Eat North Answers: Why do my eyes water when cutting onions?

Why you cry over chopped onions

Whether you’re putting together a simple meal for yourself or a multi-course feast for friends and family, it’s very likely that one of the first ingredients to hit your pan will be the humble onion. But before the rich umami and subtle sweetness can begin to build the base of your culinary creation, you’re going to need to cut into your onion and you know what that means; waterworks are on the way. 

When an onion is cut, certain compounds are released that cause the nerves around the eyes to become irritated. These compounds consist of amino acids and when the onion is sliced or diced, the onion’s cells release these compounds into the air. 

Some ways to mitigate the effects include using a sharp knife to reduce the amount of damage to the onion cells, cooling the onion in the refrigerator prior to cutting to suppress the acidic compounds, soaking the onion in water to dissolve the amino acids, or turning on your kitchen fan while cutting, and when all else fails, find yourself a pair of swimming or ski goggles!