Tried everything to stop the weeping and smell from onions? Try this!
I happen to love onions: red, white, yellow, green – it doesn’t matter which one, I love them all – when they’re in my food as part of a dish. But not so much when the smell just hangs around the kitchen (sometimes for days) like a guest who hasn’t gotten the hint that it’s time to go home.
And the tears. I don’t like the tears.
If you’re like me, you’ve tried all kinds of “tricks” on how to stop all the stinging and crying that comes with preparing onions. I tried freezing onions, but they’re harder to cut. I also tried cutting onions under water, but the onions get slippery and that’s very dangerous. I even tried holding a piece of bread in my mouth. Less dangerous but you end up looking weird, your eyes still tear and the kitchen still smells.
I even heard about putting a burning match in your mouth – but that’s not one I’m going to try! A friend uses swimming goggles in his kitchen – for cutting onions and crushing garlic. Cute, but another idea I’m NOT going to try.
So, imagine my surprise when I was let in on a professional kitchen secret… twenty years in the restaurant business, and it’s not easy to surprise me anymore!
This is a trick from a friend of mine, Christine Moore who is the founder and chef of Little Flower Candy Co. and Lincoln – two great places to visit for breakfast and lunch or early dinner if you happen to be in Pasadena, CA.
So, okay. We all know that onions are a great way to help build flavor in a recipe in so many different ways but they come with a price. Look at what we all suffer though: runny nose, stinging eyes, and a really strong smell that fills the kitchen and refrigerator during and after you’ve been cutting, slicing, and dicing. Not only does it permeate whatever container you’ve put them in but that smell can linger in the kitchen for days. Just when you think that awful smell has finally cleared, you pull out those chopped onions from the refrigerator, you open the container – and you are hit with it all over again!
As it turns out, onions aren’t just a wonderful addition to a recipe they are healthy for you too. They’re full of vitamins, proteins and things that nutritionist call “essential elements” like amino acids which your body really needs to stay healthy.
But all of this goodness comes at a price. Onions are typically grown in sulfur rich soil and that sulfur becomes part of a plant protein (sulfur-based precursors). When you cut open an onion these precursors meet with enzymes called allinases that produce sulfenic acid which rises as a gas and reacts with moisture – like your eyes and nose – to form a mild form of sulfuric acid! And we all start to cry…
But wait, there’s more. During the chemical reaction, you get thiosulfinates – that’s what produces the raw onion smell. Guess what? That stuff just stinks. It’s not acidic. Which means we can now dispense with that old rumor that the smell is what causes the weepy eyes. Thus, the more you cut, the more of both of these things will fly through the air in your kitchen and your whole house!
Which brings me back to Chef Moore’s little surprise tip, which has been thoroughly tested by me and my friends.
Step one: Fill a bowl with ice water and place a sieve or colander in the bowl so that it is submerged in the ice water.
Step two: Use a sharp knife – you’ll work faster and it damages fewer of those pesky cells that release the allinases – and cut your onion in half.
Step three: Place in the halves in the ice water for a minute. Remove the halves.
Step four: Finish your slicing and dicing of the onion and place those pieces back in the sieve (or colander) and ice water for another minute.
Step five: Remove the sieve. Dispose of the water.
One friend told me that he was preparing a recipe that called for minced onions. He sliced the onion thin, dipped the slices in the ice water, then minced without dipping. The trick worked. He also claims that the onion taste in his dish seemed richer (he was making a soup).
Your cut onions will no longer have a strong smell and will not burn your eyes. Added plus: using this method means that you can store prepared onions to your heart’s desire – and not stink up your refrigerator or your kitchen! One more plus: because the production of acids is limited, cooked or raw cut onions won’t burn your stomach as much.
Isn’t this BRILLIANT? Thanks Chef Moore! Now we can enjoy our onions in peace!