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I am cooking for a large group and am trying to do as much as I can in advance. One thing I would love to do in advance is chop several onions. I have done this before with a single onion; I stored the chopped onion in a plastic storage container (sealed with the lid) in the fridge. About 6 hours later, the smell of onions was very strong both in the fridge and on everything that was in the fridge. I can't imagine it with 4-6 onions!

What can I do to avoid the smell, not ruin everything in my fridge, but still be able to do the preparation 6-8 hours in advance?

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up vote 13 down vote accepted

I regularly store chopped onion in my refrigerator (or at least halves & quarters).

I either use tight-sealing plastic containers or zip-top bags. You may want to double-bag in zip-tops to be sure to avoid a smell.

One problem you may be having is onion-ness getting on the outside of the container. Be sure the outside is all clean and dry - no point in having a nicely sealed packet of onion when the outside can get all stinky anyway.

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Sounds right to me; double bagging is a good idea as it will both solve the issue of anything on the outside of the first bag, and I believe roughly square the impermeability of a single bag. – Michael at Herbivoracious Sep 3 '10 at 3:30
what's with these semipermeable bags anyway! – Nick Sep 3 '10 at 8:10

The issue is onions have chemicals in their cells that merge to form the compounds that we're used to. First, you need to minimize the damage you do to the onion, as you're otherwise releasing the chemicals too early. This means for the most part using a very sharp knife.

Depending on what you're going to be making with the onions, consider freezing them instead of refrigerating; if the onions are going to be cooked, you likely won't notice the difference in texture. The cold helps to slow down the chemical reaction.

And your last option is to change your onions -- consider 'sweet' varieties of onions, or red onions, that aren't going to have as strong of an onion flavor, but also won't outgas as much as a result.

And um ... use a glass, corningware or similar container, with a tight fitting lid. I find the smell seems to permeate through plastic over time. (it might not be an issue for only 6-8 hours, but you never know).

And the last option -- don't finish chopping them. Halve them, peel them, and store 'em cut-side down in the fridge, so you've already reduced maybe 1/3 the time to chop onions (assuming you have sharp knives and good knife skills), then just finish 'em at the last minute. Maybe recruit a second person to help.

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Whew hew! Thanks for recommending that I store the onion in glass! I used two of my small mason jars and an old glass bottle of spaghetti sauce. That was the ticket! I still have my delicious stinky onions all cut up and ready to be used but I no longer have to seriously GAG when someone opens up the fridge. – user19800 Aug 22 '13 at 15:28
@Jane : you're welcome. If you get 15 reputation (by other people liking your answers or questions), you can also vote up other people's answers or questions to mark that you agree and/or found it useful. (which then can move answers up futher, making them more prominent) – Joe Aug 22 '13 at 17:04

Store them in sealed containers, in water. This has the extra advantage of ameliorating the harshness of the onion.

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yet there's something gross about an onion that's had its essence ameliorated. When I used to frequent kebab shops, I'd be able to sense water-stored onions, and the shop would go onto the avoid list. – Nick Sep 3 '10 at 8:12
"Advantage" depends on the dish and the intended audience(is that the right word for the consumer of food?) -- if a tempering of the onioney goodness is desired, this is a great option, but often that harshness is exactly what is desired from the onion... – TJ Ellis Sep 3 '10 at 11:03

How about just skinning the onions as prep? Storing these will not be create as much smell and then when you need them take them out of the fridge and use a food processor to save time chopping them.

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This is a well-known 'thing' with onions and the solution is this:

Salt them lightly before storing. (You can compensate by modifying the salt in the dish you're going to use them in.) I'm sure it has a scientific basis, but I don't know it - Mediterranean housewives have known this for hundreds of years. Good luck.

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Jacques Pépin recommends just rinsing the chopped onions, as this will remove chemicals produced by chopping the onion that are responsible for the smell. This was featured on an episode of "More Fast Food, My Way". The episode was "Viva Espana!", episode #201 at about 10:10 into the show.

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Do you have a link or a citation to where he says this? And does he say why this works? – Yamikuronue Aug 23 '13 at 11:32
He said this in one of the "More Fast Food, My Way" television shows. I'm sorry, I don't know which show, I'll try to find it later. He said that cutting the onion produces the chemicals that cause the smell, and rinsing them reduces the chemicals. – GeezerGeek Aug 26 '13 at 14:12

Foolproof method of storing onions in the fridge without the smell permeating inside and also into the container which it is stored is....To store it in a glass bottle with a tight lid like a jam bottle.

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I always wrap my onions, sliced, chopped or otherwise, in aluminum foil. Never have a problem with odors in the fridge.

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You're using onions for flavor and not as a garnish, so just use dehydrated onions instead. The one exception is onions in salsa, when you need the soft crunch and the explosion of onion flavor mixing in with the other fresh veggies. (That's why homemade salsa ALWAYS beats store-bought.)

In my Los Angeles restaurant I've always used powdered onion, garlic, cumin, etc. whenever possible.

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Garnish is definitely not the only reason to use fresh onions. Sure, you can get away with dehydrated ones if you want them to entirely disappear into the dish, but it's completely reasonable to leave them visible and let them provide texture - and that's not just salsa. – Jefromi Jul 15 '15 at 19:57

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