Have the Japanese invented an onion that won't make you cry?


Young man crying while chopping onions

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Peel back the layers of an onion and you'll find they have many hidden talents. The deliciousness of their unique and piquant flavor means they're the start to plenty of great number of dishes. Sadly, one of the things they're best at is making us cry. Now, there might be hope of reconciliation. Can we finally dry our eyes and enjoy our onions without the tears?


Read it and weep

A Japanese company called House Foods Group says it has created a tearless onion that will end the problems of chopping. The key, the researchers found, was to "weaken" the enzymes that cause the problem.

As an onion grows, it absorbs — among other things — sulfur from the soil. When you cut into the onion, a complex process occurs during which airborne sulfenic acid becomes a chemical compound called Syn-propanethial-S-oxide. It is this airborne irritant that gets into the eyes and starts the tears.

The researchers found that, if they bombarded the vegetable with irradiating ions, it cut the level of the enzyme that starts off the whole process. And the procedure doesn't just prevent chef from getting weepy. The researchers say their approach "fundamentally solves pungency." After treatment, the researchers found minimal traces of odor on hands or breath. Who doesn't know the pain of hiding their shame in the elevator in the morning?


A far cry

The House Foods Group has what they call an "accumulation of long and deep onion research." The researchers there have been looking into the effects of this particular vegetable since their paper was published in Nature in 2002. They won an Ig Nobel Prize — the award for "improbable research" — for their efforts in 2013. 

However — and here's the truly sad bit — at present, the process seems lamentably impractical and the team has no plans to develop a commercially available tearless onion. It's heartbreaking.