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I am willing to forgo a little taste if I don't have to take 3 breaks while dicing an onion. Should I use red, white or yellow to minimize eye irritation. I have a small fridge/freezer so freezing them isn't an option.

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Use a sharp knife and you'll keep the taste too! –  nico Aug 29 '11 at 10:40

5 Answers 5

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The onions that cause the least tears are those with lower sulfur content. But it turns out that it's not just the variety of the onion that's a factor, but the sulfur content of the soil they're grown in (eg, areas of Georgia, where Vidalia onions are grown). Of course, this means they don't have the same 'bite' as you'd get from other onions.

In the U.S., at least, they're typically sold as 'Sweet' onions. They may go under names such as Vidalia, Maiu Sweet, Mayan Sweet, Walla Walla, etc. They tend to be yellow varieties, but they're fairly obvious in their shape-- they're not round, they tend to wider than the length from the ends. They also tend to be more wet than regular onions, so they don't store as well, and thus have a shorter season (or they're flown in from South America, for those of us in the U.S.)

If I were to rank them, from least to most tear-causing, I'd say:

  • sweet onions
  • green onions / scallions
  • red onions
  • other yellow onions
  • white onions
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verified for red onions. some irritation but almost no tears when cutting at room temp. as opposed to the deadly yellow and white species –  Midhat Sep 16 '11 at 19:47

I think that sweet onions cause the least crying, at least in my experience. Also, green onions or scallions have never made me cry. I know that onion cells, when broken give off sulfur compounds which rapidly change into other chemicals on contact with air which then become vapors that irritate the eye. Have heard of a number of ways to reduce the crying effect.

Use a sharp knife to cut the onion, reducing the cell damage & thus the amount of airborne irritants.

Cut the onions under water, which keeps the chemicals in the water, reducing the amount which become airborne.

Chill the onion. The cold onion, when cut, releases the same chemicals which, being cold, react more slowly in air, producing less irritants.

Just read that cutting the root last helps, as the highest concentration of volatile sulfur compounds is in the root.

Have also heard that putting bowls of cold water around the work areas tends to reduce the amount of sulfur compounds in the air.

Of all of these, I have used refrigerated onions occasionally, have never done any 'science' on this topic. I do know, however, that sweet onions don't make me cry.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onion gives some information about the chemical reactions.

Hope this helps

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In addition to the good cutting technique advise, you may find that using "Onion Goggles" will help you significantly. I received them as a gift a few years back and thought them 'kinda silly', but tried them and they work great.

enter image description here

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The parts of the onion that releases the bulk of the tearing agent are the top and bottom (the area near the roots and the area where the green shoots come out).

With a sharp knife, before doing anything else, quickly chop off these areas and discard immediately. The rest of the onion does not have as much of the tearing agent.

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Try lighting a candle near your work area. I don't know why it works, but I am pretty sensitive to crying with onions and this trick works for me.

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