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This Onion Will Never Make You Cry

A Japanese food company has designed an onion that won’t make you cry

(Erik Isakson/Rubberball/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Even Shakespeare felt the doleful properties of onions. “The tears that live in an onion should water this sorrow,” he wrote in Antony and Cleopatra. But now there are happier culinary days on the horizon. House Food Groups, one of Japan’s largest food manufacturers, has just come out with a tear-free version of the notoriously eye-burning bulbs.

House Foods first identified the enzyme behind the onion’s pungent properties in 2002—a discovery that earned them the Ig Nobel Prize. In the years since, the company has figured out how to weaken theses enzymes by bombarding an onion with irradiating ions.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

House Foods said all 20 of its employees didn’t taste any pungency in the resulting onions, which have the added benefit of not leaving a strong smell on the cook’s hands or the breath of those who eat them. “It not only reduces the tears, but should put more smiles” on the faces of whoever is in the kitchen, the company said.

Onions make you cry because they release a compound once they are cut or crushed. It's an evolutionary design to repel bugs or animals that try to eat it. As chemist Erick Block explained to NPR:

They’re there to allow the plant to survive in a very hardscrabble world, a world where there are lots of worms in the ground and animals that would devour something that exists and has to survive as a bulb in the ground … Plants can’t run, so they stay and fight, and they’re wonderful at it.

House Foods has not yet made plans to release their new onions commercially. Until they do, Block has some other tips to help you enjoy actually cooking the vegetable: cool it down before cutting it (which reduces its volatility), use a kitchen hood to pull the fumes out or chop it under water so that the compounds are not released into the air. Try it out, and hopefully the only thing watering will be your mouth.

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