It happens to all of us. You’re making dinner, using a recipe that calls for onions. You grab an onion from your pantry or countertop and tears uncontrollably start running down your face the minute you cut into it. Well, cry no more!
To help understand the science behind your tears, I’m going to geek out a tiny bit. Onions contain naturally occurring sulfur compounds. When you cut into an onion, you break the cells within the onion, releasing enzymes. These enzymes react with the sulfur compounds, which start drifting up towards your eyes. When our eyes are exposed to irritants such as dust, pollen, or in this case, sulfur gas, the brain triggers the production of tears to wash away the irritant. The combination of water from your tears and sulfur gas form sulfuric acid, which is the reason for the burning sensation and your mascara running down your face.
To keep from crying, my go to method is to refrigerate onions for an hour before cutting them. The colder temperature helps to slow the enzyme-sulfur reactions and changes the chemistry in the onion. Give it a try! No tears, I promise.
P.S. Proper long term storage for unpeeled onions is in a cool, dark, well ventilated place. Onions should not be stored in the fridge for a prolonged period of time since the increased humidity will actually cause them to spoil faster.