Debunked: Does putting a wet paper towel down stop you crying when cutting onions?

TikTok seems to think so


9Cutting onions is a massive hassle. Crying is the least of your problems when you’re blinded and your knife wobbles around on that slippery membrane as the sections peel apart under the duller knives in your collection. Yeah, a nightmare. We’ve all heard tall tales of swimming goggles, sucking a silver spoon and various other inadvisable forms of protection (plastic bang, anyone?) to shield against the evil onion fumes, but the latest TikTok onion hack seriously seems to beggar belief – apparently, by just placing wet kitchen paper down next to the onion, you will stop crying.

If this doesn’t sound ridiculous enough, the claim that “anything saturated with liquid” will hoover up the irritant onion fumes is even more so. Alas, as is the case with most things on the internet, I was particularly sceptical, and so I went straight to the fridge where I grabbed an onion to try this thing out for myself.

@cerealeatingghost#stitch with @xxbaileyelizabethxx thank you for making me crave lentil soup 🖤♬ Pieces (Solo Piano Version) – Danilo Stankovic

Does the TikTok onion cutting hack actually work?

So, the theory behind the TikTok onion cutting hack is that, according to the rather amateur sounding musings of the above scientist: “The acid that’s in onions is attracted to a water source and your tear ducts are usually the first place,” and that by using a damp paper towel, the acid will be drawn there instead of to your eyes.

This video was then duetted by another pair of TikTokers who also confirmed that this works… but really, I can’t trust this as anything other than a placebo effect until I try it myself. For those that know me, I have a proclivity to crying whilst cutting onions – for those that don’t, I thought it would be scientifically important to demonstrate this fact first and foremost:

Now that’s established, I placed a wet napkin beneath the onions and placed them on top. Rocking the knife back and forth, slicing them finely to release as much acidic onion juice as possible, I placed my face back over them multiple times, inhaling deeply… and absolutely nothing happened.

red onion, crying, tears, tiktok

No tears this time

Is there any science behind the TikTok onion theory?

This is where you’d expect there to be very little evidence to back up the internet professionals of TikTok, but actually, there is a reason that this happens.

It comes down to the chemical syn-Propathanethial S-oxide (catchy I know), which is secreted by onions when they’re chopped up. The vapour from this compound rises up into your nose and eyes which causes irritation. It’s not clear whether the liquid from the paper towel actually extracts the acid, waters it down or does neither of those things and we’re all just kidding ourselves, but hey!

Yes, it works. Will you ever bother using this TikTok hack? That’s for you to decide (definitely not).

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