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Ways To Get Rid Of That Pesky Onion And Garlic Smell That Actually Work

Tuesday, September 18, 2018
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Two of the most common ingredients in a Trinbagonian kitchen are onion and garlic. We use them in nearly every savoury, local dish as well as in our marinades, pepper sauce… you name it. A pelau or curry could not even qualify as Trinidadian if one were to omit either—or both—of these ingredients. There is a down side to these pungent aromatics, though. They always leave their evidence behind by means of an odour, whether on our hands, on our breaths or in our homes. The solution to this can be approached in one of two ways: One can either settle for bland food for the rest of one’s life or, one can find a way to get rid of the odour. Luckily, I have suggestions for the latter, because let’s face it, any true-blooded Trinbagonian would happily choose a life of smelly hands and bad breath over the former.

Both onions and garlic contain sulphur. It’s the sulphur in these compounds that’s responsible for the strong odour that’s produced. The fact that most of these compounds are fat-soluble and therefore, absorbed into the skin compared to residing solely on the surface of the skin, makes it more difficult to remove the pungent odour by simply washing your hands or mouth—it takes a little more. As a chef, I have cut onions and garlic more times than any one person should have to, and have obviously run into the issue of lingering smells. Over time in this industry, one learns ways and means of finding solutions. The following is a guide to getting rid of onion and garlic smells on your hands, breath and in your home.

As aforementioned, onion and garlic smells are especially difficult to remove because sulphur compounds responsible for the odour penetrate the skin. It is therefore necessary to chemically combat these compounds in order to successfully rid yourself of their lasting odours. The best way I have found to completely remove the smell is to employ a few combined methods in a specific order.

Firstly, make a scrub with one tablespoon of salt and one tablespoon of hand soap. Gently scrub hands, between fingers and underneath fingernails with the scrub and rinse thoroughly. Use a nail brush to rub the scrub into the skin and to clean under fingernails properly. Next (this is going to sound weird), rub your hands with a stainless steel spoon while rinsing under cold water for a full minute. The stainless steel reacts with the sulphur compounds, changing their chemical structure to that of a compound without an offensive odour. It basically neutralizes the sulphur molecules. Lastly, in the event there is still any trace of pungency, rinse hands with a mild acid such as vinegar or lemon juice, ensuring that between fingers and under fingernails are targeted as well. You may also apply the acid to a cloth and rub into your hands. Allow the acid to air dry and rinse with cold water.

Onion and garlic breath can potentially last for days, making close-up conversations an unpleasant experience to the one on the receiving end of the nostril assault. Some types of toothpaste have even proven ineffective against them. Fortunately, there are foods you can eat that have the ability to neutralize these odours. These foods include kiwi, fresh parsley and mint, raw mushrooms and apples, eggplant, lemon juice or green tea, just to name a few. I would recommend consuming any of these after eating a dish with onions or garlic and then brushing your teeth with a toothpaste that contains baking soda.

Let’s backtrack to the topic of onions and garlic in Trinbagonian cuisine. They make our food taste amazing, but don’t leave our homes smelling so great after a day or two. There are a few ways to combat this:

1 Combine equal parts vinegar and water and simmer in a saucepan over medium heat for at least an hour.

2 Add the peels of lemons, limes, oranges or any other citrus you like into a saucepan with water and simmer for at least an hour. You can also add cinnamon or any other aromatic spices.

3 Combine one quarter cup of baking soda and two cups of water in a spray bottle and spray around the house liberally, especially in the kitchen.

4 Leave small bowls of vinegar around the house overnight.

As the saying goes, ‘Prevention is better than cure,’ and it stands true for this as well. So with regards to preventing smells from hands, dampen your hands with vinegar before cutting them or, more practically, use non-porous gloves. At home, open windows and doors to ensure the house is well-aerated before cooking onions, garlic or anything else with strong odours to prevent them from settling into your fabrics and furniture. And well, for the bad onion and garlic breath, I’ll opt for ‘cure’.


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