You’ve probably had this experience like the rest of us. You’re preparing a meal, adding chopped onions to the pan or incorporating them into a meat dish or fixing fresh salsa, and suddenly you’re assaulted with strong irritation to your eyes. You discovered the consequences of chopping fresh onions: tearing and burning eyes.
Why do onions make you cry?
The main cause of the eye irritation is due to the breakdown of amino acid sulfoxides that generate sulfenic acids. So, once you cut an onion and break the cells, you released these dangerous onion vapor enzymes. What had been separate prior to cutting has now been released and mix with sulfenic acids producing a volatile sulfur compound.
It is this gas compound that mixes with the water in your eyes forming sulfuric acid. The sulfuric acid is what burns and stimulates your eyes to release more tears to wash away the irritant. Best way to avoid the tears when using onions is to peel them underwater. And if not using gloves or peeling/cutting them under water, you’ll find that your hands/fingers will have an onion odor. Using lemon juice rubbed on your hands will aid in eliminating the onion smell.
Don’t let the potential of eye irritation keep you from enjoying the health benefits of onions.
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