Pickled Red Onions – Your Next Kitchen Win

Pickled red onions on top of a salad

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Pickled red onions are a thing of beauty.

They have everything: gorgeous crimson color, tangy, assertive flavor, and a delightfully crunchy texture. In short: pickled red onions are the workhorse in many a dish. And they take all of 5 minutes to make.

You just need decent vinegar.

I credit my daughter with inspiring me to figure out how simple they are to make.


portrait of a young girl in a waterfront cafe
My daughter. She drinks coffee and she knows things.


I was visiting her in Seattle and ordered a bagel with cream cheese and lox. Delicious, for sure, but it was the freaking garnish: the pickled red onions that had me really digging in. I made sure each bite had the perfect ratio of garnish to “substance” and when the red onions ran out, I was done eating.

There was still a lot of “substance” left on the plate … but it just wasn’t worth the calories without its beautiful crunchy crimson crown.

It was time to master this stunning garnish.

I am a little embarrassed at how simple it is.

pickled red onions

What you need to know.

  • Vinegar is vinegar is vinegar is vinegar is not true.
  • Apple cider vinegar is musty-harsh on its own.
  • Distilled white vinegar is burny-harsh on its own.
  • White wine vinegar is just right. (I don’t always drink alcohol, but when I do, it’s white wine. I could be biased.)

All this time I’ve been using vinegar kind of willy-nilly. Sure, rice wine vinegar was reserved for Asian dishes and balsamic usually went into Italian or beefy dishes, but past that, vinegar was vinegar was vinegar was vinegar … Well, not anymore.

My next batch of pickled red onions will be made with citrus champagne vinegar. 😀

And my apologies to the apple cider with The Mother Fans, you guys know who you are …

For more info, check out the vinegar tutorials from Food and Wine and the kitchn.

Pickled red onions on top of a salad

Pickled Red Onions

Thinly slice some red onions - skip the par-boiling/hot water step if you are short on time or if you want a crispier final product. Dissolve the spices in the vinegar and add the onions to the mix. Let chill at least 20 - 30 minutes.
Prep Time 5 minutes
resting time 30 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes
Course Condiment, Garnish, Side Dish


  • water to parboil/heat the sliced onions totally optional step
  • 1 whole very thinly sliced red onion
  • 3/4 cup white wine vinegar or vinegar of choice
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp powdered stevia or sugar
  • 1/2 tsp whole yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp celery seed
  • 1 tsp rinsed capers
  • 5 whole black pepper corns


  • Combine the salt, sugar, spices, and vinegar in the glass container you are going to store the onions in.
  • Thinly slice a medium red onion.
  • Bring a few cups of water to a boil and have a sieve ready. When the water is boiling, toss in the thinly sliced red onions and immediately drain them through the sieve. The intent is to soften/wilt them just a little. Put the wilted and still warm onions in the vinegar and spice mixture and refrigerate until ready to use. The heating step is optional. The onions will wilt a little over time anyway. If you are going to use them as a garnish immediately, do the heating step. If you intend to garnish salads or something over the next few days, skip the heating step.


This same vinegar/spice mix works well with thinly sliced red cabbage.


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