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Pickled red onions

Sat, 28 October, 2023

Easy and quick pickled red onions, sweet and slightly spicy – or really hot if that’s what you like and you bump up the chilli content.

pickled red onions

Know your onions!

Onions are a member of the amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae) though significantly less pretty. The botanical name of onion is Allium cepa, derived from the Latin word for ‘onion’, and languages like Spanish (‘cebolla’) or Polish (‘cebula’) have clearly riffed on the Latin root.

Onions are probably native to southwestern Asia, but their precise origin is uncertain: possibly Iran, western Pakistan or Central Asia.

Onions have been cultivated since ancient times for culinary and medicinal purposes. The oldest evidence of onion use dates back to Ancient Egypt, where onions were depicted as food offerings in tombs and temples.

Onions were also mentioned in the Bible and the Quran as a staple food, as well as in ancient Hindu manuscripts. Greeks and Romans used them widely for various purposes, including cooking, medicine and as a currency.

And it was the Romans who introduced onions to the rest of Europe, popularising the vegetable among different cultures and regions.

quick onion pickles

Varieties of onions

There are many varieties of onions classified by their shape, colour, size and flavour. Apart from the common red and yellow, there are white onions, spring onions, several varieties of shallots, pearl onions, cipollini and leeks, which apparently also class as onions (don’t tell the Welsh!).

Onions are members of the Allium family together with garlic, chives and wild garlic. All these plants form bulbs, have pungent smell and the ability to produce organosulfur compounds that have various health benefits. Those molecules are potent antioxidants as well as having anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-diabetic properties.

onion and chilli

Cook your onions!

Onions have tonnes of culinary applications worldwide, enriching the flavour and texture of various dishes.

Onions are used raw, cooked, fried, roasted, pickled or caramelised in different cuisines, with French onion soup, Indian onion bhajis, English onion rings, German onion tart and Italian onion jam to name just a few.

Onions are used to make sauces, dips, chutneys and relishes, with red onions commonly used in salads and sandwiches in the UK and the US, while white onions are preferred for cooking in Mexico and India.

red onion pickles

Baby, don’t cry

The one well known fact about onions is that they make people cry when sliced or chopped.

This is due to a release of a chemical called syn-propanethial-S-oxide when the cells of the plant are broken, which irritates the eyes and triggers tears.

Some homespun preventative advice includes cutting onions next to or under running water or wearing sunglasses.

sliced onions

How to pickle your onions

This is a super quick, rough and ready recipe, nevertheless producing an awesome result that will likely disappear very quickly from the jar.

The slicing is the only chore, and I recommend using a mandolin to cut the onions and the chillies; it also reduces the teary aspect for some reason.

The pickling liquid should be brought to a boil, then poured over the onions and jalapeños in a non-reactive bowl. To keep the onions submerged, i.e. pickling, you can place a saucer on top of them or several folded paper towels.

Once cooled, they can be transferred to a jar to keep in the fridge – or consumed straight away, if you’re having a taco or burger night.

pickling onions

More pickle recipes

Flash pickles made with cucumber and carrot slices. These quick refrigerator pickles are ready in 3 hours and retain more nutritious elements than ordinary pickles.

Quick pickled jalapeño peppers, crunchy and sweet and hot. The best pickled jalapeños are homemade, and these are ready within about an hour. Make sure you wear gloves!

Sauerkraut has many health benefits being a probiotic-rich food and a source of fibre and numerous nutrients. This is an easy recipe for homemade spiced sauerkraut ready in 1 - 3 weeks.

spicy pickled red onions

More onion recipes

Crispy tobacco onions, very easy, very tasty, they beat onion rings anytime. Why are they called tobacco onions? It's because of their colour and curly appearance.

French onion soup recipe, this onion soup can be made with white or red onions. It's vegetarian or not depending on what type of stock you add. A simple and comforting soup, a timeless classic.

Roasted balsamic shallots, baked with balsamic vinegar and maple syrup. Sweet and tart glaze and rosemary fragrance make these an irresistible side, condiment or a snack.

tacos with pickled onions

Pickled red onions

Servings: makes 1 small jarTime: 10 minutes


  • 1 large red onion
  • 1 small jalapeño pepper
  • 120ml (½ cup) apple cider vinegar
  • 120ml (½ cup) water
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 100g (½ cup) caster sugar
  • ½ tsp mustard seeds


1. Peel and finely slice the onion. Core, de-seed and finely slice the jalapeño. Place both in a bowl.

2. Heat the vinegar, water, salt, sugar and mustard seeds in a small pan until boiling. Pour over the onions. Place double-layered paper towels over the onions to keep them submerged. Leave to cool.

3. They are ready to use as soon as cooled down, and they will keep indefinitely in a jar in the fridge.

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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