Jenny Gristock

Jenny Gristock

storytelling, with data

How to Chop an Onion

Last week, I was chasing bits of onion around the chopping board like an arachnophobic with a rolled-up newspaper, and a thought struck me. Why not use science to come up with a better method?

When I chop an onion, I want little slices, no dismembered digits, and dry eyes. The last bit is the trickiest. Onions contain pongy, volatile chemicals which are remarkably mobile for vegetable extracts. These tiny molecules will escape from their moist surroundings and float high into the air, given just a whiff of encouragement.

What happens is this: an air molecule comes down, it crashes into a wet onion surface, and hey presto! Thousands of pongy chemicals are knocked right up our noses. So what should we do? Stand on one foot? Hold our breath? Well, the latter option is scientifically correct, but it’s hardly practical.

The thing to do is to work out how to chop the onion so that your cuts expose just the absolute minimum of wet onion surface to the air. Without a wet onion surface, there is no way those pesky chemicals can be knocked upwards. So as you are chopping, keep the onion bunched tightly together for as long as possible.

One way to do this is to top and tail the onion, then quickly peel it. Whip off an extra layer if you find this too fiddly. Cut the onion in half and bang the wet, exposed sides down on the board before those chemicals get any ideas.

Then carefully slice the onion, but not all the way through- leave a thin bit along the edge to hold it all together. The longer the onion stays bunched together, the less chance there is that it will all end in tears. At this stage, it should look a bit like a big, round, long-toothed comb: the slices are the comb ‘teeth’. Now do the other one.

When you’ve finished, your onion halves should look almost untouched- at least, they are still tightly packed together. Take a deep breath, and go for the finale.

Turn the onion halves through 90 degrees and slice them again. There! Your onion is now chopped and your eyes are dry.

Science is for real life, not text books.

**From the South Wales Evening Post
*** Photo by Chris Gladis

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Jenny Gristock

Jenny Gristock is an award-winning science writer and editor.

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Jenny Gristock is an award-winning science writer and editor.


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