Tasty, Tearfree Onions on the Horizon. (Less Crying in the Kitchen)

Article excerpt

A cook cutting onions can look very sad. There's no shortage of folk remedies to prevent the tears, but none works very well. Now, food scientists see the possibility of an onion that retains a full flavor but avoids the discomfort.

Japanese researchers have discovered an enzyme that the onion uses specifically to create the tear-jerking chemicals. Shinsuke Imai of the House Foods Corp. in Chiba, Japan, and his team report their finding in the Oct. 17 Nature.

Until this discovery, if scientists had used genetic modification to yield a tearfree onion, they probably would also have compromised the flavor, says Imai. Propanthial S-oxide--the onion irritant behind all the culinary sobbing--was considered a by-product of the reactions that produce the onion's characteristic flavor compounds, Imai says.

Instead, Imai's group found a new enzyme that works specifically to produce the irritant. This enzyme doesn't contribute to the reactions that lead to the onion-flavor compounds.

Therefore, genetic engineering might modify an onion so that it lacks only this particular enzyme--and so remains full-flavored.

Imai and his colleagues made their finding accidentally when they tried to produce propanthial S-oxide with precursor compounds from onion and a crude preparation of the enzyme alliinase derived from garlic. …