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Stopping the Waterworks

Q. What are the best techniques to avoid having your eyes burn when chopping an onion? I know that you can purchase goggles, but I was curious if there are other ways to avoid this annoyance. — Liz Williams, Appleton

A. To get to the root of this problem, it is helpful to understand the cause. When we cut an onion, we rupture the cells and release amino acids through vaporization. These vapors reach our tear ducts and when combined with the water in our tears, they produce sulfuric acid. The result is, well, you know – ouch! Then our body tries to rid itself of the irritant and generates more tears to wash it away.

Sidebar: When I did my internship in Australia in 1988, the cooks in the kitchen were messing with me. They told me to roll up a slice of bread and have it hang out of my mouth which would absorb the vapors and provide some relief. Well, I realized that they got me when I caught them snickering around the corner. I was much younger and more naive then!

To avoid the irritation in your eyes, some suggestions include cutting the onion under running water, refrigerating the onion before cutting it, running a fan nearby to keep the fumes away from your face, or the suggestion you made of wearing safety goggles. Me – I just take one for the team!

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