Tearless Onions Go on Sale

By Hari Yellina
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Chefs, cooks, parents, and anyone with a kitchen will be able to purchase “tearless” onions in the UK starting next week, in a world first. According to Waitrose, the Sunion onion is good for those with sensitive eyes and for cooking with children because of its mild flavour, which makes it much more adaptable to cook with and ideal for adding raw to a salad. The producers know how tempting tearless onions are to the consumers, which is why they are excited to introduce Sunions in select shops and on Waitrose.com starting 18 January. The sweetness of this species of onion lends itself nicely to a variety of recipes, from salads to hot meals, making it perfect for removing tears from the kitchen.”

Rick Watson, a plant breeder at the German chemical giant BASF, came up with the onions. He started working on the idea in the late 1980s, and instead of genetic alteration, he used natural methods to generate the unique species. It took more than 30 years of breeding less pungent onion kinds to produce a variety where the vapours released during chopping aren’t strong enough to cause tears in the eyes, according to the brand. Sunions onions are not genetically modified and were developed through an all-natural cross-breeding programme, according to the company.

The tears and strong flavour are caused by volatile chemicals in onions, according to the study, and the concentrations of such compounds in other onions stay the same or grow with time. Sunions, on the other hand, have a decrease in these chemicals, resulting in a tearless, sweet, and mild onion. Sunions, which are more expensive than regular onions, are already on the market in the United States, but they have not been warmly accepted. According to a Washington Post review from 2018, they were extremely sweet—sweet enough that one could sit there and eat them like popcorn—and lacked smell. They were nearly flavourless, according to another journalist who tried them.

In technical terms, onions produce something called syn-propanethial-S-oxide, a chemical irritant, which causes the lachrymal glands in the eyes to release tears. Even though that sounds serious, the chemical only irritates your eyes and doesn’t cause any permanent harm. In contrast, Sunions don’t release as much lachrymatory-factor synthase, thus the tearless quality. According to the product website “It took over three decades of investment, development, careful farming and hard work to grow this game changing onion.”


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