Life & Style

Why Do You Cry While Cutting Onions?


By Omoyeni Adebola Daniel

On a very happy day, have you ever wondered why your laughter turned to tears in the kitchen while preparing your favourite delicacy and you cry while cutting onions?

You have decided to fry your eggs with slices of onions, but cutting the onions made tears roll down your cheeks. Then you ask yourself, “Why do onions make me cry?” The answer is just chemistry in action!

Onion as a vegetable has a defence mechanism; it produces an irritating chemical called ‘propanethial-s-oxide’ which is meant to prevent the plant from being eaten by pests.

This volatile chemical is known as LACHRYMATORY FACTOR. Once the onion bulb is cut, this volatile chemical is released and it quickly evaporates and finds its way into your eyes.

There it dissolves in the water covering the surface of your eyes to form sulfenic acid. Sulfenic acid irritates the lachrymal gland(tear gland) so that it produces tears that are meant to wash away the sulfenic acid.

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However, because the amount of acid produced is relatively small, its effect is not harmful but only irritating.

Moreover, to prevent yourself from crying when next you cut an onion, Chemist Adebola advises you to cut your onion underwater because the sulfur gas, instead of evaporating to your eyes, forms the sulfenic acid in the water.

Daily Times

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