Growing up, I often overheard my mother weeping in the kitchen in between chops of onion on numerous occasions, and would strategically fight the urge to grab a soda from the fridge when the stank was particularly strong. It wasn’t until I was married and living on my own, though, that I cooked the veggie myself and grasped a better understanding of the struggle. Thankfully, science has graciously stepped in to develop "Sunions," aka onions that don’t make you cry, so that generations to come will never have to risk slicing their fingers because of teary, foggy eyes. If you're reading this, you don't know how lucky you are.
I can actually pinpoint the first time my tear ducts ran rapid as a result of being exposed to onion cutting. I was hanging out in my best friend’s bedroom upstairs when my eyes swelled with a kind of hideous itching sensation, and the tears leaked out like a broken faucet. “What’s going on?” I remember freaking out to myself. My friend took a whiff of air and laughed at my sniffles: “My mom’s cutting onion downstairs.” Can you believe that?! The smell was so strong that it actually made its way up the stairs and into my eye sockets. Apparently, though, this isn’t as unheard of as I thought it was.
When cut open, onions release a chemical that irritates our eyes.
For the record, onions aren’t an evil veg; they’re just swarming with a chemical that does our eyes dirty when we chop them into pieces. Serves us right, I guess.
Josie Silvaroli, a researcher and author on a study about enzymes that make us cry, told The New York Times that when onions release a chemical called lachrymatoy factor (LF), “it turns into a gas,” similar to tear gas, that “hits your sensory nerves in your eyes and causes them to tear up.” Yikes.
And, sure, while ugly-crying every time you want to add a little bit of flavor to a dish is annoying AF, when you think about why onions release the chemical in the first place, it’s actually pretty fascinating. You see, emitting LF is the onion’s defense mechanism against predators such as ourselves. When the onion is literally being taken apart with sharp knives and other kitchen gadgets, its cells break, causing the chemical to release as a form of protection. Is that brilliant or what? So, while there are no reputable studies at this time that prove plants can actually "feel pain," there's no doubt they can respond to stimulation, and onions are a prime example of this.
Sunions, on the other hand, are the first U.S.-grown onions that won't make you tear up.
So, if onions discharge that chemical LF as a response to their cells being destroyed, why, then, don’t Sunions produce the same effect?
According to Bayer, the genius company behind these tearless gems, the volatile compounds in traditional onions that make our eyes water intensify over time. These same compounds in Sunions, however, decrease over time, and are made available for purchase when 100 percent tearless.
Less tears, more flavor — it almost sounds too good to be true, right? Well, it's not. In a statement to the Huffington Post, Bayer explains that Sunions are not genetically modified. Rather, they are "developed through an all-natural crossbreeding program" that first took off in the '80s.
Bayer's crops sales manager, Lyndon Johnson, told Huffington Post,
We started by planting a source out in the field, and if it produced desirable qualities, which in this case was low pungency, we selected the bulbs that lowered in pungency over time in storage ... And that’s how it generated, through traditional selection method.
In other words, these onions are all-natural and perfectly safe to eat, with the added bonus of not having to keep tissues at the ready when you cook them. Score!
Not only are Sunions 100 percent tearless, they're said to have a ton of flavor, too.
While you can now genuinely enjoy the cooking process sans wearing goggles, having to stuff a piece of bread in your mouth, or undergoing any other silly hack to keep your meal prep time tear-free, you’re also going to love the rich taste each piece of Sunion has to offer.
According to Bayer's product description, tearless onions "become sweeter every day," as the chemicals in Sunions are not as potent as traditional crops. Rather than tasting a strong bitterness, consumers can enjoy a sweet, crisp veggie that doesn't leave a heinous aftertaste.
Unfortunately, Sunion retailers have not been announced just yet, but that just means there's time to plan out how to use the new ingredient in your daily menu. Homemade crispy, sweet onions, anyone?