www.whyville.net Jan 15, 2012 Weekly Issue

Times Writer

My Scientific, Culinary Adventure

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I was just in the kitchen (hold your feminist jokes) making mashed potatoes. My grandma is an amazing chef and she loves to experiment when it comes to cooking. So she comes up with this great idea to add some onions and pepper in the mashed potatoes for "extra pizzazz". And of course as her laboring kitchen elf, I was given the task of peeling the onions and sprinkling the pepper. And so, picture this: in the midst of a bunch of potatoes, pots, pans and onions, I was peeling a handful of red onions. Of course midway through my endless peeling, I started crying. And that is when I started wondering why people cry when peeling onions. After some extensive and intense research (not really), I found out the answer! Prepare yourselves . . .

Why chopping onions makes you cry.

The reason why chopping onions makes you cry is because of the unstable chemicals. Who knew chemistry could be incorporated in our daily lives? (Well actually, everyone knew that . . .) According to my research, onions produce a chemical gas called syn-propanethial-S-oxide (C3H60S). Apparently, this chemical gas kindles the eyes' lachrymal glands which results in you tearing up. The syn-propanethial-S-oxide gas is released when you break-open (or dice) an onion because their enzymes are released. (For an informational video on how to peel an onion with less tears, check out http://onions-usa.org/faqs/why-do-your-eyes-water-when-you-cut-onions)

After I peeled all the onions, I had to sprinkle a bit of pepper on the boiling potatoes. I started sprinkling when all of a sudden I continuously started to sneeze. Now, let's investigate pepper!

Why pepper makes you sneeze.

Sneezes appear only when the nerve endings in the mucous membrane are irritated. Pepper contains an alkaloid of pyridine called piperine. When piperine gets into the nose, it stimulates the nerve endings. This causes you to sneeze.

Some fascinating facts:

- When you're sternutating (the name for sneezing), the air flies out at a rate of 100 miles per hour! (Like a car!)
- In ancient Greece and Rome pepper was used as currency (how we use dollars).

Thank you all for reading my article and I hope you all learned something new today!

Back to the kitchen for more investigating,

Author's Note: Sources: http://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/pepper.html, http://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/onion.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syn-Propanethial-S-oxide


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