Hey Onion! You're Makin' Me Cry! *NEW EPISODE!* Why in the world do onions make us cry? How in the world does it even work? And what in the world would happen if onions were to lose this special power? Join Guy Raz and Mindy Thomas as they pull back the layers on your breath's best frenemy, and take you on an stinky adventure that cuts so deep, it might just leave you with a tear in your eye. Grab your tissues, friends! It's our Boo Hoo-iest episode of Wow in the World yet! Find this episode's conversation starters at www.wowintheworld.com
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Hey Onion! You're Makin' Me Cry!

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Hey Onion! You're Makin' Me Cry!

Hey Onion! You're Makin' Me Cry!

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THE POP UPS: Stay seated. Three, two one - ignition.

Get ready for an adventure of magnificent proportions.

(Singing) I don't know what you've been told, but we're in a golden age - so many discoveries that are jumping off the page. Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world.

With Guy and Mindy.

We're on our way, Houston.





Uh, Guy Raz?

RAZ: (Crying).

THOMAS: Are you crying?


THOMAS: Guy Raz, are you OK? Speak to me. Speak to me.

RAZ: It's so painful.

THOMAS: What in the...

RAZ: It's so, so painful.

THOMAS: Painful - Guy Raz, whatever it is, I'm here to help you get through it, little buddy. You want to talk about it?

RAZ: It's just so painful.

THOMAS: Well, whatever it is...

RAZ: It's so, so painful. (Crying).


THOMAS: Whatever it is, I'm sure it'll pass. And you know what? That's what you've got friends like me for - to help you through the tough times.

RAZ: No, it'll pass, Mindy. I just need to plow through.

THOMAS: Well, maybe there's something I can do to help.

RAZ: No, we can't both be crying.


RAZ: I mean, you got to stay strong, Mindy.

THOMAS: Strong - you know what? I don't know what's going on over there, Guy Raz, but I'm coming over. It sounds like you need a hug.


THOMAS: Guy Raz, where are you? I'm here, and I got fists full of hugs. Where do I start? Why are you so sad, anyway? Oh...

RAZ: Oh, I'm not sad. I'm just finishing up chopping this pile of onions here.

THOMAS: Oh, wait a minute.

RAZ: And now, finally, the last one is done.

THOMAS: You're telling me that this whole time, you were crying because you were chopping onions.

RAZ: Yeah, right, right. Well, well, well, you see, I'm making tofu hot dogs for lunch, and I thought I'd chop up some onions for toppings. But when I started chopping the onions, well, I...

THOMAS: You started to cry.

RAZ: Well, I always cry when I chop onions.

THOMAS: And I always toot when I cut the cheese.


RAZ: What?

THOMAS: What? Look, next time, just borrow Reggie's (ph) flight goggles. That'll keep the onion fumes away from your eyes.

RAZ: Hey, I didn't think of that. That's a great idea, Mindy, because I do know that if you wear goggles - like swim goggles or even a scuba mask - while you chop onions, it can actually help keep the tears to a minimum.

THOMAS: And that's probably because by wearing goggles over your eyes when you chop onions, it blocks some of the natural chemicals from the onion that irritates your eyes.

RAZ: I believe you're referring to the natural chemical known as the lachrymatory factor, or for short, LF.

THOMAS: Yeah, yeah, LF - that's exactly what I was thinking.

RAZ: LF is the chemical that makes your eyes water when you chop onions, and that was the chemical irritating my eyes that caused all those tears. And that's why you thought I was crying.

THOMAS: Yeah, but when I cut up a potato or carrots or an apple, none of those things make me cry, so why do onions?

RAZ: Well, from what I understand, Mindy, it's the way an onion protects itself from its enemies.

THOMAS: Enemies? Come on. What kind of predator would want to hurt an itty-bitty, teeny-weeny, little baby onion?

RAZ: Well, for starters, us.

THOMAS: Us? What are you talking about, Guy Raz? Why would we want to hurt an onion?

RAZ: What I mean is that the onion plant does everything it can to keep away any and all pests to prevent them from eating it up.

THOMAS: So the onion plant has its own defense system.

RAZ: Yes.


RAZ: Yes. Here, let's go to the vegetable garden to check it out.

THOMAS: OK, but only if I can stick a straw in one of those tomatoes you've got growing back there. I like to suck out the juice.

RAZ: No problemo (ph), Mindy. Come on, let's go.

THOMAS: Walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk.

RAZ: Ah, the fresh air - don't you just love nature, Mindy? I mean, look at all of this beautiful produce growing right here. We've got some kale, and some Swiss chard, and some mustard greens and some...

THOMAS: Hey, where is my doughnut tree?

RAZ: Uh...

THOMAS: ...Know I planted that Cheerio around here somewhere. It was just a few months ago. It should've grown by now.

RAZ: Uh, Mindy...

THOMAS: Where is my doughnut tree?

RAZ: You know that Cheerios don't actually grow into doughnut trees, don't you?

THOMAS: Well, yeah, I mean, objectively, I know that. But I also know that it rains diamonds on Neptune. Honestly, Guy Raz, if it rains diamonds on Neptune, then there has to at least be a small sliver of a chance that a tiny Cheerio seed can grow up to be a big doughnut.

RAZ: Anyway, this is actually what I wanted to show you, Here, look.

THOMAS: These long, thick blades of grass?

RAZ: Not just grass, Mindy - these are onion plants.

THOMAS: Well, where's the onion?

RAZ: Well, the onion is right at the bottom here. See? It's the bulb of this plant. It's the part of the onion that we eat.

THOMAS: Oh, yeah, now I see it - doesn't look too scary to me.

RAZ: Well, it's not supposed to look scary, but it is supposed to make it hard for us to eat.

THOMAS: Yeah, but I'm not crying.

RAZ: Well, let's take this thing into the kitchen, and slice it up and see what happens.

THOMAS: OK, but this time, I am not going to feel sorry for you if you start crying like a baby.

RAZ: OK, Mindy, so we have this onion, and if I take a big bite out of it like an apple...

THOMAS: Wait, timeout, Guy Raz. Before you do that, a quick public service announcement...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The experiment you are about to hear was conducted by trained professionals. Do not try this at home except under the direct supervision of a grown-up. Eating large quantities of onion may result in tears, extreme onion breath, oniony (ph) fingers, more tears, runny nose, temporary loss of friends. Teeth brushing is highly recommended, as is the use of rubber gloves. Now back to the program...

RAZ: OK, so can I take a bite?

THOMAS: Knock yourself out big guy - Raz.


RAZ: Ooh, that's spicy and - oh, no. Here comes the tears and - (crying).

THOMAS: Oh, man, those onion fumes are stinging my eyeballs out. Throw that thing into that sink of water.



RAZ: Much better.

THOMAS: Man, you just bit into that onion, and it basically bit back. Those fumes really stung.

RAZ: Yeah, in fact, Mindy, scientists Josie Silvaroli and Marcin Golczak at Case Western University in Ohio have been trying to understand exactly why onions release these invisible gases that, you know, make our eyes sting when we cut or bite into them.

THOMAS: And what did they find out?

RAZ: Well, they found out that when the sulfenic acid precursor floating in the cytoplasm in the onion cell mixes with the alliinase, it creates the chemical we've fondly know as lachrymatory factor, or in simple language, LF.

THOMAS: Yeah, I have no idea what you just said.

RAZ: Actually, neither do I, really. Maybe it would help if we went inside, you know, with our own eyes.

THOMAS: Wait, so, like, actually go inside an onion?

RAZ: Not just an onion, Mindy - an onion cell.

THOMAS: You mean those teeny-tiny little pockets that kind of look like windows?

RAZ: Exactly. If you look at a piece of onion under a microscope, you'll see onion cells, and that's where you've got to go to see why onions make us cry.

THOMAS: OK, but where are you going to be?

RAZ: Well, I'm going to be looking through my microscope at you inside the cell. And I'll do the play-by-play, you know? I'll try to see if I can explain what's happening.

THOMAS: OK, but are you sure you don't want to join me? I mean, I can shrink you with my shrink wand.

RAZ: I think I'll take a pass this time, Mindy. I'm still recovering from that time you shrunk me when you wanted to go visit that flea market run by real fleas.

THOMAS: (As flea) Get your rugs. Rugs for sale, rugs for sale - great place to start a flea family. Who needs a rug?

RAZ: Mindy...

THOMAS: (As flea) Hey, hey, you, you over there, come over here.

RAZ: Oh...

THOMAS: Oh, yeah, that place was awesome. I got such a good deal from that one fleabag who sold me a VCR and his entire collection of Disney videotapes.

RAZ: And I have to admit the band was pretty good.

THOMAS: O-M-G, do you remember that one flea on the bass? Man, everyone was buzzing about that one.

RAZ: Well, anyway, I left that flea market with a terrible case of fleas, and it took me, like, four flea baths to stop the itching. So I think I'm going to pass on being shrunk down again.

THOMAS: OK, suit yourself, but I'm going in. Now, if I could just find my shrink wand - where is it? That's - oh, oh, I got it. I got it. All right, now let me turn this baby on and...


RAZ: Mindy?

THOMAS: Over here, little buddy.

RAZ: Mindy?

THOMAS: Down here, kale chomper.

RAZ: Oh, hey, you're so tiny. I never get to see what you look like all shrunken down. Oh, you're so cute.

THOMAS: All right, enough with the baby talk. I need to climb into that onion slice and get inside one of those cells.

RAZ: All right, but don't forget your scuba gear.

THOMAS: Already got it on, professor.

RAZ: OK, OK, well, go ahead and climb inside this slice right here, Mindy. And I'll carefully place you and the onion slice on this glass slide so I can see you under my microscope.


THOMAS: OK, I'm in.

RAZ: Now, Mindy, tell me what it feels like where you are.

THOMAS: Whoa, it feels like I'm floating in an aquarium.

RAZ: OK, great - that liquid around you is called cytoplasm.

THOMAS: Ooh, and over there is a bubble with something inside. Ooh, and now I see some other little bubbles with stuff inside.

RAZ: OK, great, yeah, so some of the things you see floating around are called the sulfenic acid precursors. And then some of those bubbles you see are filled with something else called alliinase.

THOMAS: Yup, got it.

RAZ: Perfect. So now those bubbles - they aren't touching, right?

THOMAS: No, it seems like they're just floating around in this cytoplasm.

RAZ: Okay, great. Now, Mindy, I'm going to cut into the cell that you are floating in.


RAZ: But please, brace yourself because all of that cytoplasm is going to gush out. OK, you ready?

THOMAS: What? Of course I'm not ready.

RAZ: OK, here goes...

THOMAS: Don't cut.

RAZ: And...

THOMAS: (Yelling).


RAZ: Mindy?

THOMAS: I'm good. I'm good. Hey, where did those bubbles go?

RAZ: This is it, Mindy. This is where the magic happens. Look to your left. Do you see it?

THOMAS: Yeah, I think so. I think I must be witnessing - (yelling).

RAZ: Yes, you got it. The sulfenic acid precursor and the alliinase protein bubbles are mixing together and forming that oniony gas, the gas that makes our eyes tear up and water.

THOMAS: (Yelling).

RAZ: Mindy, we've just witnessed the formation of the lachrymatory factor, or LF.

THOMAS: Oh, my stinging eyes, my stinging eyes...

RAZ: Mindy, this is magical - magical, I say.

THOMAS: My stinging eyes, my stinging eyes...

RAZ: OK, hold on, partner, let me unshrink you. Just give me a quick sec to grab the shrink wand. It's...

THOMAS: (Yelling).

RAZ: It's somewhere here. Oh, OK, I got it. I got it. Are you ready, Mindy?

THOMAS: (Yelling) I was ready 10 minutes ago.



THOMAS: (Yelling).

RAZ: Mindy, wasn't that amazing? I mean, we witnessed a true chemical reaction in nature.

THOMAS: I know - and to think of all the trouble we humans go through just to eat onions.

RAZ: I mean, can you imagine the first humans who tried them at all? I mean, that was a pretty brave thing to do.

THOMAS: Yeah, or the first human to try a bloomin' onion - I don't even think they had spicy dipping sauce back then.

RAZ: Hey, do you know that in Japan, scientists actually engineered a new type of onion that doesn't make you cry when you chop it up?

THOMAS: A tearless onion?

RAZ: Yeah.

THOMAS: Whoa, that's even better than no-tears shampoo. And it bet it tastes better, too.

RAZ: You would think so, right?

THOMAS: ...Not that I would know. I mean, a tearless onion - that takes all of the pain out of the process.

RAZ: Except one problem...

THOMAS: Problem?

RAZ: Well, the Japanese scientists didn't just take out the tears. They also took out the flavor because it's possible that the same chemical that causes tears is the same chemical that gives onions its special oniony deliciousness.

THOMAS: Huh, so I guess that means...

RAZ: Yup.

THOMAS: Our days of crying into our blooming onion batter are from over.

RAZ: Speaking of which, let's slice the rest of these onions up.

THOMAS: No, I can't take it anymore. I'm through with you, onions. (Crying).

RAZ: Mindy?

THOMAS: (Crying).

RAZ: Mindy, you OK?

THOMAS: I'm fine.


THE POP UPS: (Singing) Wow in the world.


THOMAS: Hi, thanks for calling WOW IN THE WORLD. After the beep, get ready to record.


JULIAN: Hi, Mindy and Guy Raz. My name is Julian (ph), and I'm 8 years old from Toledo, Ohio. My wow in the world is that there's a star, like, a hundred times bigger than the sun, and the sun is already really big to us.


SOPHIE: Hi, my name is Sophie (ph). I am from Massachusetts. My wow in the world is that I got to hold a python. Bye.


ROLAND: Hi, I'm Roland (ph) from Oceanside, Calif. My wow in the world is the - is chemical reactions. I learned about them at school, and at home, we made slime and colored them all. Bye.


IMOGEN: Hi, Mindy and Guy Raz. My name is Imogen (ph), and I live in Naperville, Ill. My wow in the world is that when you put blobfish in the deep part of the ocean, they look like a fish. But when you take them out of the water, they look like - they look really yucky and pink. Bye, Mindy and Guy Raz. I like your shows.


CLAIR: Hi, my name is Clair (ph), and I'm 7 years old. I'm half Chinese and half Filipino, and I live in Hong Kong. My wow in the world is about the place I live in. Hong Kong is home to more than 7 million people. We have the most skyscrapers than any other city in the world, double that of New York. We also have the longest escalator in the world. That's 2,600 feet long. Thanks, Mindy and Guy Raz. I love your show.


ARVA: Hi, I'm Arva (ph), and I'm calling from Portland. And yesterday, I went apple picking, and I found an apple that was big as my head. And I'm six 6 years old. Bye.


MIDORI: Hi, Mindy and Guy Raz. My name is Midori (ph), and I'm from Philadelphia. I am 8 years old. My wow in the world is that the biggest known eagle nest, which is in Florida, is 9 feet wide and 20 feet deep. It's really enormous. Thank you, I love your show. Bye.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: End of messages.

THOMAS: Hey, everyone, thank you so much for joining us this week for WOW IN THE WORLD and special thanks to Anya Grundmann at NPR for helping to make it happen.

RAZ: And if you want to keep the conversation going, check out some of the questions we've posted on this episode at our website, wowintheworld.com.

THOMAS: You'll also be able to find all of the sources and journal articles we used for today's show.

RAZ: Our show is produced by Jed Anderson with help from Thomas VanCulkin (ph), Chelsea Ursin and Jessica Body (ph). Meredith Halpern-Ranzer is the big boss.

THOMAS: Our theme song was composed and performed by The Pop Ups. Find more of their awesome all-ages music at thepopups.com.

RAZ: Hey, parents and teachers, if you want to send us email, our address is hello@wowintheworld.com You can also send snail mail to WOW IN THE WORLD, care of NPR, 1111 North Capitol St. NE, Washington, D.C., 20007.

THOMAS: You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram - @wowintheworld.

RAZ: And if you want to be featured at the end of the show, call us up and tell us your wow in the world.

THOMAS: Our phone number is 1-888-7-WOW-WOW. That's 1-888-7-WOW-WOW.

RAZ: And parents, if you want to upload any photos or videos or messages to us, please visit wowintheworld.com and find the link where you can do just that.

THOMAS: And if you haven't already done so, please subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts or however you get your podcasts, and be sure to tell a friend. Until next time, keep on wowing.


THE POP UPS: (Singing) Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: WOW IN THE WORLD was made by Tinkercast and sent to you by NPR.

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