One of the biggest complaints I hear about, regarding prepping fresh ingredients like garlic and onions, is how odors from these ingredients tend to linger on your hands afterwards. This can not only be annoying to yourself, but also could interfere in social interactions between you and others.
Throughout my career as a chef, by working with other professionals and simply chatting with people about food, I have come across several solutions that will help rid you of this pesky problem. Some are better than others, but they all work to some degree.
Coffee grounds – if you drink coffee, then you have them leftover daily. Yes, used coffee grounds. Keep a supply of them by your sink and use them as a scrub, with or without soap, to help eliminate odors from your hands.
Stainless steel – this has been a longstanding tradition with many home cooks. It is claimed that if you simply rub your hands on stainless steel, odors from your hands will be eliminated. Gourmet Kitchen Stores even sell little chunks of stainless steel, shaped as small bars of soap, for this exact purpose.
Baking soda – make a paste of baking soda and water to scrub your hands with. Baking soda has been known for years as an odor removing aid, so why not on your hands too?
Lemon juice and salt – here’s another example of a scrub combination for your hands. This one however will leave your hands lemony fresh, whereas the baking soda idea will leave no pleasant scent at all. A word of caution however: if you have any small cuts on your fingers/hands, you will sure know where they are after washing with lemon juice and salt. Vinegar and salt can also be used. Your hands however may get very dry from the high acid content of the lemon juice or vinegar.
Tomato juice/paste – probably one of the costliest solutions here, but this is not only for skunk spray – it works on food smells too.
Toothpaste or mouthwash – yes, these are not just for your washroom. A thorough scrub with toothpaste, or a wash with mouthwash, will leave your hands smelling minty fresh. Just remember to rinse with cold water afterwards. You will find this easier than brushing your teeth because no flossing is necessary.
Cooking oil – this is a preventative measure that I have heard of, but I do not recommend it. The idea is to coat your hands with cooking oil in advance to help eliminate the transfer of odors onto your hands, but chances are you will be working with a knife or other sharp kitchen utensils and the last thing you want is your hands to be slippery.
Latex gloves – very popular with professional kitchens and other food-safe environments. These will guarantee that odors don’t get transferred onto your hands. However, there is a cost involved of always having these on hand, and an impact on our environment/landfills if they are disposed of into the garbage pail.
Floral/fragrant soaps – not the most effective as they will usually just mask the odors and not eliminate them, however I do know people that only do this as their solution.
Cold water – This is my old “stand-by” and I do this more than any of the suggestions listed above. Wash your hands with cold water, with or without soap. Not warm, not hot, but cold water. Warm or hot water, even if using soap, will cause the pores in your skin to open up – the odors are more likely to get trapped there, and thus will linger even after washing. Cold water however, will keep the pores closed, and more of the odors will simply wash away. If you choose to do this without soap, that is fine as a first step – but afterwards, in order to keep sanitary in the kitchen, please follow up with a lathered washing (warm water is fine now that the odors are gone).
Chef Dez is a food columnist and culinary instructor in the Fraser Valley. Visit him at www.chefdez.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or to P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, B.C. V2T 6R4