Depending on the variety, an onion can be sharp, spicy, tangy, pungent, mild or sweet. They are commonly used as a base for curries, or made into a paste and eaten as a main course or as a side dish. Unfortunately, after chopping onions, you may notice that you still have the odor of them on your hands for many hours after. As delicious as onions are, walking around smelling like them is another story.
Onion smell is pervasive and irritating long after the delicious meal is over. It clings to the fingers and nail region with ferocity. It even affects your breath! Indeed, onions have a very potent smell, because onion oil contains 1-propenyl sulfenic acid, which is thought to be the lacrimator in onions. The lacrimator is something that makes your eyes water and gives the onions such a distinct smell.
Bizarrely enough, this stinging, tangy chemical is also the cause for a lot of the great flavor in onions, as well as the satisfying fragrance when you fry the vegetable. You’ll also get sulfenic acids by cutting up garlic, chives and leeks, but they don’t form the same irritating gas, just a strong smell.
Who has the cure? Must fingers smell onion-like after chopping? Must breath smell so strong after eating this malodorous vegetable? This article may have all the answers you’re looking for.
Onion Smell Removal
* Wear gloves. That’ll keep the onion smell off of your hands.
* Peeling the onion and then chilling it in the refrigerator before you slice will minimize the release of gas somewhat, because the change in temperature alters the compounds in the onion. Cooking an onion before you slice it will also work for the same reason. Another easy solution is to cut the onion underwater or run the tap over it as you slice.
* Rub your hands against stainless steel metal (a kitchen sink works well) under cold running water for about a minute; rubbing with a large metal spoon works, too. It is also possible to purchase vegetable-shaped or oval-shaped stainless steel “soaps” that can sit permanently at your kitchen sink. They don’t cost much and they really work. Look in the kitchen supplies section of a local store.
The science behind this phenomenon lies in the theory that the sulfuric odor from the onion would be attracted to and bind with one or more of the metals in stainless steel. Formation of such compounds is what makes stainless steel stainless, after all.
Onions and garlic contain amino acid sulfoxides, which form sulfenic acids, which then form a volatile gas (propanethiol S-oxide), which forms sulfuric acid upon exposure to water. These sulfuric compounds are responsible for onions burning your eyes while cutting them and also for garlic’s characteristic scent.
* If you don’t have steel handy, you can make a paste of baking soda, (bicarbonate of soda) and water and rub it over your hands, then wash off. The odor will disappear with the soda.