Depending on the variety, an onion can be sharp, spicy, tangy, pungent, mild or sweet. They are commonly used as a base for curries, or made into a paste and eaten as a main course or as a side dish. Unfortunately, after chopping onions, you may notice that you still have the odor of them on your hands for many hours after. As delicious as onions are, walking around smelling like them is another story.
Onion smell is pervasive and irritating long after the delicious meal is over. It clings to the fingers and nail region with ferocity. It even affects your breath! Indeed, onions have a very potent smell, because onion oil contains 1-propenyl sulfenic acid, which is thought to be the lacrimator in onions. The lacrimator is something that makes your eyes water and gives the onions such a distinct smell.
Bizarrely enough, this stinging, tangy chemical is also the cause for a lot of the great flavor in onions, as well as the satisfying fragrance when you fry the vegetable. You’ll also get sulfenic acids by cutting up garlic, chives and leeks, but they don’t form the same irritating gas, just a strong smell.
Who has the cure? Must fingers smell onion-like after chopping? Must breath smell so strong after eating this malodorous vegetable? This article may have all the answers you’re looking for.
Onion Smell Removal
* Wear gloves. That’ll keep the onion smell off of your hands.
* Peeling the onion and then chilling it in the refrigerator before you slice will minimize the release of gas somewhat, because the change in temperature alters the compounds in the onion. Cooking an onion before you slice it will also work for the same reason. Another easy solution is to cut the onion underwater or run the tap over it as you slice.
* Rub your hands against stainless steel metal (a kitchen sink works well) under cold running water for about a minute; rubbing with a large metal spoon works, too. It is also possible to purchase vegetable-shaped or oval-shaped stainless steel « soaps » that can sit permanently at your kitchen sink. They don’t cost much and they really work. Look in the kitchen supplies section of a local store.
The science behind this phenomenon lies in the theory that the sulfuric odor from the onion would be attracted to and bind with one or more of the metals in stainless steel. Formation of such compounds is what makes stainless steel stainless, after all.
Onions and garlic contain amino acid sulfoxides, which form sulfenic acids, which then form a volatile gas (propanethiol S-oxide), which forms sulfuric acid upon exposure to water. These sulfuric compounds are responsible for onions burning your eyes while cutting them and also for garlic’s characteristic scent.
* If you don’t have steel handy, you can make a paste of baking soda, (bicarbonate of soda) and water and rub it over your hands, then wash off. The odor will disappear with the soda.
* Squeeze toothpaste or pour a small amount of mouthwash on one palm, then rub your hands together. Rinse with water.
* Squeeze the juice of lemons into a bowl. Dip your hands in for 3 minutes, then rinse off. Your hands will smell like fresh lemons instead of onions!
* Good-Bye Smell is a professional foaming cleanser developed by a Physician-Chef that totally eliminates food odors (fish, garlic, onion, and so on) from your hands and under nails, while providing a clean and smooth feeling of freshness. Fast-acting and economical, it’s alcohol-free and can be used in professional cooking facilities and restaurants, as well as home kitchens and outdoor cooking.
This product is gentle enough for frequent use and will not dry your hands. Just pump the foam into dry hands, rub briskly – including under your nails – until the foam disappears, and then rinse. Repeat if needed.
* Make sure to use cold water for most of your rinsing; when you wash your hands in warm water, it opens up the pores in your hands and traps in the onion smell.
* Use warm water only when washing with table salt, tomato juice or similar cleaning agents, as these dissolve quicker in hot liquid and get rid of the smell from your pores.
* You can also put a tablespoon or more of everyday table salt in the palm of your hands. Wash your hands vigorously under warm water. Rinse off and dry.
* Dip your hands in tomato juice for at least five minutes. Then rinse them with liquid detergent in warm water. Make sure the tomato juice you’re going to use to get rid of onion smell has not reached its expiration date before you put your hands into it. Either canned or cold tomato juice will work for this solution.
Onion Breath Removal
* Bacteria-induced onion breath can be reduced by usual oral hygiene methods. Standard halitosis remedies include regular use of mouthwash, brushing and flossing teeth, and tongue scraping.
* There are also commercial bad breath remedies available that are more powerful than the usual mouthwashes you can buy in supermarkets. These are available from your doctor, your pharmacist or the Internet.
* Another method of reducing onion breath is to eat parsley with your meal. This seems to counteract the problem to some extent (the same with onion’s far more powerful cousin, garlic), although it doesn’t prevent it completely.
* Some people also claim that chewing cardamom seeds has a similar effect to parsley and can work as an onion breath remedy. Cardamom has a very strong flavor, so this might not be an option for some people.
Why Does the Smell of Onions Make People Cry?
As any chef knows, cooking an onion produces a very strong aroma that most people enjoy, but cutting up an onion stings your eyes and makes you tear up uncontrollably. If you love to include onions in your dishes, you’re probably often frustrated by this. So just what is it in onions that make them such an ordeal to prepare?
Oddly enough, the volatile compound that makes you cry is also responsible for the great taste in onions. When you slice through an onion, you break open a number of onion cells. Some of these cells have enzymes inside them, and when they are sliced open, the enzymes escape. The enzymes then decompose some of the other substances that have escaped from the sliced cells. Some of these substances, like amino acid sulfoxides, form sulfenic acids that then quickly rearrange themselves into a volatile gas.
The gas reaches your eyes and reacts with the water that keeps them moist. This changes the chemical’s form again, producing, among other things, a mild sulfuric acid that irritates the eyes. The nerve endings in your eyes are very sensitive and so they pick up on this irritation. This is why your eyes sting when you slice onions.
The brain reacts by telling your tear ducts to produce more water to dilute the irritating acid so the eyes are protected. Your other reaction is probably to rub your eyes, but this will actually make the irritation a lot worse, especially if you have onion juice all over your hands.