Onion Tears strike again!


Tonight, I felt like young Alfredo Linguini, that garbage boy turned chef in Ratatouille. Only, I didn’t have a rat in my toque–wasn’t even wearing a toque–and I had to rely on my own senses as I minced onions with my eyes closed.

Am I insane? Have I been watching too much cooking anime? Do I plan to audition in a circus sometime soon? Truth is, I have been cooking for years but to this day, I still cannot avoiding tearing up while chopping onions. And I don’t mean trickling tears. I mean horrid torrential tears, with my nose getting in on the act. Painful tears that I can only soothe by closing my eyes. Sure, I can slice, even roughly chop an onion or two. But to mince!

Tonight, I got started on a batch of Lumpiang Shanghai, Filipino-style spring rolls. Part of my recipe is one finely chopped onion. To prepare, I decided to use three no-more-onion-tears tricks. I peeled the onion under running water, I kept a lighted candle nearby, and I wore a hospital mask (yes, laugh all you want). Onion halved. Check. Onion sliced, check. Roughly chopped. *sniff* Quick mince–nooooo! Tears!

Thankfully, I was using a trusty chef’s knife and a stable chopping board. Plus, since I was doing that see-sawing technique where I pressed one hand near the knife’s end and used the other hand to see-saw the knife across the onions, I was able to get by and chop to my ideal texture without losing any fingers.

Still, it was a battle lost. Kao – 0, Onions – 387,941! That got me thinking, there has got to be a better way to chop onions, other than using a food processor. So, I googled. Some of the tips are familiar. Some are new and wacky. Still, either way, I think it’s worth a shot.

Kao’s Onion chopping Tips

1. Peel the onion under running water.
2. Keep a lighted candle near the onion you’re chopping. This will burn off the onion fumes before they reach your nose.
3. Keep your nose covered; it’s smelling the fumes that gets you teary eyed.

Googled Tips from All Over

4. Chew a piece of gum while chopping your onion.
5. Chop the onion in half, then soak in water for 30 minutes.
6. Wear goggles.
7. Keep your mouth shut and don’t talk.
8. Refrigerate your onions.
9. Donna comments that wearing contact lenses helps cutting down the tears.
10. Tony Lou remembers reading somewhere that a bowl of water kept near your onions as you chop will attract the tear inducing fumes away.
11. Khursten suggests using a good knife and chopping really fast to cut down on chopping time.
12. Leki offers a twist to the refrigeration technique. She prepares the onion at least a day in advance (peeling, halving) then sealing it in a jar before refrigerating.
13. JB suggests using a small electric fan to blow the fumes away.
14. Mila adds that soaking an onion in milk will lessen the tears. However, you’ll probably have to consider what recipe you’re using it for because it may affect the taste.
15. thecityforever suggests slicing the ends off the onions first.
16. surrealistic recommends washing your onion before and during the process.
17. Julie says chewing bread while chopping helps lessen the tears.
18. From experience at a Mexican restaurant, Josh swears by breathing through your mouth while chopping.

Haven’t tried number 4 to 8, but have any of you guys tried it? Do you have any kitchen-tested tips that weren’t mentioned? Save my fingers! Share your tips! πŸ˜€ To those who’ve shared theirs, thanks so much.

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49 Responses to Onion Tears strike again!

  1. nina says:

    I do the refrigeration method. Freezer if i’m in a hurry. I *think* it worked… I dunno..it’s been a really long time since I teared up while chopping onions *evil laugh* ^_^

  2. ryan says:

    i tried the candle trick before, and it didn’t work. i still ended up like a teenage novel heroine who got dumped by her boyfriend. what i do i just try to chop the onion as fast as possible

  3. Alejandra says:

    I think number 8 just might work. I have been keeping my onions in the fridge (to keep them safe from any bugs that like to run around the kitchen during the summer) and your entry just made me notice that the last few times I’ve chopped onions I’ve been tear free!
    Nothing happens to the onions while they’re in the fridge so it’s safe to leave them in there. Best of luck on conquering tears!

  4. KF says:

    Hey there ^_^ just recently ran into this nifty little place… needless to say, I was caught glued to my monitor for a few hours looking through past posts and whatnot.

    Anywho, that aside, I use the refrigeration method and it works most of the time – for some reason it’s dependent on the type of onion with me. heheh but that might just be me… red onions don’t seem to bother me at all, even when they’re not refrigerated.

    Tried the gum and the goggles… heheh to no avail.

    Anyways, you’ve just captured another fan for this site ^_^ I’ll be checking in regularly from now on to see what other nifty creations you come up with!

    Ja ne~

  5. Dona says:

    Haha… I chop up onions all the time at work… I find wearing contacts make me invincible towards onions~! But I suppose that doesn’t help others … hehe ^^

  6. kaoko says:

    @Everyone
    Thanks for the comments, I think I’ll try that refrigerating / quick freezing trick next time. *crossing fingers*

    @KF
    Heehee, thanks. Glad to have entertained πŸ˜€

    @Dona
    Thanks! I’ll add that to the list.

  7. Tony Lou says:

    i read/watched somewhere that you have to cut onions near water. apparently, onions have a defense mechanism and they target watery substances. or something like that. i think a bowl of water near your chopping area would do the trick. but, i might just’ve imagined this. hehe!

    • kaoko says:

      But I chop onions beside the sink! There might be something to that though, some tips do say to wash / soak your onions. I’ll add it na rin, and let the other people decide. Thanks Tony Lou!

  8. khursten says:

    My tip… cut it fast. :3 and with a good knife crying should not be a problem. Kasi when the juicy bits of the onion comes out, the fumes is a lot stronger.

    So, other than the tips above, a good knife and quick cuts should do the trick. The shorter you’re cutting the less tears you have. :3

  9. Leki says:

    only one thing works for me–got this from a food magazine: the day before i need to cook it, i peel and chop the onion (kahit in half lang) and put it in a jar and inside the fridge. when i chop excess, dun ko din nilalagay sa jar. so basically i have an onion jar i open when i need it. pero when they’re already prepared in that way, i find na hindi na siya nakaka-iyak. i haven’t detected any difference in taste, though, at parang juicy pa rin siya, so i still use that technique.

  10. Leki says:

    btw, the jar makes a big diff kasi when i just refrigerated already cut onions, they lose the juice and crunch. pag naka jar siya, they still stay good. πŸ˜€

  11. kaoko says:

    @khursten
    I’m lousy with speed chopping ^_^;; One of the reasons why I want to go to cooking school–so I can make do like those chefs on TV whose knives fly!

    @Leki
    I had no idea you’re a “premeditated” cook =)) Still, I also keep onion halves in an airtight container in the fridge when I have leftovers, like for recipes that call for half an onion only. I never noticed if it made me tear up though.

  12. JB says:

    I’ve tried water nearby, breathing through the mouth, not breathing at all, and the refrigerator. The refrigerator method definitely helps me but only because I’m pretty fast with my knife. Khursten is right, your knife should be really sharp. Do keep the onions in an airtight container in the ref or else they will no only lose flavor, they’ll make all the stuff in your ref taste of onion! even your drinking water! The candle trick is interesting…I wonder if there’s anything to that?

  13. ryan says:

    @ kaoko
    nako,be careful! make sure you have really good vision when attempting to do that, and that you’re really concentrating on your chopping kasi we wouldn’t want you to chop off your digits like jolly….. =)hi jolly! musta na =)

  14. kaoko says:

    @JB
    Even the unpeeled onions? Or just the peeled ones? I’ll play it safe in the meantime and use an airtight container for both. Actually, I can manage to move fast enough if it’s just a rough chop. It’s the finely chopped mince that keels me. Now I’m wondering whether a double-handled knife would be better…

    @ryan
    Don’t worry πŸ˜› I have that see-sawing thing down pat. I make sure my fingers keep away from the path of the knife. Although, yeah, hehe, delikado pa rin πŸ˜› (Who’s Jolly? Are you referring to the bee? :P)

  15. JB says:

    Only cut onions will stink u the fridge,I think, unless you fill it up with like a sackful of onions or something.

    Hey here’s something I haven’t done in a while but the last time I did it it worked great: run a small electric fan beside you to blow the fumes away.

    Did you know that onion fumes + your tears = SULFURIC ACID and that’s why it stings?

    Chrisse, be careful with your guide hand when doing knife work. Your fingertips should be curled under your knuckles and not exposed to the blade. That way yes you could theoretically cut with your eyes closed but I wouldn’t recommend it hehehe.

  16. Mila says:

    I remember someone saying that soaking onions in milk helps reduce tearing up.
    My worst case of onion tears was helping out at a food kitchen in SF, preparing Thanksgiving dinner. I had to chop a whole large box of onions and I was suffering all throughout.

  17. JB says:

    I love using mirepoix for stews but dang, mincing the onions is ever the ordeal! Imagine this too: In school when we start cooking you have upward of 15 people all mincing several onions. Even with the extractor hoods going full blast tears were definitely flowing hehe. That milk method is new to me, Mila. Of course for preparing certain dishes the milk would be unwelcome. For this baked onion recipe though, it would be great! :-)

  18. kaoko says:

    @JB
    I can never do that curled finger trick, it only slows me down. I am careful however, and have never cut myself in years of chopping. About your little equation, if that’s the case, then wearing goggles will help then? Imma buy a cheap pair to use in the kitchen, hehe.

    @Mila
    Thanks for the milk tip πŸ˜€ I’ll add it as well.

  19. JB says:

    @kaoko
    You know what, I’d been cooking for years without curling my fingers cutting myself, and I was pretty fast with the knife. Like you I always thought the classic technique just slowed me down. But in chef schooll they’ll cut your fingers off for you if you don’t use the proper technique (I’m kidding). Now that I’ve gotten used to the curled pinger style (parang martial arts ang tunog ah) I’ve gotten really fast with the knife :-) It’s worth learning.

    As for the goggles..oo nga ano. Some sources say it’s the nose you gotta watch. Then again your nose is connected to your tear ducts. How about wearing goggles plugging your nose & running a fan while chopping your refrigerated onions? Hehehehe sure shot na yun! :-)

    • JB says:

      “..without curling my fingers & never cut myself,” I meant to say πŸ˜›

    • kaoko says:

      Sige nga. I’ll try it sometime. I thought it was impossible to relearn using chopsticks (I used to grip them wrong) but I was able to learn. Methinks curled pinger style can be mastered.

  20. emohxc says:

    All you really need is a sharp knive. It works. No kidding. πŸ˜€

    • kaoko says:

      Except maybe if you’re as clumsy as me. ^_^;; But yeah, it is nice to work with sharp knives. Cuts the prep time and minimizes the pressure I have to exert in cutting.

  21. thecityforever says:

    Chopping off the end first (i.e., the bit with roots growing out of it) may help cut down on the fumes. It’s what I do, and it seems to work for me–maybe it’s mind over matter, but I hardly ever tear up when I’m cutting onions.

    Also, try using one of those two-handled crescent-shaped knives. We have one and it’s great for mincing. Plus, it looks cool. Haha!

  22. surrealistic says:

    Wearing glasses doesn’t help either.. DD:

    But my tip is just rising it under water, as its supposed to “wash” the fumes 😐 :|. I try to be safer and do it every 10 minutes while chopping… ^^;;

  23. kaoko says:

    @thecityforever
    That’s how I start with onions too. Slice off the ends, then peel under running water. Yeah, those two-handled swinging knife thingies are interesting. I’ll get it for the cool part (:P) rather than the actual mincing part though since I don’t mince stuff much.

    @surrealistic
    Yeah, I wear glasses too so it really doesn’t help, heehee. And thanks for the tip πŸ˜€

    • thecityforever says:

      The proper name of the knife, brought to us by Google, is the mezzeluna. Which totally ups the cool factor. πŸ˜€

      And I don’t peel under water, that seems weird to me. Or maybe I’m the weird one here. Haha!

      • kaoko says:

        Mezzeluna! Sounds posh. Must…have…one!

      • JB says:

        Mezzeluna? Is that what it’s called? Super cool! :-) I’m guessing mezze=half and luna=moon. Does look like a moon crescent, doesn’t it? I never wanted one before, thinking it unwieldy, but I always did think it looked cool hehehe. If I was an anime character that’d be my weapon hehehe.

      • kaoko says:

        “Eat my mezzaluna, you creep!”

        PWEDE! You’ll throw it like a boomerang…or use it as a scythe? Either way, it’s pretty cool, hahaha! Mebbe I should tell my boyfriend about this so he can do some sketches…

  24. julie says:

    i’ve heard that if you chop the onions while sitting on a chair gets your head out of the way of the fumes, but i’ve tried it and didn’t work out quite well. the only thing that works for me is eating bread while chopping (actually the idea is to chew it but it won’t last as long as the chewing gum). you should try this one!

    • kaoko says:

      I’ve tried chopping while sitting as well, but not to avoid the fumes—more because I was lazy. Sadly, it made me tear up even faster so I was quick to get out of the chair. Thanks for the bread tip though, I’ll add it to the list.

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  26. Josh says:

    I work in a mexican restaurant, mostly working in the kitchen, including mincing and slicing onions for salsa and our grilled veggies. I’ve found that breathing through the mouth opposed to your nose really helps, so on the rare occasion i do onions, i breathe through my mouth and it’s fine, i can see while i chop, without the burning

  27. Nyota says:

    I’ve found that 8 & 11 works best for me. Without doing that, even with a good knife, it gets so bad I go blind. I still occasionally chop onions blind. Freaks my Mum out when she sees it.

    • kaoko says:

      Bad idea! Though…I confess, I’m guilty of that sometimes, too. Of course, I hope you’re careful and chop very slowly the way I do. But I think, for our best interests, we should both stop the practice. ^_^

      Ooops, I meant stop chopping blindly, of course. ^_^

  28. Nyota says:

    Ah, yes. So true. Don’t worry. It is a practice I’ve stopped. I figured it’s best to stop while I still have all my fingers. I haven’t chopped blind since that post. ^.^

  29. Luney says:

    I believe that sunglasses are the best way to go. The wraparound kind that basically encloses your eye-socket works best for me. Also, that refrigerating onion tip works pretty well. I find that when I go back to an onion I opened a few days ago, the tears aren’t as bad or are nonexistent. I like having the fan going while I’m chopping to blow the fumes away from my onion chopping-board.

    But, when all is said and done, your food processor is your friend. Though I’ve still had problems with my nose and eyes running while basically crying for real because the fumes are so bad. >_<

    They should make tear-less onions. They breed featherless chickens, so why not onions that don’t make you cry?

  30. Tara says:

    i think the candle will work. lol.

  31. kaoko says:

    @Luney
    Hahaha, tearless onions would be an awesome invention. Though admittedly, all that genetic engineering scares me a bit.

    @Tara
    It does πŸ˜€ I do it sometimes but when sometimes, I worry that I’ll hit the candle and end up burning myself. πŸ˜›

  32. carrisa says:

    Some of the ideas are pretty far out there. Most I had never heard before! I recommend buying pre-chopped onion (thats what I do!) :-)

  33. Karine says:

    Hi !

    I’ve just found your site a couple days ago and it’s great. I’m currently browsing through the archive. I’ve got to say that I’m very bad with onion, I cry like a baby every time I chop an onion. The only trick that worked for me is to chop my onion while wearing swimming goggles. It’s ugly but pretty effective.

    Greetings from Canada ^-^

    • kaoko says:

      Hahaha, I actually bought goggles a couple of months ago because I needed to grate a large amount of them. It looks funny but it’s the most effective way of all.

      And thanks so much for visiting! Hope you stick with me πŸ˜€

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