No More Onion Tears

Over the years I have heard of a lot of remedies for preventing tears when cutting up onions. Many of these have been quite amusing; chew on a matchstick while cutting (must be wood), others sound as though they might work; run the onion under water for a few minutes before chopping and others sound just to weird to try at all; ‘with your swimming goggles firmly in place light the incense, place it next to your chopping board and chop away’.

For me the solution was discovered not by taking old wives tales as fact but simply by trial and error. You see when I was much younger and starting out working in kitchens and I would be given kilos and kilos of onions to slice, dice, julienne and chop by the head chef. With my youthful ambition I would dive in and do exactly as he had asked, standing at one chopping board for hours on end cutting nothing but onions. I quite enjoyed these sorts of menial tasks that many of my colleagues despised. They saw them as boring and un-educational. I on the other hand saw them as a challenge and an opportunity to improve my knife skills. I would weigh the onions into equal weighted groups on each occasion and time myself to see if I was getting faster.

Occasionally I would get too focused on my time and Chef would walk past and compare the inconsistencies in my slices of julienne, he would say, "Hegeman, slow it down! This slice is 3 times the size of this one. I want them all to look like this one", as he pointed to one of my few perfect slices.

I would agree, "Yes Chef" and begrudgingly pick up my knife again and cut the remainder of the onions a lot slower.

I digress, but what I’m getting at here is that I would spend all this time working vigorously slicing, cutting and chopping onions and never give a second thought to tears.

However on my days off I would often knock up a meal at home and after cutting half an onion I was balling like a 1960’s teenage girl at a Beatles concert. I wondered what I was doing different and I could see nothing I was doing different at home than at work. I had peeled the onions the same, I had the same plastic chopping board I was even using the same knife as at work, (I always took my tools home with me on my days off). I couldn’t think why I would cry at home but not at work. Was there a sub-conscious part of me keeping my tears at bay for fear of tearing up in front of Chef and the other guys at work? I couldn’t figure it out, but I was glad I never had much more than 1-2 onions to cut at home.

I later discovered it had nothing to do with what I was doing but what the kitchen itself was doing. You see at work there were 6 huge extractor fans across from me, there was also a big corridor running down to a huge receiving door behind me that was open to the fresh air. At home I had the windows in my apartment shut and the tiny overhead fan turned off. So the answer I discovered is basically ventilation. The next time you’re cutting onions, simply make sure you have good circulation; air being drawn in and out of the kitchen. Try to face or be as near as possible to your exhaust fan and open some windows and doors to allow the air to flow.

If you do not have any windows near your kitchen or your stove does not have an overhead fan, try taking the chopping board out side, the fresh air should have the same effect of circulation and dilute the fumes before they get to you. I have been working in commercial kitchens for many years and this simple method has kept me from shedding one onion tear. So next time you need to chop some onions, leave the swimming goggles at the pool, the matchsticks in the drawer and simply turn the fan on and open a window. Happy chopping.

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About The Author, Paul Hegeman
Paul is a professional Chef and has worked and travelled all over the world. He now resides full time in Sydney Australia. Paul works as a personal Chef as well as a food writer, contributing regularly to His cooking style focuses on using the freshest ingredients possible and helping them work their magic, his motto 'combinations not complications'.