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Why do Onions make us cry?

It is not the strong odor of the onion that makes us cry, but the gas that the onion releases when we sever this member of the lily family.

The onion itself contains oil, which contains sulfur, an irritant to both our noses and to our eyes. Cutting an onion arouses a gas contained within the onion, propanethiol S-oxide, which then couples with the enzymes in the onion to emit a passive sulfur compound. When this upwardly mobile gas encounters the water produced by the tear ducts in our eyelids, it produces sulfuric acid.

In response to the caustic acid, our eyes automatically blink, and produce tears which irrigate the eye, and which flush out the sulfuric acid.

Another reflex to rid the eyes of a foreign substance, that of rubbing our eyes with our hands, often exacerbates the situation, because our hands are coated with the caustic, sulfuric acid producing oil from cutting the onion, which we then rub directly into our eyes.

Much to our chagrin, the only remedy for ridding the onion of its pungent, irritating oil is to boil it, not to slice it or dice it.

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