How to reduce in cooking

Master reductions to produce rich, bold flavors

How to reduce in cooking

It’s a line that comes up in recipes frequently: Reduce sauce by half, reduce liquid by 1/3, etc. But what does that mean, and how do you do it?

In the kitchen, the term “reduction” refers to a technique that delivers intensely flavored, thickened liquid simply by boiling. Whether it is a soup or a sauce, by bringing the liquid to a rapid boil, it turns into steam and escapes from the pan, in turn reducing its original volume.

The key to this technique is never to cover your cooking vessel, so put away your pot lids. If you cover your pan, the steam will be trapped inside and the reduction will take a very long time.

How do you tell if you are reducing correctly? Well if your instructions dictate to reduce by half or 1/3, a tip is to take note of where your liquid currently lines the inside of your pot. Once the boiling begins, the liquid will go down (that’s the reduction part), usually leaving a line of residue that circles the interior of your pot (see image of reduced tomato sauce). This is a good marker for you to tell if you are at your goal or if you should continue boiling.

A reduction sauce can be made of just one ingredient. For example you can get a balsamic or a red wine reduction by reducing a cup to a half cup. The goal is to thicken the liquid to a sauce-like consistency. You’ll see it referred to as “nape” in some French recipes. Basically, you want the liquid to cling to the back of your spoon.

Be careful not to over-reduce your liquid. If you are starting with a large amount of soup and know it will take half an hour for it to reduce, feel free to leave this unattended and move on to other kitchen tasks. However, if you are simply reducing a bit of Grand Marnier for a dessert sauce, stay by your pan. If you over-reduce, you’ll know it. The only thing left in the pan will be a sticky burnt coating, and you’ll have to start over.

How to reduce in cooking

One of the simplest ways to add flavor—not to mention, a more impressive presentation—to your home cooking repertoire is to reduce braising liquid and pan drippings into lush, thick, spoon-coating sauces. It’s a simple technique to do: As the contents of your braise (usually a heady concoction of stock, water, beer, or wine, with aromatics and a little bit of fat) evaporate, the remaining liquid becomes concentrated. But mastering the art of reducing sauce requires a little savviness. The best reductions are thick enough so that a line drawn on the back of a spoon with your finger holds without dripping (the fancy French word for that is **nappant). Here’s how to fast track your sauce from simple to complex, silky, and spoonable.

Whatever solids are in your pan (chicken as in the picture above), pork shoulder, short ribs, etc.), they’re standing in the way of your braising liquid. Remove fully-cooked and tender meat from the pan and let it rest while the sauce cooks over medium heat. Once the sauce has reached your desired consistency, add the meat back in and rewarm it over gentle heat, spooning the sauce over.

The more surface area your sauce has to do its thing, the quicker it’ll reduce. A large Dutch oven or wide sauté pan will yield the quickest results. Can you reduce in a small sauce pot? Of course. Just keep in mind: The deeper the pan’s volume, the longer it’ll take to condense and reduce.

As it reduces, the sauce for this sweet-and-tangy Caramel Chicken thickens. Photo: Hirsheimer & Hamilton

Need that sauce, like, yesterday? If you’re in a hurry, you can really speed up the process by dividing the sauce into two pans (for maximum effect, see point no. 2 and use two wide pans). If you have a lot of liquid to begin with, as in the example of a large batch of braised short ribs, you can just discard a bit of it before you begin reducing.

Because the point of reducing liquid is to let it evaporate, you’re going to want to give that liquid access to the air. So that means keep the pot uncovered, right? Right.

Reducing the liquid without these Citrus-and-Chile Braised Short Ribs speeds up the process. Photo: Michael Graydon + Nikole Herriott

A watched pot never boils, and the same is true for a reduction (well, maybe). A good reduction takes a fair amount of time, and it’s ideal to simmer, rather than boil. Too-high heat can cause the sauce to over-reduce and/or become bitter. For most standard-sized braises, expect to invest anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes.

Once your liquid has reduced to the perfect consistency (remember that back-of-the-spoon trick!), whisk in a tablespoon or two of room-temperature butter. The butter will add a little extra thickness and give it a beautifully glossy sheen. But don’t add it until the sauce is finished: Simmering the butter can cause it to separate and the sauce to “break.”

If you’ve dutifully followed steps one through six and your sauce still hasn’t properly reduced (need we direct you back to no. 5?), you can hack it with a slurry. A slurry is simply a combination of starch mixed with liquid. Some classic slurries include: cornstarch, arrowroot, potato starch, and water or stock.

Bitterness is one of the essential flavors in our taste palette, and lots of bitter foods are especially healthy. However, you might find bitter tastes off-putting or have a dish that you accidentally added too much bitterness to. Don’t worry, you’re in luck! There are lots of tricks and strategies to mask or counteract bitter flavors and help you enjoy whatever meal is in front of you.


Method 1 of 10: Balance out bitterness with some fat.

How to reduce in cooking

Fat naturally masks bitter tastes and makes them more palatable. This is why adding some milk or cream to coffee makes it taste better. Try using a cream sauce, milk, fatty cheese, olive oil, or similar fatty ingredients to help cover bitter tastes.

  • This is a great trick to get kids to eat more bitter vegetables like broccoli, brussels sprouts, or cabbage. Add some cheese or cheese sauce to their veggies and they won’t notice the bitterness.

Method 2 of 10: Cover the flavor with sweetness.

Who doesn’t love some sweetness in their food? Again, think about coffee—there’s a reason we like sweetening it a bit. The sweetness naturally covers bitter tastes. Throw a pinch of sugar or some honey into bitter foods and drinks to enhance the flavor a bit.

  • Pairing bitter tastes with sugar or chocolate also makes a unique dessert flavor.
  • Don’t overdo it with the sugar! The American Heart Association recommends having no more than 25-36 g of sugar per day for good health, so watch how much you’re using and don’t exceed that limit.

Method 3 of 10: Sprinkle some salt over your food.

A pinch of salt makes everything better, including bitter foods. The saltiness naturally counteracts the bitterness, so don’t be shy about using a bit of salt in meals that are too bitter.

  • This is an especially good trick if you’re cooking bitter vegetables, like with roasted broccoli or brussels sprouts. Toss them in some olive oil and salt before cooking to introduce new flavors.
  • Just like with sugar, you have to watch your salt intake to maintain good health. The recommended salt intake per day is 2,300 mg, or just about 1/2 tsp.

Method 4 of 10: Try a pinch of baking soda.

How to reduce in cooking

This might sound a little weird, but it works! Baking soda is very alkaline, which is a good way to correct overly bitter dishes. Sprinkle just a pinch into your food and mix it in well to see if that helps.

  • This is a good trick for if you’re cooking and realize that you added too much of a bitter ingredient. Mix in a pinch of baking soda before the dish is done to fix that.
  • Be very careful not to add more than a pinch or two! Any more than that and your food won’t taste very good.

Method 5 of 10: Squeeze in some vinegar or lemon juice.

How to reduce in cooking

Sour, acidic tastes like these naturally counteract bitterness. Try squeezing some fresh lemon juice or adding a spoonful of vinegar to bitter dishes to neutralize the flavor a bit.

  • Using acidic or sour dressings is a great way to enhance the taste of bitter vegetables in your salads like kale, radishes, or arugula.
  • If you make a mistake and add too much vinegar or lemon juice to a dish, some baking soda can help fix that flavor too by eliminating the acid.

Method 6 of 10: Add some spice to your foods.

Good news for spice lovers! Spices mask bitter flavors, so don’t be shy. Add some spicy peppers or powders to your cooking, or sprinkle some onto your dishes for a little bit of extra heat.

  • Black pepper in particular has compounds that counteract bitterness.
  • Some other great spices include cayenne, red pepper, paprika, and chili powder.

Method 7 of 10: Cook with herbs to cut through the bitter taste.

How to reduce in cooking

Herbs distract you from bitterness by activating other taste receptors. Mix some basil, coriander, sage, and rosemary into your cooking for great, bitter-free flavors.

  • Mixing fresh herbs into a stir-fry or roasted dish adds a whole new flavor element to your cooking.
  • You can also get dried herbs like basil, ginger, and oregano to sprinkle onto your meals. These last a lot longer than fresh varieties.

Method 8 of 10: Chill the food to reduce bitterness.

How to reduce in cooking

If you don’t mind eating cold food, this is the choice for you. It’s a fact that colder food and drinks are less bitter, which is why you might find iced tea or coffee easier to drink. Try leaving bitter meals in the fridge before eating them to see if that improves the flavor.

  • This is a good trick for bitter vegetables. Leave them in the fridge for a few hours to cool off before eating them.
  • You could also combine this with other tricks, like adding some salt or fat to the meal.

Method 9 of 10: Mix bitter ingredients into larger dishes.

How to reduce in cooking

When in doubt, just cover the bitter tastes. Make dishes with lots of different ingredients and only add in a little bit of the bitter ones. This should mask the bitter flavors while still allowing you to get all the health benefits from bitter foods.

  • Some non-bitter foods include beans, carrots, corn, eggplant, lettuce, and potatoes. Try hiding some bitter foods in a dish with these ingredients.
  • This trick works well with salads. You could mix bitter ingredients like arugula with more neutral tastes like romaine. Top the salad with a lemon vinaigrette to mask the bitterness even more.

Method 10 of 10: Eat more bitter foods to get used to them.

How to reduce in cooking

You can actually teach your body what kinds of foods to like. If you just keep eating bitter foods, you’ll eventually desensitize yourself to bitter tastes. It might not seem fun right now, but it can make a big difference in the long term!

  • This is a good strategy because some other tricks to make bitter food taste better, like adding sugar or fat, aren’t the healthiest. This would help you eat bitter foods without adding other ingredients.

It won’t happen in a day, but there are small things you can do to begin eliminating plastic from your kitchen right now. That’s good news for your health and the environment.

We already tote reusable bags to the grocery store and shop for bulk items when we can, yet from the organic chicken breasts packaged in plastic cling at the butcher counter to the plastic food containers we store food in at home, there is an overwhelming amount of plastic used in our kitchens. Start thinking about all that plastic and it’s hard to unsee it. What’s more, plastic products tend to get used just once before ending up in a landfill where it negatively impacts the planet and even possibly our health.

The United Nations has declared the plastic pollution of our oceans “a planetary crisis.” Each year, about eight million tons of plastic waste (the equivalent of setting five garbage bags full of trash on every foot of coastline around the world) ends up in oceans our, according to National Geographic. And scientists now estimate that more than half of the world’s population might have plastic passing through their bodies, although they’re unsure what all that plastic is doing to us. There are small steps we can take to dramatically reduce the use of plastic in our everyday life, ultimately helping to protect our health and the planet. Here’s how to start reducing the amount plastic used in your kitchen right now.

First, Be Kind to Yourself

It is so easy to become frustrated when trying to reduce your plastic usage on your grocery shopping trip. My personal pet peeve is organic cauliflower wrapped in plastic. Realize that you’re not going to be able to quit all plastic at once. That’s perfectly fine, and every little bit you do stop using helps. Start with what works for you.

Reduce the Plastic in Your Kitchen While You’re Shopping

The next step to reducing the plastic use in your kitchen is simply changing the way you shop. Starting by planning meals before you heading to the store, so you shop with a focused list of things you need. This will also help you reduce the amount of food you waste. Farmers’ markets, zero-waste stores, and bulk-food aisles at traditional grocery stores make it easy to purchase only the quantity of ingredients you need while using reusable containers. But if those shopping options aren’t available to you or aren’t possible in the scoop of your normal routine, there are still steps you can take.

“Try making it a game,” says Karen Ricks, head chef at Our Kitchen Classroom, which shares cooking tips and lessons from kitchens around the world. “Rather than simply grabbing your regular products at the local market, try to see how many items you can replace that have no plastic in their packaging.” Buy freshly baked bread from a local bakery to take home in your reusable bag rather than buying commercially-baked bread in a plastic bag. Select fresh produce, sold individually, and use reusable produce bags like those from Vandoona ($13.95, instead of those thin plastic bags. You can also skip the bag entirely. You’re going to wash those fruits and vegetables when you get home anyway. Buy condiments, beverages, and other items in glass versus plastic containers and buy them in the biggest size you can. And instead of buying individually wrapped items, buy the biggest full-size option—looking at you single-serve yogurt and snack-sized chip bags. You can always portion them into reusable to-go containers at home.

How to Reduce Your Plastic Usage While Cooking

The more you cook whole foods the less plastic you’ll use in your kitchen, but there are other adjustments to your routine that you can make. When marinating anything or prepping your ingredients, use glass bowls and reusable storage items so you’re not wasting single use plastics.

How to reduce in cooking

Many recipes can be cut in half or thirds. Use the following measurements if you would like to make 1/2 or 1/3 of a recipe.

How to Make 1/2 of a Recipe

When the recipe says: Reduce to:
1 cup 1/2 cup
3/4 cup 6 tablespoons
2/3 cup 1/3 cup
1/2 cup 1/4 cup
1/3 cup 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons
1/4 cup 2 tablespoons
1 tablespoon 1-1/2 teaspoons
1 teaspoon 1/2 teaspoon
1/2 teaspoon 1/4 teaspoon
1/4 teaspoon 1/8 teaspoon
1/8 teaspoon Dash

How to Make 1/3 of a Recipe

When the recipe says: Reduce to:
1 cup 1/3 cup
3/4 cup 1/4 cup
2/3 cup 3 tablespoons + 1-1/2 teaspoons
1/2 cup 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons
1/3 cup 1 tablespoon + 2-1/3 teaspoons (or round to 1 tablespoon + 2-1/4 teaspoons)
1/4 cup 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon
1 tablespoon 1 teaspoon
1 teaspoon Generous 1/4 teaspoon
1/2 teaspoon Scant 1/4 teaspoon
1/4 teaspoon Scant 1/8 teaspoon
1/8 teaspoon Dash
Tips for Adapting Recipes
  • It may be easier to make the entire recipe for baked goods and freeze half.
  • When reducing recipes, you may need to use smaller saucepans, skillets and baking pans. The time for baking smaller amounts of food may be less.
  • The standard size egg for recipes is the large egg. To halve an egg, break it, mix it together with a fork and use 2 tablespoons. Refrigerate the rest and use in an omelet or scrambled eggs within two to four days.
  • A 9 x 13-inch pan holds 14 to 15 cups; when halving a recipe use a square 8 x 8-inch pan or a round 9-inch pan. When using a different pan size, try and keep the depth of food the same.
  • Reduce the oven temperature by 25°F when substituting a glass pan for a metal one.
  • To help divide recipes, remember:
    • 1 cup = 16 tablespoons
    • 1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons
    • 1 cup = 8 fluid ounces
    • 1 fluid ounce = 2 tablespoons
    • 1 pound = 16 ounces (weight)
    • 1 pint = 2 cups
    • 2 pints = 1 quart
    • 1 quart = 2 pints

Updated in 2020 by Kayla Colgrove. This article was originally written by Alice Henneman.

If you’ve resolved to live a greener life this summer, try following these simple steps.

Your carbon footprint equals the total impact you have both directly and indirectly on greenhouse gas emissions. A significant portion of our personal contributions to greenhouse gas emissions happen in our homes, i.e., heating, cooling, electricity and water usage, and yes, cooking.

No matter how minute, every step you can take to waste less in your home counts. Here are 10 easy steps you can take in your kitchen to live a more eco-friendly life.

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Use a fridge thermometer.

Start by making sure your fridge and freezer aren’t too cold. Recommended temperatures are 35° to 38°F for the fresh food compartment and 0°F for freezers—anything colder means wasted energy.

Eat less meat.

Adopting a more vegetarian diet will greatly reduce your household’s carbon footprint. Studies have shown that meat products have larger carbon footprints per calorie than grain or vegetable products. This is due to both the inefficient transformation of plant energy to animal energy as well as the methane released from manure management.

Do a door test.

Make sure your refrigerator door seals are airtight. Test them by closing the door over a piece of paper so it’s half in and out. If you can pull the paper or bill out easily, the latch may need adjustment, the seal may need replacing, or you may consider buying a new unit.

Reduce, reuse, then recycle.

When it comes to environmental impact, reusing trumps recycling. Only 14 percent of plastic packaging waste gets recycled, and out of this, only 2 percent can be really recycled into equivalent products! Only recycle products when you cannot repurpose them. And if you haven’t tried composting, here’s how.

Pick the proper pan.

Make sure the cookware you’re using matches the size of the heating element. For instance, a 6-inch pot on an 8-inch burner wastes over 40 percent of the burner’s heat—this can save about $36 annually for an electric range and $18 for gas. Also, covered pots and pans will heat up faster and need less energy to hold it in than uncovered.

Fight excess frost.

Regularly defrost manual-defrost freezers and refrigerators; frost buildup decreases the energy efficiency of the unit. Don’t allow frost to build up more than one-quarter of an inch.

Use smaller appliances.

When able, cook with countertop electrics like a toaster oven, pressure cooker, or slow cooker rather than firing up your full-sized range. A toaster or convection oven uses a third to a half as much energy as a traditional oven (and you won’t have to crank up the A/C to cool down your house in warmer months).

Keep the cooktop clean.

A gas range’s burners will reflect heat much better when they aren’t hiding under burnt-on grime. Also, look for blue flames—yellow indicates that gas is burning inefficiently and may need adjustment from the manufacturer or your local utility.

Remember your tote.

Bring reusable bags to the grocery store instead of using disposable shopping bags. As a reminder, you can stash a few next to where you keep your shopping list so they’ll be ready when you are.

Leave leftovers covered.

Cover liquids and wrap foods stored in the refrigerator. Uncovered foods release moisture and make the compressor work harder.

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Here’s how to tamp down inflammation and reduce your chronic disease risk in as little as one day.

The subject of inflammation is everywhere lately, and the hype is for good reason. Not only can adopting an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle reduce chronic inflammation to help you stay healthy and slow down aging, but research also suggests it can reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, autoimmune diseases, joint pain, and cancer.

Best part? You don’t have to wait for months or years to start seeing results and feeling better! Small changes you make today can start reducing your inflammation overnight. Here’s what to do ASAP to start reaping the health benefits.

How to reduce in cooking

Struggling to cook healthy? We’ll help you prep.

Eat a salad every day.

Keep a package or two of leafy greens on hand to toss in your lunch bag or on your dinner plate. Having a cup of leafy greens—like baby spinach, arugula, kale, or lettuce—each day is one of the most beneficial diet habits you can adopt. These leafy greens offer an anti-inflammatory double-punch, thanks to antioxidants and bioactive compounds that reduce inflammation and prevent free radicals from creating new inflammation.

Avoid getting hangry.

Skip the vending machine and sweetened coffee drinks, and opt instead for a fiber-rich snack with a little protein like apple slices and peanut butter, raw veggies and hummus, or a few almonds and cheese cubes. The reason is that eating a balanced snack without added sugars and refined carbs is key to keeping blood sugar within normal parameters, which in turn helps you avoid cravings, hunger, and irritability. Not only is this nicer for those around you, but avoiding peaks and drops in blood sugar also prevents inflammation in the body that can lead to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

Go to bed.

Turn off Netflix, get off social media, and head to bed a little earlier. While it may seem a little indulgent, getting 7 to 8 hours of continuous sleep is what’s considered adequate for adults and we should all aim for that as our norm. Routinely not getting enough sleep (6 hours or less) triggers inflammation—even in healthy individuals—which research suggests increases risk for metabolic issues that can lead to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, as well as dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Take your dog for a walk.

Missed your workout today? Take a quick walk around the block! While regular exercise is ideal for treating and preventing most all health issues, some days there’s not enough time for a full-blown workout. However, results from a 2017 study suggest that getting just 20 minutes of movement reduces inflammatory blood markers. So, lace up your shoes and get going!

More on inflammation:

  • The Best Anti-Inflammatory Diet Is Eating Healthy
  • How to Follow an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
  • 10 Top Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Spice things up.

Look for ways to add a little garlic or spice when you’re cooking dinner tonight. Fragrant and pungent spices seem like they would have the potential to aggravate inflammation, but research suggests they actually do the opposite. In fact, there’s evidence to suggest incorporating garlic, or herbs and spices such as turmeric, rosemary, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, and fenugreek, decreases inflammation that could eventually lead to heart disease, brain degenerative conditions, cancer, and respiratory issues.

Take a break from alcohol.

If you like having a nightly cocktail or glass of wine, consider abstaining for a few days. This doesn’t have to be long-term, but cutting out alcohol briefly (while making other anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle changes) helps the body calm down and reduce existing inflammation. While research suggests that moderate alcohol consumption offers some benefits, the problem is that it’s easy to cross the line from beneficial and anti-inflammatory to harmful and inflammatory.

Swap one coffee for green tea.

If you drink 1 to 3 cups of coffee or other caffeinated drinks a day, consider swapping one of those for a cup of green tea instead. Green tea leaves are packed with polyphenol compounds, which can help reduce free radical damage to stop further inflammation. Studies suggest that regularly drinking green tea can help reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and joint conditions.

Be gentle to your gut.

There’s lots of hype around probiotics, but are you supporting those good microbes already living in you? Protect those existing good bacteria by cutting out added sugars, trans fats, and focusing on choosing primarily whole and minimally processed foods. It’s also worth consuming probiotic-rich foods—such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, miso, or kimchi—every single day. Strengthening the gut’s microbe barrier is one of the cornerstones to reducing inflammation long-term.

Consider a fast.

Granted, it’s not for everyone, but research continues to find benefits when it comes to intermittent fasting (IF), largely due to the anti-inflammatory effects the eating pattern induces. There are several ways to approach fasting, but an easy way to start is with a 12-hour fast. This means if you finish dinner at 7 p.m., then you only consume water or black coffee until 7 a.m. the next day. Studies suggest regularly doing IF may reduce heart disease risk and improve insulin sensitivity, brain health, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Cut out dairy and gluten (temporarily).

Dairy and gluten are not usually inflammatory in healthy individuals (unless you have an allergy, intolerance, or celiac disease), but they can be irritating when there’s already existing inflammation. Some people may find it beneficial to cut out dairy, gluten, or both for a few weeks while eating a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods and low in inflammatory ones. The thought is that this gives the body time to “calm down.” After which, you can slowly start to incorporate dairy or gluten-containing foods to see if they cause any irritation.

Chill out.

No matter how healthy your diet, low-grade inflammation isn’t going away if stress levels run continuously high. And even if stress isn’t too much of daily problem, learning how to manage and cope when it does occur is key for preventing new inflammation. Finding healthy ways to escape that stress—for example, by practicing yoga, meditating, or taking a short walk—provides quick relief psychologically and anti-inflammatory effects physiologically.

Be picky about ingredients.

Additives, dyes, preservatives, and other ingredients regularly added to foods all have the potential to trigger or aggravate inflammation—particularly if you have a weaker gut barrier—so take a look at the ingredient list on products in your pantry and fridge. Are the ingredients listed what you might use if making the food from a recipe at home? If yes, then this is likely a minimally processed product and a good choice. If not, opt for another brand or substitute when shopping next time.

The longer they sit in the ground, the stronger they become.

Onions are essential ingredients in so many recipes. From something as basic and versatile as sautéed vegetables to Bolognese sauce, risotto, salads, stews, and even dips, onions are a star player. But if you’re not a fan of their sharp flavor—raw or cooked—there are a few genius ways to make them smell and taste more mellow.

Why Are Onions So Potent?

Before we discuss how to make them less intense all around, it’s important to understand what makes onions so potent. When you cut into an onion, an overwhelming smell takes over and your eyes suddenly start to well up. That’s not because this is a particularly mean vegetable—it’s all thanks to sulfur. “Sulfur is what builds up in the layers of the onion. When you have a large onion, it’s going to be stronger because it’s spent more time beneath the ground. The longer an onion sits in the soil, the stronger the sulfur will be,” explains Palak Patel, a chef and educator at the Institute of Culinary Education.

When you cut an onion, chemical enzymes within the cell structure of the bulb escape and react with oxygen, which causes an irritant that makes you cry. Cut onions at the last minute and immediately start to cook with them in order to prevent the enzymes from interacting with oxygen. The enzymes float into the air and react with the surface on your eyes.

Does Age Correlate with Potency?

Two factors that indicate the age of an onion are the size of the bulb and structure of the skin. The bigger the onion, the more sulfur that has built up in its many layers. For example, you may find both small and large yellow onions in the same section on a grocery store shelf; choose the ones that are smaller, since they’ll taste and smell less potent. Another surefire sign that an onion is old? If the skin is flaking and peeling easily.

How to Reduce the Sharpness of an Onion

Patel recommends soaking a sliced onion for 30-60 minutes in ice water, which will alleviate some of the enzymes from escaping. Drain and pat dry before cooking with the crisp, palatable onion. If you’re short on time, you can stick an unpeeled onion in the freezer for just a few minutes or rinse it under cold water, which will also help to dilute the intensity of the enzymes. “Water, a quick pickle of cut onion in vinegar for a few minutes, or any kind of acid will also dissolve the enzymes and take the bite out of the onion,” says Patel. And if you’re really against using strong onions, stick to a milder variety such as white or Vidalia onions, shallots, or spring onions.

Breaking Down the Enzymes

Whether raw or cooked, there are a few things you can do to do make an onion milder. Think of French Onion Soup. The flavor of this classic recipe is sweet, rich, and ultra-comforting. This is because the onions have cooked low and slow, which breaks down the enzymes and ultimately makes the onions taste really sweet. “The longer you cook an onion, the softer and sweeter it gets,” says Patel. She recommends cooking the onions with plenty of fat (think: butter or oil), which also helps to offset the volatile onion flavor.

Onions also pair well with salt and citrus. “I love serving raw cucumber, tomato, and red onion salad with lime juice and cilantro—like an Indian version of pico de gallo that is cooling,” says Patel.