Onions have been around a long time. The ancient Egyptians worshiped onions, and onions were used to pay the rent or as wedding gifts in the Middle Ages, according to the National Onion Association. Today, the average American eats 20 pounds of onions each year. Onions are a kitchen staple, but they release tear-triggering gas when cut, and chopping onions shouldn’t be something to cry about. Here are some ways to cut an without the tears.
Big and firm onions are easier to cut, and onions are easier to peel when they are wet. Do not store whole onions in plastic but rather keep them in a well ventilated place. The National Onion Association suggests you chill the onion for 30 minutes before cutting to fight off tears. Use a sharp knife or carefully sharpen the one you want to use. Prep your peeling and dicing station. Make sure your cutting board will not move while you are chopping.
There are different schools of thought as to how to cut the onion. One is to cut the root and bulb before you do anything else. The other asks you to cut the part of the onion with the root at the very end.
If you decide to go with the first technique, place the onion on a secured cooking board — root side up. Angle your knife about one-third of the way from the center of the onion. Cut around in a cone shape. When you have finished this step, you should be able to pull out the root as one whole piece. Once the bulb is out, throw it away.
The more popular way of going about it is to chop off the stem end. If you want, you can chop off the bottom as well. You can choose to peel the onion’s outer layer off at this point. If you plan to dice the onion, cut it in half length-wise. Some people find it easier to peel off the skin once the onion is cut. Find what works for you.
Place the onion half on the cutting board with the cut side facing downward. Starting at the bottom, make a few, evenly spaced cuts up toward the other end. The distance between the cuts should reflect the desired size of your final onion pieces. Be mindful not to cut the root end. Hold the onion together and cut through the onion horizontally with the sharp end of the knife toward you without going through the root. Now, cut across the onion. Here is the National Onion Association’s guide to cutting an onion for additional reference.
If you want to make onion rings, place the whole, peeled onion on its side and slice across. For onion wedges, use the peeled onion halves and cut along the grain.
There are additional tricks you can use, such as cutting the onion near a steaming kettle or an open window. Also make sure you are working in a well-ventilated area. Light a candle by your cooking space to draw the gas toward the flame and away from your eyes. Swimming goggles or eye protectors can prevent onion gas from irritating your eyes. There are even specialty goggles that you can buy solely for the purpose of cutting onions. To get rid of the strong onion smell, you can use lemon juice on your hands and equipment, but stick to salt if you are using aluminum, cast iron or carbon-steel cookware.