When we cut the bulb of an onion, we rip open the cells and allow the enzyme allinase to mix with a sulfur compound which creates propanethial S-oxide gas. This gas floats up and mixes with water in our eyes to create sulfuric acid. Our eyes then start to water to neutralize the acid.
This whole phenomenon (crying while cutting onions) is called the “Lachrymatory Factor.” Check out this website, it has a detailed description of the process.
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