Good news for chefs. A tear-free onion, called Sunion, has been developed. It has taken more than 20 years of work by crop scientists to come up with this product, described as crunchy and full of sweetness and, unlike its traditional counterpart, won’t bring tears to your eyes.
Slicing a traditional onion releases a volatile compound called lachrymatory-factor synthase which, on contact with the eye, triggers the body to produce tears to reduce the irritation.
For too many years, people have tried all sorts of methods to make cutting the pungent bulb a tear-free experience but have had little luck. Some have read about trying to cut this while it is in a bowl of water but have found that their tears have only increased the water level. Others have slipped on swimming goggles only to find their vision blurred as the glasses get misted with the over-production of their lachyrimal glands. What makes things worse is when you, without thinking, reflexively rub your eyes to stem the flow and relieve the burning sensation, which only increases your discomfort. That is when you realise that there is some truth to the saying “less is more” and decide to drastically reduce production even if the dish you have planned will suffer.
By a strange coincidence I found that when I used to wear contact lenses, I was able to do this task without being reduced to tears. When I mentioned this to a family member, I was soon appointed official onion-slicer. Onions are an integral part of Indian cooking and being able to tackle them without tears is definitely a huge victory. Flattered by my services being sought after in the kitchen, I soon found myself surrounded by massive mounds of this bulb and slicing and dicing as per demand. There was a two-year-old niece who relished raw onion and kept creeping up on me to steal some to pop into her mouth. My family is definitely strange.
At breakfast time, if anyone requested an omelette, the response was “no problem” if the onion-buster was around. Normally, one hesitates offering options such as these as it is so much easier to serve up fried eggs. There is also the danger of other requests being thrown in such as “can you throw in some cheese” or “I like mine with lots of tomato”. That is when what should be a quick turnover of breakfast specials turns into a protracted meal time, leaving the cook with little time to recover before the next meal has to be thought of.
The sunion, cooks will be glad to note, can stay fresh for up to six months if stored in a cool place. This is news that can cheer people living in India where the price of this root vegetable can shoot up astronomically in certain seasons. During these lean times, one can hear conversations that revolve around its exorbitant price as housewives bemoan its unaffordability. Now all they can do is hope that this miracle product reaches markets here. The only hitch is that when it does, its price will be so stinging that it will bring tears to one’s eyes all over again.
The prices of tomatoes can also reach ridiculous heights at times but the thrifty housewife will buy in bulk when they are plentiful and make home-made paste. But this does not work for onions.
Currently, sunions are only being grown by farmers in Nevada and Washington in the United States, where the climate is ideal for the crop.
The quest for tear-free onions has seen a Google search yield over a million-and-a-half results as well as many YouTube videos.
If you live close enough and if you are really nice to me, I might even offer my services as onion slicer par excellence.
Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India.