The Art of Quick Pickling: A Deep Dive into Quick Pickled Red Onions

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Pickling, a time-honoured method of food preservation, has been a culinary staple for centuries. Among the myriad of vegetables that can be pickled, red onions hold a special place. Their vibrant colour, crisp texture, and tangy flavour make them a delightful addition to any dish. But have you ever considered quick pickling these ruby gems at home? It’s a DIY project that’s both fun and rewarding, and the result is a jar of homemade pickled red onions that can elevate your meals to new heights.

The importance of pickling extends beyond just flavour enhancement. It’s a method of food storage that has been used for generations, preserving the nutritional value of vegetables and adding a tangy twist that can liven up any recipe. From the ancient Egyptians to the pioneers of the American West, pickling has been a crucial part of our culinary history. So, let’s delve into the art of quick pickling, shall we?

The History of Quick Pickling

Pickling has a rich history, dating back to ancient times when vinegar was used to preserve food for long journeys. The science behind quick pickling is fascinating. It involves a simple reaction between vinegar and the vegetables, creating a tangy, crisp product that’s ready to eat in a short time. This process, known as acidification, not only preserves the food but also enhances its flavour, giving it a unique tang that’s hard to resist.

Red onions are particularly suited for quick pickling. Their natural sweetness balances the acidity of the vinegar, resulting in a product that’s tangy yet subtly sweet. Moreover, their vibrant colour adds a visual appeal to dishes, making them a favourite among chefs and home cooks alike. The crisp texture of the sliced onions themselves is also preserved, adding a satisfying crunch to every bite.

But why stop at red onions? The world of quick pickling is vast and varied. From cucumbers and carrots to radishes and cauliflower, almost any vegetable can be transformed through the magic of quick pickling. So, while we focus on red onions in this guide, don’t be afraid to experiment with quick pickled onions recipe for other vegetables as well.

A red onion alongside a wooden spoon and spices

Quick Pickled Red Onions Ingredients

Here are a few important details about the necessary components for preparing this speedy pickled onions recipe…

Red onion: Opt for one large red onion or two small red onions, and it’s ideal to prepare them by ensuring they are thinly sliced into ultra-thin pieces. (In case you possess a mandoline, this would be a perfect opportunity to employ it! Alternatively, you can employ a chef’s knife to thinly slice the onions.)

Vinegar: My personal preference leans toward using plain white vinegar or wine vinegar over the sweeter flavor of apple cider vinegar for pickling onions. However, you may substitute it with rice vinegar, white vinegar, apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar (or even a combination of these vinegars).

Sweetener: In traditional Mexican cooking, white (granulated) sugar is typically employed for making pickled onions. Nevertheless, you have the freedom to utilize maple syrup, honey, or agave as a more natural alternative.

Salt: We’ll incorporate a small amount kosher salt, to enhance the overall deliciousness.

Water: We will add a modest quantity of water to the brine. Additionally, if you prefer a milder flavor to picked onions, you can choose to briefly blanch the onions with hot water before the pickling process. (Further information on this method is provided below.)

(Optional) Extra seasonings: Refer to the note below for optional seasonings that you may consider adding to your brine.

Step-by-Step Guide to Making Quick Pickled Red Onions

Making quick pickled red onions is a straightforward process, but choosing the right pickling ingredients is crucial. Fresh red onions, quality vinegar, fresh herbs and your choice of spices can make a world of difference in the final product.

The pickling process begins with thinly slicing the onions and soaking them in a brine made of vinegar, salt, sugar, and spices. The onions are then packed into jars and refrigerated. If you’re struggling to pick the perfect pickling jar then you might be interested in our pickling jar buying guide. Within a few hours, you’ll have crisp, tangy pickled onions ready to use.

For the best results, remember these pickling tips: always use fresh vegetables, choose a vinegar that complements the flavour of the onions, and don’t rush the process. Patience is key in pickling! The longer the onions sit in the brine, the more flavour they will absorb. So, while quick pickling is a faster process than traditional pickling, it still requires some time to achieve the best results.

Creative Uses for Quick Pickled Red Onions

Quick pickled red onions are incredibly versatile. They can be used in salads, sandwiches, tacos, and even pizzas. Their tangy flavour can cut through the richness of fatty meats, making them an excellent topping for burgers and barbecue. They also pair well with creamy ingredients like avocado and cheese, adding a burst of acidity that balances the dish.

For unique takes on quick pickled red onions, check out these gourmet ones, or maybe vegetarian-friendly is more your speed. They’re sure to inspire your culinary adventures! From a refreshing pickled onion and cucumber salad to a hearty pulled pork sandwich topped with pickled onions, there’s a pickled onion recipe for every taste.

Which Vinegar should I Choose?

A bottle of apple cider vinegar

There are several different vinegars that can be used for quick pickling onions, each offering its own unique flavor profile and characteristics. Here are some commonly used vinegars for pickling onions:

  1. White vinegar: This clear, sharp-tasting vinegar is made from distilled grain alcohol. It has a strong, acidic flavor that can provide a tangy punch to pickled onions. White vinegar is a versatile option and is often used in classic pickling recipes.

  2. Apple cider vinegar: Made from fermented apple juice, apple cider vinegar has a slightly sweet and fruity taste. It lends a pleasant tanginess to pickled onions and works well with a variety of spices and herbs. The natural sweetness of apple cider vinegar can add a subtle complexity to the pickling brine.

  3. Red wine vinegar: Produced from red wine that has undergone fermentation, red wine vinegar has a rich, robust flavor with a mild acidity. It can give pickled onions a deeper, more complex taste and adds a reddish hue to the final product.

  4. Rice vinegar: Commonly used in Asian cuisine, rice vinegar has a mild and slightly sweet taste. It is less acidic than other vinegars and imparts a delicate flavor to pickled onions. Rice vinegar pairs well with Asian-inspired spices and ingredients.

  5. Balsamic vinegar: Known for its dark color and sweet, syrupy taste, balsamic vinegar originates from Italy. It adds a rich, caramelized flavor to pickled onions, making them slightly sweeter and more indulgent.

  6. Sherry vinegar: Made from sherry wine, this vinegar has a complex, nutty flavor with a moderate acidity. Sherry vinegar can add depth and sophistication to pickled onions, especially when paired with Mediterranean-inspired spices and ingredients.

These are just a few examples of vinegars commonly used for quick pickling onions. Feel free to experiment with other types of vinegar based on your taste preferences and the desired flavor profile you want to achieve.

Health Benefits of Quick Pickled Red Onions

Red onions are packed with nutrients, and the vinegar used in pickling sweet onions has its own set of health benefits. Quick pickling can retain or even enhance these benefits, making pickled red and yellow onions a healthy addition to your diet.

Red onions are rich in antioxidants, which can help protect your body against damage from harmful molecules called free radicals. They’re also a good source of vitamin C, which supports a healthy immune system, and quercetin, a flavonoid that may have anti-inflammatory and antihistamine effects.

Vinegar, on the other hand, has been shown to help control blood sugar and salt levels, aid digestion, and even promote weight loss. When combined in pickled red onions, these ingredients create a powerhouse of nutritional benefits.

For more detailed information on the health benefits of red onions, have a look at this article.


How long will quick pickled red onions last?

Quick pickled red onions can last up to a month in the refrigerator. However, their flavour will continue to develop over time, so they may taste even better after a few days.

What can I use pickled red onions for?

Pickled red onions can be used in a variety of dishes, from salads and sandwiches to tacos and pizzas. They’re also delicious on their own, as a tangy snack.

Why do you soak raw onions before pickling?

Soaking onions in brine before pickling helps to draw out excess water, ensuring they stay crisp after pickling. It also helps to mellow the raw onion flavour, making the pickled onions more pleasant to eat.

How healthy are pickled red onions?

Pickled red onions retain the nutritional benefits of fresh onions and vinegar, making them a healthy addition to your diet. They’re low in calories and packed with antioxidants, making them a nutritious choice for a variety of dishes.


Quick pickled red onion slices are a culinary delight. They’re tangy, crisp, and packed with flavour, making them a versatile addition to a variety of dishes. Plus, they’re easy to make at home and offer numerous health benefits. So why not give it a try? Grab some red onions, vinegar, and your favourite spices, and embark on your pickling journey today! With a little patience and creativity, you can transform simple red onions into a gourmet ingredient that’s sure to impress. Happy pickling!

Dom Author Bio


From the moment I picked up a spatula, I’ve been enchanted by the myriad of flavors and preparations each culture brings to the table. It’s amazing to think that just across the street, someone might be stirring a pot of soup in a way I’ve never seen or using a spice blend I’ve yet to taste.

This intrigue prompted me to dive deep into various culinary traditions, even if it meant exploring them from the comfort of my own kitchen. Wanting to share and learn alongside you, I started writing for Cooked Best! Let’s savor this journey together.