We Tried Martha Stewart’s Hack for Fighting Tears While Cutting Onions — Here’s How It Went

published Aug 10, 2023
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

We’ve all been there: You need to chop a bunch of onions for a recipe and before you know it, you’re beset with cascading tears. Whether you’re prepping burgers, pasta, or guacamole, there’s no denying that onions do make everything taste better — even if chopping them comes at a price.

Why does cutting onions make you weep? Dicing the popular allium produces a series of chemical reactions that releases an irritant, causing your eyes to tear up. But is there any way to get around the waterworks? Entertaining expert Martha Stewart thinks so, and we decided to put her tried-and-true method of chopping onions without tears to the test.  

What is Martha’s Method for Cutting Onions? 

Martha swears by cutting onions “as close to an open flame as you possibly can arrange” to prevent irritation. While the science around this method is more old-wives-tale than time-tested, anecdotal evidence suggests that the flame draws in the chemical compounds released by chopping onions and sucks them into the fire before they can reach your eyes. Because Martha claims that by using the flame method she can chop as many as “20 to 30 pounds” of onions “without shedding a tear” (she’s a former caterer), I was intrigued enough to conduct my own experiment.

Cutting Onions by an Open Flame: The Experiment

Although I didn’t have a need to chop 20 to 30 pounds of onions, I decided to try Martha’s method with the three most common kinds of alliums used in home cooking: yellow, white, and red onions. I set up a cutting board as close as I possibly could to my gas stovetop and decided to test all three varieties near the flame, leaving time between each chopping session to step away from any tear-inducing compounds. 

First up, I tried red onions, which have often pretty intensely irritated my eyes in the past. Chopping near the flame definitely made a difference here — while I felt some mild stinging, my eyes were far from watery. Yellow onions delivered the same result — my eyes felt the sting of the onion, but didn’t tear up nearly too much. The white onions, however, did not seem swayed by Martha’s magic. While tears weren’t pouring from my eyes, they felt just as watery as usual. 

After turning off my stove and taking a quick breather, I tried chopping each onion without any assistance. The red onions came back with a vengeance — my eyes were pretty watery after chopping. The yellow onions, strangely enough, caused about the same reaction with and without the flame — I felt some mild irritation but no full-on tears. Chopping white onions also produced a similar result as previously — I did not notice a discernible difference in my irritation with or without the flame. 

The Verdict  

Although I do think Martha’s open flame method made a difference while chopping red onions, it didn’t do much for me while cutting yellow and white onions. The other variable of this experiment worth noting is that each person’s eyes react a bit differently to the chemicals released while chopping onions, so just because it didn’t work too well for me doesn’t mean that it wasn’t an effective hack for Martha. For now, I may stick to using a wet paper towel on my cutting board or following one of our other tips for cutting onions without tears. Happy chopping! 

Tips for Chopping and Cooking Onions