Why Do Onions Make Us Cry?
July 11, 2014

Why Do Onions Make Us Cry?

An onion a day keeps the doctor away? Recently, I have been trying to eat healthier and adding more fruits and vegetables into my diet. Last week I decided to make some shrimp tacos, which turned out fabulously by the way. I sauteed some onions with my shrimp and when I was chopping them, my eyes of course started tearing up. It got me thinking, why do onions make us cry?

Onions have many health benefits. They can help prevent infections by aiding your immune system, they can help maintain a healthy blood pressure and diseases such as diabetes and heart disease and they even help in reducing the risk of cancer and fighting the growth of tumors. Furthermore, they taste delicious on a juicy hamburger or sauteed with some fajitas. Onions also have some negatives. They can make your breath reek and the preparation could cause a few tears in the process.

When you begin chopping an onion, you break the cells inside the meat of the onions. This releases enzymes from the onion. These enzymes are made of two key ingredients: sulfur and oxygen. If you’ve ever taken a chemistry class, then you know there are many different combinations of atoms that make up the things around us, but sulfur and oxygen in the right ratio can create something not so nice.

The sulfur oxide vapors that are released from cutting the onion rise up into your face and your eyes. Once they react with the water in your eyes, the onion vapors turn into sulfuric acid. This causes the irritation, the stinging feeling in your eyes and the increased tear production. Your eyes produce more tears to flush the sulfuric acid from your eyes, and that is why you cry.

Now, you may be wondering, “Well, how can I prevent my eyes from watering when I cut up onions?” The truth is that there isn’t really much you can do to prevent the stinging from happening. You may have heard that if you light a candle near the onion, cut it in water, or chew on bread while you are cutting the onion, that it will help. It’s true that these methods could possibly help reduce the onion vapors going into your eyes, but you also seem ridiculous and some of the methods may reduce the flavor of the onion. One thing you definitely don’t want to do is rub your eyes. They probably have onion juice on them from cutting the onions. The most effective, and possibly only, way to prevent your eyes from tearing up when you are cutting onions is to wear goggles. This, however, will look and seem just as silly as all the other ways.

Overall, the health benefits of onions outweigh the negatives, in my opinion. Not to mention these little critters are delicious, especially when they are sauteed in a little bit of oil and turn into sweet bites of flavor with your dinner. Shedding a few tears never killed anyone.

Credit: Thinkstock

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