If you’ve ever tried dicing onions at home, then you already know how much of a tear-jerking experience it can be. And we’re not talking about slicing your finger with the knife (though we highly recommend avoiding that too).
However, with a little info and advice, you can dice an entire onion without shedding a tear, or at least minimizing the waterworks.
Why Does Dicing Onions Make Me Cry?
First, you need to know why onions make you cry. It’s actually a chemical process. When you cut into an onion, you break cells and release enzymes that were originally kept separate from sulfenic acids that also exist in the onion. When the two properties mix, they produce propanethiol S-oxide, a volatile sulfur compound.
When this gas reaches your eyes, it reacts with the water in your tears to create sulfuric acid, the burning from which stimulates your eyes to produce more tears.
The root of those enzymes is…drum roll…the onion’s root!
Quit Your Crying
So, now that we know why dicing onions makes us cry, we need to figure a way to dice the thing before those enzymes can create the gas that makes us weep.
There are plenty of tips and tricks out there to eliminate the chemical process while dicing onions, such as:
- Cooking the onion, which inactivates the enzymes
- Wearing safety goggles or running a fan to keep the vapor out of your eyes
- Refrigerating or even freezing the onion prior to cutting, which slows the chemical process
- Cutting the onion under water, which does essentially the same thing as refrigerating or freezing
- Keeping a piece of bread in your mouth while you cut…which we have no idea why it works, but people say that it does
While these tricks work to some degree, none of them address the root of the onion.
You could cut out the root and the bulb of the onion altogether, but we honestly haven’t seen a method that doesn’t make us cringe. Most people demonstrating it use a sharp paring knife pointed down while holding the onion in their palm, which to us looks like a great way to plunge a knife through your hand.
For the pros in our kitchen, our solution is to keep the root and bulb as intact as possible while dicing onions.
Getting To the Root of the Problem
Since the root holds all of those enzymes, we recommend leaving it intact for the most part. You can do the other tricks too, but with a sharp knife and some practice, you can minimize the chemical process and dice an entire onion before the tears start to pour.
For a nice tutorial on dicing onions, check out this video:
Essentially, the process works like this:
- Using a sharp knife, slice off the top of the onion. Not the root though! Leave that as is. Once you’ve discarded the top, peel the onion’s skin.
- Slice the onion in half, starting at the root and going straight down. While this does expose the root, you’ll be dicing with the cut side down to help prevent the gas from reaching your eyes.
- With the onion cut-side down, carefully make two horizontal slices through the onion, being careful not to cut all the way through the root.
- Holding the onion together, slice perpendicular to the root and dice the onion as fine as you wish. When you’re done, the root will still be intact. Throw the thing away.