ve heard about over the years to tame these tear-jerkers. Here’s what I found.

Goggles were the only way I did not cry…

Good luck and good chopping….

Jayne on 10.18.2013

One tip that has worked is to chew gum when chopping onions. But off late, I don’t really have problems with teary eyes when chopping onions. It could be because my cutting board is usually a bit wet and I use a really sharp knife. Haven’t had this problem in a long long time. Maybe a damp cutting board might be the answer for some!

Terry Lynn on 10.18.2013

I leave a box fan plugged in around the corner out of sight, year-round… When its time to chop the onions, I pick it up, put it on a counter or table top a few yards away, turn it on, and and direct the airflow across the cutting board while chopping. Voila! All the fumes are blown off the the side of me! It’s handy on a hot summer day, too!

Dixie on 10.17.2013

I keep my onions in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator…never have a problem with tears.

Susie C. on 10.17.2013

If you burn a candle by your cutting board while cutting onions, it actually neutralizes the harsh chemicals that cause you to “cry”. I have tested this theory for over two decades, and viola! no tears…not one while cutting onions!

Sue In FLA on 10.17.2013

I use lots of onions in my kitchen. I have excellent knives and I keep them honed, but the onions did make me tear. So I went to Home Depot and purchased a $5.00 pair of safety goggles. These goggles fit over my glasses and I keep them on a hook under the sink. No More Tears!! I have found that sweet onions cause less tears. I don’t think I could cook without onions, so I’m glad I have my goggles. By the way, there are protective onion glasses at kitchen supply stores but these don’t fit over glasses and they are expensive.

Linda Mc on 10.17.2013

The ladies in my church swear the if you chew peppermint or spearmint gum while you chop onion you won’t cry….we take part in a festival each year where we make Philly cheese steak sandwiches and we have to peel and slice over 800 pounds of onions….and everyone stands around the church kitchen chomping on gum…swearing it is working for them

Lesa @ Edesia's Notebook on 10.17.2013

I have two tips. One is to always buy the same onions from the same store. I have never heard anyone mention this before, but I always bought my onions at the same store and I noticed that after a while they didn’t bother me anymore. But one time my husband picked some up from another store (same kind of onion though), and they made my eyes water like crazy. So I wonder if your eyes can get used to the chemical if always buy the same onion from the same distributor. The only other thing that has helped me was to put a small oscillating fan on the kitchen counter, aimed at my face. I guess it works because it blows the chemical away before it can get to my eyes. That works really well, but takes up a lot of counter space.

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LavandulaLady on 10.17.2013

Have you ever noticed that when you pull an onion out of the fridge, cuz you needed only 1/2 and you put the other 1/2 away in the produce drawer to use another day, that the COLD onion does not produce tears when you cut it? THAT’S THE SECRET!!

Nanette on 10.17.2013

oops I meant dried onions, not fried

Nanette on 10.17.2013

Maybe I should post this annonumously, but as I don’t like big hunks of onion, I use…. fried onions from the spice cabinet where ever I can. If it is a quick cook that I can’t simmer then I chop in my little chopper.

I guess it goes back to my teen days when I worked at McDonalds and had the pan of dried onions soaking in water next to the grill.

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Shawna C on 10.17.2013

I like Brittney’s response!

I rinse my onion in water once I’ve peeled it and whacked the ends off, but I still end up crying and sniffling, so I can’t say that it works very well.

Rina on 10.17.2013

I definitely agree with the contact lens theory! It totally works!!!

Brittney on 10.17.2013

In our house, we joke that the trick to not crying while chopping is not to get so attached to the onion.

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Jessica Warren on 10.17.2013

Peel it, half it, cut off both ends, then GIVE BOTH THE ONION AND YOUR KNIFE A QUICK RINSE, then proceed as usual minus the eye irritation.

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mnheather on 10.17.2013

I swear by the matches. But I put 3 or 4 between my lips. I also have zyliss chopper that I love.

Sandra G. on 10.17.2013

I use my hand chopper. It’s quick and easy. If I want a finer chop, I use the food processor. Keeps the fingers safe as well. I use the hand chopper for a variety of foods to be chopped, minced or diced. And I have really good knives. too.

Jennifer L on 10.17.2013

I’m on board with the sharp knife technique. My favorite food writer, Kathleen Flinn, went to Le Cordon Bleu and the instructors told her, “the sharper your knife, the less you cry”. Ergo, the name of her first book.

Colleen (Souffle Bombay) on 10.17.2013

So fun to read everyones methods! I just breathe in through my mouth only (I just seal off breathing via my nose as if I’m swimming) and no tears! Every so often I forget that I was doing that then I get a good whiff and wham!! I also have to say that if I am just needed chopped onions – I swear by my hand chopper – best thing ever!! the onions are sealed off under the chopper and wham, wham, whamity, wham, wham and there they are…chopped in seconds, off into the pot/pan they go and my chopper is quickly taken apart and plunked in the dishwasher…bliss AND no tears!! I continue to teach my kids these same methods :)

Karen E. on 10.17.2013

I always keep my onions in the fridge in the vegtable compartment and I never have any problems while cutting them. I take it out of the fridge just before chopping and no tears.

SuperCutePetContest on 10.17.2013

I’ve tried every method listed above and nothing works for me, except being quick about it!

Laurie {Simply Scratch} on 10.17.2013

Is it weird that onions don’t bother me? It’s garlic… makes me cry every time! Great post Erika!

Jenee S. on 10.17.2013

I burn candles and it works every time!

Sandi on 10.17.2013

I’ve heard that the compound in onions that causes tears is more heavily concentrated in the bottom, so you should not cut off the root end. Instead, leave it intact and chop toward it. The most effective way to stop the tears is a barrier, so glasses and goggles are best. Failing that, I’ll keep a long lighter (meant for candles or grills) handy and periodically run the flame over the cut onion. Very sharp knives help, too. When cell walls in the onion are broken, things mix to form sulfuric acid. A dull knife crushes cell walls and allows more acid to be produced. A flame inactivates it.

Kelly S. on 10.17.2013

I’ve heard that putting lemon juice on your knife helps.

Kelly H. on 10.17.2013

If your cutting area is anywhere near your stove, turn on the vent hood. I second Gaby’s insistence on sharp knives, too. I treasure and care for my chopping knife and almost never have tears!

Ellie on 10.17.2013

Rub a little water around the edges of your nostril. If you don’t smell the onion, you won’t cry! My husband would not cut onions for years and now that he knows this trick he can cut them without a problem at all.