Dear Diana – or maybe I should be addressing the cookery page! Don’t laugh, but since having eye surgery last year I no longer need to wear contact lenses. This leaves my eyes unprotected and very sensitive to things – particularly when cooking. When chopping a red onion last week I was incapacitated with streaming eyes. Are there any of those wonderful old wives cures which work? Or an onion chopper which actually does what it claims it will?
Angela Twiselton Northampton
Sheila I’m so pleased your eye surgery was successful, and there are ways to avoid too many tears in the kitchen! Cutting an onion produces a series of chemical reactions that unleashes propanethial S-oxide, an irritant that causes the tears. An effective way to help stop the waterworks is to chill the onions. When the onion is cold less propanethial S-oxide will evaporate.
Always use a sharp knife and position your chopping board by your cooker and under the vent hood. Turn the exhaust fan on and it should pull the irritants away from you and your eyes. As soon as you cut the onion in half, turn both halves down on your cutting board, leaving the side you aren’t currently chopping unpeeled. Once you’ve finished with the first half put the diced onion into a bowl on the other side of the kitchen, before attacking the rest. Breathing through your mouth while chopping will reduce tears because your olfactory nerves are located close to your tear ducts.
I know wearing goggles might make you feel silly but they’re very effective in avoiding waterworks. Putting any type of airtight barrier between your eyes and the onion helps—including those contact lenses!