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The world’s first tearless onion now for sale in Washington

The Sunion! (Photo courtesy of Sunion)
LISTEN: The world's first tearless onion is now for sale in Washington state!

I think we can all agree that cutting onions is pretty much the worst. I’ve tried running the onion under cold water, freezing the onion before slicing, and wearing sealed goggles to keep the tears to a minimum. But most of the time I look like a blubbering baby, naturally salting the onions with my own tears.

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If you’ve ever hoped and prayed for a tearless onion, your prayers have been answered. There’s a new onion in town called the Sunion. vegetable company Bayer has spent the past 30 years using traditional breeding methods — not genetic engineering — to make what they believe is the world’s first tearless onion.

The tearless onion

There are 14 different “volatiles”  in onions that can make you cry. The company studied these to develop the new tearless variety.

“These volatiles decrease over time in storage so it doesn’t produce the sulfur gas that makes you cry when you cut a normal onion,”  said the crop sales manager at Bayer Vegetables Seeds, Lyndon Johnson. “A volatile is just a compound in an onion. For instance, the one that makes you cry is propanethiol sulfur oxide. When you cut an onion that creates the sulfur gas that creates the tear that reacts with the moisture in your eye.”

Johnson says Sunions started out as regular, yellow onions that become sweet and tearless in storage. The breeder would measure the pungency of the onion after they sat in storage, and would pick out the ones with low amounts of the compound that make us cry. Then he’d use those to breed new onions. He repeated this until he got a whole crop of the tearless variety.

Sunion is a sweet, yellow onion, grown in Eastern Washington. We’re lucky to be just one of seven states that sells it. Usually, I buy yellow onions for around 69 cents a pound. A two pound bag at Fred Meyer goes for $2.49 — I bought a bag Tuesday at QFC for $2.99. But if you’re a home cook who believes all good recipes start with onions and garlic, chances are you won’t mind paying extra for a tear-free experience.

“The National Onion Association, that’s one of the most frequently asked questions: How do I cut an onion without crying?’ So it’s been a problem, I guess, since onions have existed,” Johnson said. “But yeah, you can cut it without crying.”


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