What would be one of the dream vegetables to have in the kitchen? Tearless onions would surely feature on this list, wouldn’t it?! As a matter of fact, this might soon become reality. A tearless, relatively less pungent onion has been allegedly made by a Japanese food manufacturing company, House Foods Group. The team of scientists achieved this by manipulating the production of an enzyme released when an onion is cut.
Attempts at producing an onion that does not cause tears have been made in the past. The researchers of a study performed in 2008 constituting one of such efforts stated back then that these onions might become common in households in ten years’ time. Perhaps, the new research is a giant step in that direction?
Onions are almost always associated with tears. This is caused by a chemical reaction which is also responsible for the production of thiosulphinate, the compound that is behind the strong smell of onions. The enzyme involved in this reaction was exposed to irradiating ions which stopped its production. The pathway leading to the stimulation of tears and causing the strong smell was therefore halted.
In the past, the lack of knowledge concerning the reason causing the tears had obstructed scientists who wanted to create tearless onions from coming up with an appropriate methodology to do so. The authors of the new study took to a different approach from their colleagues.
They hypothesised that another enzyme from what has previously been thought (alliinase has hitherto been linked with the phenomenon) causes the tears. Their experimentation led them to a powerful enzyme known as lachrymatory factor (LF) synthase. This is the enzyme that was disabled by the scientists.
Chemist Eric Block has explained that while the new onion would work well in kitchens, it would not flourish in nature in the light of the rule of the ”survival of the fittest”. He has explained it in the following terms:
“They are often compounds that will repel insects or animals that try to bite into it. So everything is, I believe, very Darwinian from the standpoint of the chemistry of plants, a very large number of compounds that we view as either being pleasant smelling or unpleasant smelling.
They’re not there for our pleasure. They’re there to allow the plant to survive in a very hardscrabble world, a world where there are lots of worms in the ground and animals that would devour something that exists as a bulb and has to survive in the ground. So if you’re living in the ground as a perennial, as the garlic does, you need to defend yourself, and you can’t run. Plants can’t run. So they stay and fight, and they’re wonderful at it.”
The new onion is not yet commercialised though.