Kitchen gadgets: Put away those onion goggles, please

If you're tearing up while cutting onions, maybe you should just deal with it.

By Farhad Manjoo

Published December 21, 2007 12:30PM (EST)

A few months ago I was shopping at a kitchen store when I spotted Onion Goggles, an unstylish pair of black-and-neon green plastic glasses made by the kitchen firm RSVP International. I admired the literal-mindednes of the product name: you wear these to prevent tears while cutting onions, obviously.

"Hokey!" I thought, and the store clerk, who noticed my eyes roll, agreed. Sure, onion tears are annoying, but you know what they say about being able to stand the heat in the kitchen. Reaching for a gadget to solve this rarely-fatal affliction seems too much trouble by half; really, people need this?

But onion goggles won't die. They seem to be on every catalog and gift guide this year, with merchants and stylemakers pimping them as a solution to what is apparently a great national scourge. So as part of my holiday-time review of kitchen gadgets -- read about the Back to Basics Egg & Muffin Toaster, the Aerogarden indoor herb garden, Blendtec's iPhone-blending Total Blender, and the Baker's Edge brownie pan -- I got a pair of OGs and put them to the test.

Or, at least, I tried to.

When you slice into them, onions releases an enzyme, lachrymatory-factor synthase, that reacts with sulfur compounds in the flesh -- specifically 1-propenyl sulfenic acid -- to form a chemical called thiopropanal sulfoxide. This flies up into the air, and, when it meets your eyes, acts as a lachrymatory agent -- that is, it induces pain, tears, and swearing. (It is thought that onions evolved this capacity as a form of protection against animals.)

In theory, the goggles, which sell for about $20, work by keeping your eyes sealed from these vapors. The glasses are backed by a thick ring of foam that creates a tight fit against your face. For some people, this seal works; reports suggest that the goggles -- and, for that matter, contact lenses -- do make cutting onions tear-free.

Here's the problem I had with them: They're not compatible with glasses. To a spec-wearer like me, this is inexcusably discriminatory.

The goggles warn you of this incompatibility on their packaging, but I picked up a pair anyway and tried to work around the handicap. For about 10 seconds, I tried chopping spec-free with the goggles on -- I like to live on the edge, but this was too dangerous even for me.

Slipping my glasses over the goggles worked a bit better. This way I could see and be free of onion sting. The get-up, though, was ridiculous and impractical, and I couldn't do it in the heat of cooking.

In place of Onion Goggles, I tried chopping onions with a pair of handyman's safety glasses, which I normally use to protect my eyes from drywall dust when I'm drilling holes in the wall (told you I like to live on the edge).

These fit over my glasses, and, though they did not create a perfect seal, did work well against the onion's lachrymatory agents. Plus, they set me back less than $5.

There is an easier way, though, to avoid onion tears. Use a sharp knife, and work quickly. The sharper your knife, the cleaner your slices through the beast, and the fewer vapors spray up in your eyes.

You could also, you know, just grow a spine. Onion tears aren't going to kill you. As the kids say, deal.


I talked about kitchen gadgets on my weekly video for Current TV:

Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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