No goggles required: ‘Tearless’ onions go on sale in UK supermarkets

Chopping onions is a recurring kitchen nightmare that often reduces home cooks to tears, but red eyes could be a thing of the past as “tearless” onions go on sale in the UK for the first time.

Next week Waitrose will start selling Sunions in its stores, a “brown, tearless and sweet” onion variety that is being billed as a “gamechanger” for red-eyed chefs. The onions, which are being marketed using the strapline “not a single tear”, have taken more than 30 years to perfect.

The irritation caused by the vapours released when chopping into an onion means that every day, Britons go to great lengths to take away the sob factor at meal times. The hacks used include sticking onions in the freezer first, soaking them in water, or even wearing swimming goggles. Indeed, Waitrose’s sister chain, John Lewis, sells special “onion goggles” with anti-fog lenses for £23 to get the job done.

However, onion goggles could soon be obsolete thanks to Sunions, which Waitrose says are “perfect for those with sensitive eyes as well as cooking in the kitchen with children”.

With the vegetable a staple of many dishes, Paul Bidwell, the supermarket’s onion buyer, said Sunions would be a versatile ingredient. The “sweetness of this type of onion lends itself perfectly to a variety of dishes, from salads to hot meals”, he said.

However, at a time when food bills are going up anyway, Sunions may yet make your eyes water, as they are a lot more expensive than regular onions. A three-pack of Sunions costs £1.50 – or 50p an onion. That is three times as much as Waitrose’s cheapest own-brand onions, which are 14p each.

The race to develop a tearless onion has been a long one, with scientists around the world working on prototypes for decades. Sunions were launched in the US four years ago. They reached mainland Europe last year when the brand was picked up by a number of Spanish retailers.

The onion was originally developed by the agricultural giant Bayer, but is now owned by the chemicals firm BASF, which acquired part of its seeds and crop business. It says Sunions are not genetically modified but the product of decades of cross-breeding of less pungent strains of onion.

On the brand’s website it says that, unlike all other onions, they “become sweeter every day”. “Volatile compounds in onions are responsible for tearing and pungent flavour and the amounts of those compounds in other onions remain the same or increase over time. In Sunions, these compounds do the exact opposite and decrease to create a tearless, sweet and mild onion.”