Onions might be the most metaphoric of all ingredients. They can be sweet or spicy, and they contain layers. And most poetic of all, they bring tears to our eyes.
As the poet Pablo Neruda wrote in “Ode to the Onion:”
You make us cry without hurting us.
I have praised everything that exists,
but to me, onion, you are
more beautiful than a bird
of dazzling feathers….
In her poem, “Monologue for an Onion,” Suji Kwock Kim wrote:
I don’t mean to make you cry.
I mean nothing, but this has not kept you
From peeling away my body, layer by layer,
The tears clouding your eyes as the table fills
With husks, cut flesh, all the debris of pursuit.
Poor deluded human: you seek my heart.
It’s an Internet meme to say that you’re cutting onions when some wistful or sad piece of content makes you cry. It was memorably captured in “Not Crying,” a song on the HBO comedy “Flight of the Conchords” about the lengths men will go to hide their emotions. (Lyrics: “These aren’t tears of sadness because you’re leaving me / I’ve just been cutting onions, / I’m making a lasagna — for one.”)
It doesn’t have to be this way. Enter Sunions.
These onions (pronounced like their cousins, Funyuns) will not make you cry.
No, really. We chopped up a whole bunch of them, and it was like standing in a room with a slightly onion-scented breeze. No burning, no stinging, no tears.
Why do onions make us cry? It’s a defense mechanism against critters — or humans — who want to eat them. Onions release a chemical irritant called syn-propanethial-S-oxide that triggers a burning sensation in our eyes. The American Chemical Association explains it here:
If you’re an anti-GMO-er about to tee up an objection, know that Sunions are not genetically modified, according to Bayer Crop Science, which developed them. Instead, they’re the result of crossbreeding less-pungent onions to develop a variety that is sweet and mild, with the tear-causing, volatile compounds found in other onions decreasing over time. According to the company’s news release, breeders have been working on developing Sunions for three decades, and they are “certified tearless through testing by the Bayer Sensory Lab and Ohio State University Sensory Evaluation Center.” They’re grown in Nevada and Washington, and their season lasts from November through April, depending on supply.
They’re very sweet — sweet enough that you could sit there and eat them like popcorn, if you were inclined to do such a strange thing. Heartburn sufferers might enjoy them. They barely have any odor from afar — you have to stick your face right next to a pile of freshly diced Sunions to smell that familiar onion smell.
They don’t have a strong aftertaste, either — we went straight from the onion taste-test into sampling a piece of cake, and it wasn’t weird. But their mild flavor carries over to the dishes you cook with them. One of our editors said they were almost flavorless. We caramelized them, and the results were a little mushier and milder than what you’d expect from traditional onions.
So if you hate cutting onions — if you’ve tried all the tricks, like wearing goggles or cutting them under running water or a vent — Sunions can dry your tears. Unless you’re a poet, that is.
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