Onions may be one of the healthiest, most flavorful vegetables on the face of the Earth, but they’re definitely no fun to chop. However, your days of getting teary-eyed in the kitchen may be coming to an end as Japanese company House Foods Group prepares to launch the world’s first tear-free onion to the market.
Aptly named “Smile Ball”, because it puts a smile on your face rather than make you cry, this new type of onion is the result of two decades of research. In 2002, House Foods Group scientists published a paper in which they hypothesized that tear-inducing enzymes in onions could be weakened while retaining their full flavor and nutritional value. Their research actually won an Ig Nobel Prize – an award handed out to honor achievements organizers consider unintentionally funny – but last year the company announced that their theory had finally become reality. Although the announcement mentioned that House Foods Group had no intention of producing Smile Ball onions commercially anytime soon, it appears the wonder vegetables will hit Japanese stores this fall.
It has long been known that chopping onions induces tears due to a volatile gas released by onion cells when damaged by the knife. Chilling an onion reduces the movement of its atoms, resulting in less syn-propanethial-S-oxide – the tear-inducing lachrymatory agent – being released when cut, but that only reduces the number of tears you shed. Chopping the Smile Ball onion in any conditions is reportedly a tear-free experience.
Last year, when it made its big announcement, House Foods Group revealed that it managed to suppress the production of syn-propanethial-S-oxide by bombarding onion bulbs with irradiating ions, which also made the vegetables less pungent. Full-grown Smile Ball onions release almost no tear-inducing compounds when chopped or eaten raw. Unlike regular onions, they are said to have a sweet taste reminiscent of apples or Asian nashi pears.
About five tons of Smile Ball onions were sold in trial runs at Tokyo department stores and online shops this year, but come fall, they will be available at supermarkets nationwide, at a price of 450 yen ($4.30) for a pack of two. That’s twice as expensive as regular onions.
The rate at which the trial batch of 5-6 tons of Smile Ball onions sold out signals that they will be a huge hit when they hit the market, but skeptics worry that they will have the same fate as apples, which many say have lost most of their original flavor after years of selective breeding.