How To Can Pickled Onions

This past fall when I harvested our onions, I was disappointed to find that I had a ton of teeny tiny little bulbs and not nearly as many larger ones as I’d hoped for. What do you do with such tiny onions?

Well, one thing I did was pickle them. Pickled onions are very popular in England and, although I’d never had them, I thought I’d give it a try. If we liked them, it would be a great way to preserve those small bulbs.

canning pickled onions

I found a promising recipe over at Old Fashioned Families. It sounded so delicious, I couldn’t resist.

You can make pickled onions out of practically any kind of onion. However, as I learned after pickling hundreds of my teeny tiny onions, the best onions for pickling are the large red variety.

These jewel-toned beauties should be sliced, pickled, then canned for best results. They are easy to eat right out of the jar, or as a condiment on top of salads, pasta, burgers, etc.

There are hundreds of uses for pickled onions. They are delicious in sandwiches and the zestiness of the onions helps to balance out the flavor of rich, fatty meats.

You can also use them anywhere you would normally use onions, like in mayonnaise-based salads or tacos. They are great for serving at parties and for providing a unique, tangy flavor to any meal.

Pickled onions are particularly common in Great Britain, and are frequently served alongside cheese and bread as an inexpensive Ploughman’s Lunch.

They can be a bit time-consuming to make, but definitely worth it if you have a bumper crop of onions and don’t envision yourself being able to eat them all before they go bad.

I really wanted to make my own pickled onions for that and many other reasons, so I decided to give this recipe a try.

I followed her directions exactly, only doubled…

pickled onions

Sort the onions. It’s best to use bulbs that are an inch around or smaller for whole canned pickled onions. If you choose to use large onions, slice them into rings.

These can be sliced any size you would like, but ideally should be sliced into thick, ½ inch slices. This will make them easy to extract and serve without them falling apart, but will also prevent them from being so thick that they don’t pickle fully.

You can use red, yellow, or white onions, depending on what kind of onions you have available and what kind of onions you prefer to eat (white and yellow onions tend to be sweeter).

Always use onions that are firm and free of any blemishes. Remember that the quality of your final product is only as good as the quality of the ingredients that you put into it!

Measure out 3 lbs of onions. Wash and peel them. Peeling the onions is one of the most time-consuming (read: annoying) parts of pickling onions. Small onions in particular are tough to peel. To speed things up, you can boil the onions. Place the onions in a large kettle and cover them with boiling water. Let them cool in the water.

Once the water has cooled to room temperature or lower, you can simply rub the skins off the onions. This can save a lot of time. Just make sure you don’t leave the onions in the water for too long or they can become mushy when they are preserved. Pat the onions dry with a clean dish towel before you continue.

However you choose to peel your onions, make sure you cut off the ends. I like to toss the trimmings into a freezer bag to add to my homemade beef and chicken broth.

You can also compost the onion trimmings or even save them to feed to livestock (although most animals aren’t crazy about the taste of onions).

Mix 1/3 c. canning salt with 4 cups of cold water, and pour it over the onions to cover. Add more water if necessary to completely cover. Allow to sit (either in the fridge or at room temp) for at least 4 hours, and up to 24 hours. This will help the onions retain a nice crispness.

If you prefer, you can also simply sprinkle salt over the dried onions and let them sit overnight. When you’re ready to process the onions, start a pot of water boiling (around two to three cups).

Drain and rinse the onions after soaking. Then, place the onions in a sieve and put the sieve in the sink. Pour the boiling water over the onions to par-blanc them and let them drain.

pickled onions

When you’ve finished soaking your onions, prepare the brine.

In a large stockpot, combine 4 cups malt vinegar (or half malt, half white vinegar) with 2 1/2 Tbsp mixed pickling spices. You can actually use any kind of vinegar (that’s just what I had hanging around). The best vinegar to use is a pale-colored vinegar, like rice vinegar or white wine vinegar.

You can use industrial white vinegar, like I did, but one of the things I learned later was that the white vinegar (you know, the kind sold in bulk at the grocery store) can give your onions a harsher taste. Go for the paler vinegars, or apple cider vinegar in a pinch.

You should use a little bit of sugar to provide a balance to the salty, piquant brine. Most people use white sugar, but you could also experiment with honey or other natural sweeteners if you prefer. Again, sugar is not mandatory, but definitely worth trying if you find that your pickled onions are a little bit too bitter.

For the pickling spices, you have a few choices. You can buy a bottle of the premade pickling spices sold at the grocery store, or you can make your own.

Truthfully, pickled onions are nothing more than onions that have been covered in vinegar, salt, and sugar, and been allowed to marinate. Play around with your pickling spice mix. A tried-and-true classic is garlic, salt, and bay leaves. You could also try unique spices like star anise, ginger, orange peel, or oregano.

A final option is to make several different kinds of spice mixes, and pickle different combinations so that you have pickled onions to suit any style of cuisine, like Asian-inspired meals or stir fries.

Bring to a boil. While the water is boiling, you can prepare your canner. Make sure your jars are clean and sterilized (ideally, you should run them through the dishwasher or through a nice, hot bath of water to make sure they are totally clean). Heat your lids in a pot of water on the stove, and make sure your bands are nice and clean as well.

You can reuse your bands between canning seasons, but make sure you always have new lids ready to go. If you try to reuse lids, they often won’t form a tight seal as the adhesive has worn away. This can cause your food to spoil prematurely.

pickled onions

Once your jars and water are ready, you can pack the clean jars with onions, leaving 1 inch headspace. Cut the bulbs as necessary to get them packed tightly. The size and shape of your onions really does not matter for canning purposes, but you should make sure they are all relatively uniform so that they pickle evenly.

pickled onions

Ladle the rest of hot brine over the onions, leaving 1 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe rims of jars with a wet cloth, and screw on the lid and band.

Store them in the fridge for up to 6 months (allowing to cool to room temp. first), or process quarts in a water bath canner for 20 minutes. Once canned, pickled onions last indefinitely. (up to several years if stored properly in a cool, dark, dry location).

When you store your onions, you might notice that they change color a bit. Red onions will develop a gorgeous pinkish hue when stored.

Make sure you store your onions in a glass or ceramic container (most metals interact poorly with vinegar, and plastic containers can leach chemicals into your food).

Don’t panic and think that your onions have gone bad just because they are a bit discolored. Generally, it is easy to tell if pickled onions have spoiled because they will taste too soft and have an odd flavor. Sometimes, they will develop mold.

In this case, you should not eat your pickled onions because you could be putting yourself at risk for dozens of different foodborne illnesses, including botulism. Other telltale signs that your food has gone bad are lids that are puffed out or air bubbles in your canned food.

The onions will be “ready” in about half an hour, but they taste better the longer you let them sit. For best flavor, allow to sit for at least 2 weeks before consuming.

As mentioned, I doubled the recipe, which gave me 4 quarts plus a pint. These tasty vegetables are a great thing to have in your refrigerator, as you can use them as a last-minute addition or garnish to just about any dish. Plus, they are super low in calories (less than a hundred per serving) and high in antioxidants and other good-for-you nutrients.

You might enjoy a slightly different variation: Grandad’s Pickled Onions.

The Verdict?

Maybe pickled onions are an acquired taste?

Maybe we just aren’t onion people…

Or maybe you have to eat them with artisan cheese and crusty bread.

Let’s just say I now have a ton of pickled onions in the back of my fridge. It wasn’t that they were bad… they just had a really strong onion flavor. You know, like biting into a raw onion.

They sure are pretty though. I hate for them to go to waste.

Anyone have a suggestion as to how I might be able to use these still? Surely there’s a recipe I can include pickled onions in.

That’s my experience. Have you ever pickled onions?

17 thoughts on “How To Can Pickled Onions”

  1. I would use the onions in stir fry or Mexican recipes. You might also try to shish kabob them and cook them over a low heat fire, yum yum yum.

    Also, I would dice some, slice some and leave some whole.

    Take some of your onions and make chutney with them, say with fruit (pineapple, mango, oranges, limes), sugars, cinnamon like spices and fresh ginger.

    I would like to try some sweet and sour onions, similar to pickled ginger or bread and butter pickles.

    There are so many great ways to use onions. I wish I had your problem of too many onions.

  2. In my youth, Pickled Onions were a British food pantry staple. They were as much a staple as chutney, mustard and assorted relishes, which were also ubiquitous and popular throughout Britain and the British Commonwealth states.

    Most British pubs will include ‘pickles’ as they are affectionately known, with bread and Cheddar Cheese, and offered as a cheap lunch item titled; ‘The Ploughman’s Lunch’.

    There is no set time of day to enjoy pickles, and most people will usually eat one or two from the jar at a sitting. They are strongly flavored and crisp to the bite.

    Cheddar and Cheshire eating cheeses are the traditional plate company for pickles. Fresh bread and butter is also a must.

    I do not believe pickled onions are ever used as an ingredient to extend their mandate, or morph them into other food products, nor are they ever cooked. They are always enjoyed straight from the jar in which they were packed.

    I have included a recipe for traditional English Pickling Spice in one of my books; ‘The Working Chefs’ Edition of Classic & Traditional Sauces, Relishes & Dressings’, which you can in the relish section at:

  3. I’m thinking you could slice those babies in half and batter ’em up and deep fat fry them into itty-bitty onion rings. And then you could serve a chopped steak on top. The malt vinegar might season them so that they wouldn’t need a ton of ketchup, and cooking them will sweeten them into something palatable. I’m like you – I don’t much care for straight-up raw onion taste, but my son has eaten them like apples since he was small!

  4. Last year I planted in my backyard some Chayote, a vine with succulent fruits that grow so abundantly. I decided to make them into pickles.I added small onions and bell peppers for color and variety. I marinated a basin full of drained shredded chayote in boiling hot 2 c white wine vinegar,1 tbsp salt, 4 tbsp.sugar, onions, red peppers, sliced ginger, overnight.After draining, marinate again in the boiling solution, let it cool before storing them in jars. I gave it away to friends for Christmas and they loved it so I made another batch for those who ordered a second jar. I still have some which I enjoy eating with fried fish and broied pork. It is a Filipino delicacy.

  5. I love eating the cocktail onions with my meal. But then I do like sweet raw onions. I have been “country” all my life. I have picked eggs before and used them in all kinds of salads. potato, tuna, chicken, etc. Have you tried to can/pickle the onions with Apple cider vinegar? Or just regular vinegar.

  6. I agree with Tommy D,sugar would make them more to your taste buds.You could drain the liquid back into a pot add some raw sugar,boil and repeat the process.Or give them to friends and family that would save you time.

  7. Sounds like the recipe could use some sugar, or Stevia.
    The pickled onions I’ve had were pickled in the ‘bread and butter’ style.
    Sorta sweet/sour.

  8. I would try using them in a vinaigrette or a sauce, maybe a steak sauce? Though I’m not sure how well a malt vinegar taste would work as a salad dressing. Since you don’t like the pickled onions maybe the next time you have small onions you could try dehydrating, then grinding them to make onion powder. I’m planning on doing this later this year when my onions are ready.

  9. We always used to eat them with shepherd’s pie, gives a nice bite to the sweet tomatoe-y-ness. They are very strong in taste, one or two is usually enough!


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