The onion drama

SCIENCE FOR YOUTH

by Hiya Islam

scienceONIONS, oh god, they’d never stop making you cry. Their tear-inducing craze fires only when under attack, in most cases, by a knife. Garlic, their close cousin is relatively compassionate. They’ve been around for a long time. For a rough estimate, ancient Egyptians worshiped onions as symbols of eternal life. Before dashing into the nitty-gritty of onion’s defense mechanism, here’s a fun fact – onions have literally 0% fat!

Whether it is sliced or diced, once cells are destroyed lachrymatory factor synthase is released. It catalyses the conversion of sulfoxides into sulfenic acid, an unstable compound. Its instability causes it to rearrange into yet another highly volatile compound, syn-Propanethial-S-oxide, the sole culprit behind the waterworks. It wafts through the air and hits the eyes. Sensitive nerve endings in the outermost part of the eye, cornea detects the gas as irritant and send signals to the brain. As a result, the brain signals lachrymal or tear glands in the eye to produce tears. Meanwhile, the assailant suffers from stinging eyes. The release of tears and excessive blinking are proven to be efficient in washing off such nuisances. Cooked onions never water the eyes, the heat denatures the enzyme.

Stop the tears. How? It is not a subject of interest if one has forever shunned his culinary duties or is simply resistant. Studies show that repeated exposures to this brutality lessens the torment with time. The best way to approach onions is to wear goggles. That’s perhaps too much gear for cooking. Try chopping them underwater. A slightly risky measure, however, water absorbs the tear-jerker sulfuric compound. Switch on a fan to blow it away. A more permanent solution can be achieved, though. That brings us to the glorified ‘tear-free onions’. Yes, they do exist and are known as ‘Sunions’. It is a product based completely on years of natural cross-breeding. But it is yet to hit the shelves in supermarkets. Nonetheless, the prospect of tearless cooking sessions excites me beyond words.

There are different kinds of onions: red, white, yellow and so on. A recipe by default sets its onions as yellow if not specified and hence, it’s the most common type. Despite the pungent smell, these veggies are super healthy in raw or cooked form. Though the bad breath from eating raw onions is a bummer, mouthwash rinse and a glass of fresh lemonade can be a quick rescue, followed by drinking lots of water. Rich in vitamins and antioxidants, onions maintain bone health and immune system. To add more, it regulates blood pressure, cholesterol levels and enhances sleep. Abundant vitamin C ensures building of collagen for better skin and hair. Chances of formation of blood clots and inflammations are reduced. If that doesn’t deter you from pinching off onion slices from your burger, I don’t know what will.

Hiya Islam is a student of BRAC University.

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