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Less Grumpy Kitchen - No More Tears Onion Peeling

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Picture of Less Grumpy Kitchen - No More Tears Onion Peeling
We've all been there - you have peeled your onion and start to cut it up only to burst out crying. The sadness of the senseless violence against this poor little vegetable.

Well, not really. The tears are because of the vapours released by the onion during the process of cutting it. In this little Instructable I'll show you how I cut my onions with no tears. I promise, there will be no water or fridges involved.
 
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Step 1: The Obligatory "What You Need" List.

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This one is a pretty short list.

You will need:

* 1 or more onions.

* A cutting board.

* A sharp paring knife.

* A special note on knives *
Make sure you keep your kitchen knives sharp at all times. No knife in the kitchen is more dangerous than a blunt/dull knife. A sharp knife will ensure a true cut and will not slip or slide. A blunt knife however may easily slip from where you are cutting and cause you an injury.

Step 2: Vegetable Strip Tease.

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Pretty standard step here - remove the outer dried layers of the onion by peeling them from the top of the onion to the base. Do not chop either end of the onion off at this stage. Also, if you have the roots sprouting out of the bottom of the onion don't chop them off right now... Wait for the Bonus Round at the end of this Instructable.

Step 3: Hey, Cut That Out!

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If you turn the onion so you are looking at the base of it, you will notice there is a hardened circular root. This is what we are going to be concentrating on.

Start by inserting your paring knife's point into the onion to one side of this hardened area. Then carefully make a circular incision around the root (picture 3).

-- Update:
Bitter73 asked in the comments whether an apple corer would be suitable, rather than using a paring knife for cutting around the root in this step.

I do not have an apple corer personally, so I am not able to try this directly. However, here is the guidance I can offer.

At the base of the onion you can see the hardened root that you will be cutting around. If you look at picture 3, you will notice I have left a small distance between the edge of the root that is visible and where I made my incision.  It does not translate too well in the photo as there isn't a lot to gauge sizes against, however, it is about 1/8" (approx. 3mm). So if your apple corer is a pretty standard one, and ever so slightly larger than the hardened root area,  I see no reason why this wouldn't work.

(I am taking a bit of a liberty in "assuming" you will use an apple corer similar to this oneFull Disclosure: I have no prior knowledge or dealings with the company that is linked to. I used Google image search and clicked on a picture that resembled what I was thinking of. Please do not take the link being here as any form of endorsement, as it is not).

Step 4: Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.

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(Quick thanks to Archimedes for the title of this step).

Anyhow, your paring knife will provide you with the required lever, and the onion itself will be the fulcrum you need. Carefully insert the point of your paring knife into the incision you have made and gently lever against the root of the onion to loosen it. You'll probably need to do this all around the root (depending upon how old the onion is).

You should then be able to ease the root out of the onion in a whole piece. After which you can chop the rest of the onion however your needs require. You should now find you are able to refrain from breaking down in tears at the impending doom this onion faces.

Quick definition guide (Just for the sake of it. The definitions are both taken from the Oxford English Dictionary.
Lever: - a rigid bar resting on a pivot, used to move a heavy or firmly fixed load with one end when pressure is applied to the other:
Fulcrum: - the point against which a lever is placed to get a purchase, or on which it turns or is supported.

Step 5: The Bonus Round!

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The amazing thing about onions is that they regenerate like it's going out of fashion - many root vegetables will. So, don't throw that root away! Pop it in some soil, provide light and water to regrow your own onions.

What you really need are for roots on the bottom of the onion to grow. In fact, once they are nicely grown, you can split the roots to create several onions. So keep a close eye on them and you'll soon be able to create your own supply of fresh onions.

The photo is part of our kitchen windowsill. The lettuces on the right are just the bottoms of lettuces placed in about an inch of water. At the front you can see how they start off. Whilst towards the back, shows how they look after a few weeks of growing (the biggest of the lot has been growing three weeks as of this picture.

This works for many vegetables, so give it a try. It even works with some fruit, such as pineapple.

-- Update:
Bitter73 asked in the comments how much of the root needs to be preserved to successfully regrow an onion.

The important thing is the little wispy white roots you see on the bottom of many onions. If you have ever left an onion in a cupboard for too long you will have seen it sprout green shoots at the top, and those wispy roots at the bottom. To avoid ambiguity for this section, "root" or "roots" will refer to those wispy white roots. "core" will refer to what you have removed from the onion.

I have only ever planted the whole core, more as a convenience than anything else. I see no reason why if you cut the base of this off and planted it, this method would be any less successful. However, you will burst into tears if you do ;)

A similar effect can be seen with "spring onions". As a general rule, people "top and tail" spring onions. That tail consists of what is principally the base of the core, that you removed from your onion. Therefore, it stands to reason that if you chopped the end of that core off, it would regrow the same way a spring onion tail does. This could prove convenient if you want to use the remainder of the core for adding flavour to your dish (by cooking with it in the pan and then removing it).

All I would say is that I haven't tried this, so I can not say with any authority that it will regrow. But if you want to give it a try, you don't have anything to lose.
holly-g1 year ago
Funny one- this works just like all the other "tried and true" tips for no tears- not at all.
benross2 years ago
I wear contact lenses and never have a problem with onions!
grumpydad (author)  benross2 years ago
Contact lenses clearly have more benefits than just eyesight :)

That said, I'll admire your ability to put lenses into you eyes and remain cowardly, with my glasses. I just can't do contacts, I'd end up poking my eye out with my own finger! My wife would testify to how clumsy I am when my hands get close to eyes :)
jttereve2 years ago
Try breathing through your mouth. Receptors in your nasal cavity will produce tears when you breathe in aroma from raw onions.
grumpydad (author)  jttereve2 years ago
I'm afraid you are mistaken, tears whilst cutting onions is nothing to do with the "aroma" of raw onions. The action of cutting the central root of the onion releases a number of enzymes. The result of the chemical reactions that occur is the presence of a number of sulphurous compounds. This is the principal reason why the method in this I'ble works; those compounds are never created as you do not breach the central root.

The idea of breathing through your mouth is a method that has been touted for many years. However, you do not need to breath through your nose for your body to react to the compounds released, though it certainly improves the situation by not doing so. This is why things like putting something with a strong smell under your nose and holding your breath help in the same way as breathing through your mouth.
mikaleda2 years ago
Some good tips in here, but I've never seen an onion cut quite like that, I usually cut the ends of than put a slice down the side to peel of the dead layers of skin off.
grumpydad (author)  mikaleda2 years ago
There's so many ways to cut fruit and veg, you could spend decades trying them all out :)
Lol, very true.
Bitter732 years ago
How much of the "root" or "core" needs to be preserved to ensure regrowing? And I like your method but I was wondering if you could use an apple corer?
grumpydad (author)  Bitter732 years ago
The regrowing is more to do with the little white wispy roots that grow out of the base of the onion. I could really give you a definite on how much needs to be preserved. You can grow an onion from just the wispy roots that grow out of it without needing the rest of the core. So, going out on a limb, I'd say as long you have that tough bit at the end, it will have a fair chance. The main reason I replant the whole thing is simply that it avoids having to cut into it - which will start your eyes watering.

As for an apple corer - it really depends on the size of your onion. That rough feeling darker brown circular area on the base on the onion givers you a good idea of how large the core is. So if your corer is marginally larger than that, it should work for making the cut. You don't need to go down deep, only enough to break past the top layers, which is maybe about 1/2 an inch (approximately 1.25cm /12.5mm for metric readers).

Then you will just need something to gently lever the core to break it loose from the remaining onion. All I can suggest is give it a go, and let us know how it goes. The worst case scenario is that it doesn't work and you have a few tears in your eyes.
Don't pay any attention to the rudeness. Your method is correct. The root is where the tears comes from. Alton Brown, "Good Eats" Food Network, covered it several times on his show. I don't remember the chemistry but it is part of the plants defense. Besides, who wants to work with frozen onions?

Another way to "reduce" the tears is to hold everything together while you slice the onion, never chop. Cut the ends off. Remove the dead skin. Slice in half. On the first half, slice annually, against the grain. Hold the half together, rotate and finish the "cubing" in the other direction. The key is holding it all together until you finish each half.

Removing the roots first is the best method. It may even remove some bitterness in cooking. Never tried, just an afterthought.
grumpydad (author)  mr.incredible2 years ago
Thank you for your kindness. I can't say I've heard of Alton Brown (wrong side of the Atlantic), but a quick browse on Google suggests to me that he is much like a mixture of Heston Blumenthal and Gary Rhodes from our side of the pond.

Without the root, the onion flavour certainly becomes a little milder and more palatable. Of course there is nothing to say that the root can't be used as a whole for added flavouring; or indeed chopped up, perhaps with a nose clip to prevent tearing up.

It can complicate cutting a little. I still try as much as possible to keep everything together as you mention. Though the lack of the root can lead to collapsing if the knife isn't sharp enough. It also became a lot harder after I misplaced my chef's knife - I must get around to buying another one.

Anyhow, once again, thanks - I enjoyed reading, and responding to your message.