The Onion is My Sworn Enemy. What’s a Girl to Do?

March 30, 2008 · 14 comments · Print This Post

in Ask Erin Cooks

Ask Erin Cooks

Welcome to a new feature on in which I’ll attempt to answer “burning questions” posed to me by honest to goodness real people with actual food related concerns. Need some advice? You can always Ask Erin Cooks.

Dear ErinCooks: The onion has long been my sworn enemy. I know it adds flavor and whatever to dishes but onions disagree with me so I avoided them. Since I stopped eating Smartfood Popcorn and cereal as meals, became a vegan and started cooking proper food for myself I decided it was time to make my peace with the onion. My body definitely rebelled when I started feeding it vegetables and fruits, but it adjusted and so I started actually adding onions to things when called for and now they don’t bother me. Well, not exactly and that brings me to my onion related questions:

1. I hate handling onions because the smell lingers on my hands and repulses me. Why in the age of convenience food, when you can buy precut everything, can’t I find precut onions? Do they not keep in the cut state? Do they exist and I just can’t find them? Is this the dumbest question you’ve ever heard?

2. If I do indeed have to handle onions, how do I get rid of the smell? Someone told me you can rub lemon on your hands, but then my hands just smell like onions and lemons.

Help me, ErinCooks. You’re my only hope.
— Anna D

Keep Out!  This Means You!

Dear Anna D: This is your lucky day because you can actually buy pre-cut onions (I’ve definitely seen them at Whole Foods). You can also purchase frozen onions but if you tell anyone that you’re doing that they will mercilessly ridicule you (i.e. I will point and laugh). Or you can pre-chop and freeze them yourself for future use. If you do buy pre-cut onions just keep in mind that you’re going to be paying at least twice as much for them.

As for your concern about the onion smell staying on your hands, I’ve never really noticed this with onions. I am however horrified on a daily basis by the smell of garlic on my hands. I’ve woken up many nights in bed completely disgusted by the smell emanating from my hands after having chopped up garlic for a dish. For that reason, I try to touch the garlic as little as possible and wash my hands with a lemon based soap immediately after dropping the smelly stuff into whatever concoction I’m making. Lately I’ve been using a peppermint soap from Williams-Sonoma and that seems to do the trick as well. I think the key is to wash your hands as soon as humanly possible after you come in contact with the ingredient you dislike, and if you still really can’t stand it you could always invest in a package of latex gloves.

I also wonder if you might like using shallots better than onions? In fact, people like Anthony Bourdain recommend that you use shallots instead of onions. Apparently it’s one of the things that make restaurant food taste so great, and why we can never duplicate the flavors at home (you know besides the gallons of cream, oil, and butter of course). Or you could buy one of those Vidalia Chop Wizards. I’ve never used one personally, but they seem to have really good reviews online.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lys March 30, 2008 at 3:50 pm

Fabu advice, Ms. Erin!

RE: The Onion/Garlic smell. I, too, go with a lemon soap (WS Meyer Lemon). However, having to cook something with a bit of garlic and shallots galore (daggone G. Garvin recipe!), I found something that got rid of the smell at SurLaTable: The Wonder Bar Odor Remover. It’s like a little silver soap bar and, so far, I’m garlic free 🙂


2 Erin March 30, 2008 at 4:01 pm

Thanks Lys! I’ve always wondered about those metal bars. It’s cool to know that you’ve had luck with it! I always thought they were probably a total scam, but I’ll take your word for it.


3 Elle March 30, 2008 at 4:17 pm

I have the simplest “cure” for garlic smell on your hands. This is from Judy Rodgers, in her Zuni Cafe cookbook. I have done it ever since I read the book, and it’s never failed to work.

Wash your hands before you start, then immediately after you work w/ the garlic, wash your hands in cold tap water and nothing else–no soap. Don’t handle anything oily before you wash off the garlic, either.

Works every single time.


4 Elle March 30, 2008 at 4:17 pm

Oh, and great new feature!


5 Allen March 30, 2008 at 7:14 pm

Onions are my enemy too — they make me cry like a baby!

I find that the best cure for ridding your hands of garlic/onion smells is to soap them up then rub on the inside of your stainless steel sink (assuming you have one), front and back, then rinse as normal. There is a chemical reaction to the metal that neutralizes the odor (i.e. just like the stainless steel metal bars you can buy). Give it a shot –it works for me every time.

Great new feature, Erin!


6 Nix March 30, 2008 at 7:38 pm

I, on the other hand, LOVE onions. I can’t get enough. Although I do prefer the red onions to any other.


7 Dominic March 31, 2008 at 10:02 am

I wash my hands wet with cold water and salt to get rid of onion and garlic smells.


8 michelle @ TNS March 31, 2008 at 12:11 pm

i didn’t feel like springing for the little metal bar, so i just rub my hands on whatever stainless steel item or appliance is closest to me.

i will also mock anyone who uses pre-chopped onions.


9 geeky March 31, 2008 at 12:36 pm

I agree, garlic is the worst offender. I have one of those stainless metal soap bars (I think mine came from Crate & Barrel), and they are indeed magic! I used to hate having smelly hands for hours after I cooked.


10 geeky March 31, 2008 at 12:37 pm

PS. Here’s the link for the one I have!


11 ann March 31, 2008 at 1:25 pm

My husband is very sensitive to the smell of raw onions, even if he’s not handling them in any way. So I’ve switched to Penzey’s dried onions (regular and toasted) for any soups/baking with onions. It’s only slightly more expensive than fresh, and they keep forever in the cabinet. (Cheating? Maybe. But good for marital harmony!)


12 Erin March 31, 2008 at 2:25 pm

Great feature idea, Erin! I have gobs of questions — I’ll try to filter through and send you some good ones. 🙂 I LOVE onions and add them to everything I cook – much to the disappointment of Marc.
And one follow up question: have you really chopped, frozen and then used onions with much success? Every time I try that the onions seem so watery and just — bland I guess. No true onion-y taste. Has that happened to you?


13 Erin March 31, 2008 at 2:35 pm

Erin S – I’ve never actually chopped up and frozen vegetables before. I probably wouldn’t ever bother doing it either, but I also don’t have an aversion to onions. There are websites that do say it’s possible. Usually they say to IQF (Individually Quick Freeze) them in a single layer on a cookie sheet in the freezer before storing them away. What I want to know is who can actually fit a whole baking sheet in their freezer? I can barely squeeze in a loaf of bread. As you can tell, I’m pretty dubious about the whole thing…


14 Marianne April 7, 2008 at 2:19 pm

Silverware and some pots are stainless steel. Save your money! : )


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