A Glug of Oil

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Homemade Pickled Onions

How to Make Pickled Onions

Old fashioned pickled onions recipe - find out how to make traditional English pub style pickled onions using malt vinegar. 

Crunchy and spicy, just as they should be. 

Homemade pickled onions in a Kilner jar.

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Tried and tested year after year, this is how my mum makes the best, easy pickled onions ever, as did her mum years ago.

The above picture was taken as soon as I'd put the lid on, so the onions will go a lot darker over the next few weeks.

From what I've seen on the net it seems that Americans and Canadians favour red pickled onions which are always sliced.

If this is true they do not know what they're missing! You want a nice crunchy traditional English pickled onion if you ask me.

I once tried pickling shallots, oh my goodness they were horrid; far too sweet and just not the same at all. 😨

How long before pickled onions are ready to eat?

You really need to leave them at least a month, say 6 weeks and they'll be ready to eat. It's the beginning of October now but I won't open a jar until Christmas when they will be perfect.

Do you need to brine onions before pickling?

In a word, no. Well, at least my mum has never boiled the vinegar before adding it to the jars and the pickles always turn out just fine and dandy!

This is a simple easy way to make pickled onions that works year after year, and so I think if it works, why mess with it and make it all complicated?!

About pickled onions

Did you know pickled onions contain many of the nutrients found in ordinary onions?

Studies have shown that eating an onion a day can help to raise the level of beneficial cholesterol high-density (good cholesterol) lipoprotein, in the blood.

Plus it can lower blood pressure and prevent clots - who knew?

How long do pickled onions last?

Well, the one thing you must certainly do is make sure the jars you use are sterilised - see below. If you don't, you risk your onions going soft and even mouldy.

Wondering why your onions went soft?

Probably because you brined them first in salt and water as some recipes suggest. But apparently, it will result in a softer onion. 😉

Why would anyone want a soft pickled onion? I can't think of anything worse!

You can also brine the peeled onions in just salt (no water) overnight but again I've never done this and neither has my mum or her mum.

So I've decided it's completely unnecessary and my mum's pickled onions are the best.

Nice, crunchy, spicy pickled onions that last for months on end - seriously.

Of course, once you open a jar you might like to keep them in the fridge but otherwise, they should keep for ages.

What jars should I use to make pickled onions?

You don't have to be all fancy and buy Kilner jars - just as long as you use airtight jars and sterilise them first.

It's important that your jars are airtight.

If you're using, for example, an empty coffee jar, sterilise it and once the onions are in and you've covered them completely with vinegar, take a piece of clingfilm and fold in it half to double it up.

Place the clingfilm on the top of the jar before putting the lid on. This gives it an extra seal making it airtight.

Pickled onions in a Kilner jar.

How to sterilise jars

Wash the jars in hot soapy water and be sure to rinse well. Pop them into a preheated oven at 150°C/Fan 130°C/Gas Mark 2 for 15 minutes.

Allow the jars to cool completely before adding the onions.

What vinegar do you use to make pickled onions?

Well, you can use Sherry Vinegar, which Delia Smith likes, White Wine Vinegar, or Distilled Malt Vinegar (for a clearer finish).

But I say Sarson's Malt Vinegar is the only way to go and is the traditional choice. *Please note Sarson's malt vinegar is a lot, lot cheaper in a supermarket than it is on Amazon!

Sarson's does sell pickling vinegar but it's a lighter colour and is already spiced.

But I like to add my own spices (just as my mum does) then I know, for sure, they will taste amazing!

Where can I buy pickling onions?

You can grow them yourself or in your local farm shop which is where I got mine.

They are fairly hard to find in supermarkets but I do know Waitrose and Morrisons stock them at this time of year - September and October.

What is pickling spice?

A mixture of whole spices; coriander seeds, yellow mustard seeds, dried red chilli flakes, allspice, ginger, black peppercorns, cloves and crushed bay leaves. 

You can buy pickling spice in any good supermarket.

Because I like my pickled onions extra hot and spicy I add a whole red dried chilli or two to each jar.

How much pickling spice do I need?

You will need 2 tablespoons of pickling spice for each 500ml jar. 

How much vinegar do I need?

You will need approx. 250ml malt vinegar and one or two dried red chilli peppers for every 500ml jar.

If you're reading this you might like to know how to make homemade Piccalilli.

Here's how to make pickled onions CRUNCHY! 

Happy pickling 😀

Have you tried this recipe? Please leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ star rating in the recipe card below!

homemade pickled onions, how to make pickled onions, old fashioned pickled onion recipe,
Yield: N/A
Author: Jan Bennett
Homemade Pickled Onions

Homemade Pickled Onions

How to make homemade pickled onions - the easy no-fuss way! Crunchy and spicy, just how pickled onions should be.
Prep time: 30 MinTotal time: 30 Min


  • pickling onions - however many will fill the jars you have.
  • Sarson's malt vinegar - other brands are available! But not pickling vinegar, just the regular malt vinegar without added pickling spice.
  • pickling spice
  • 1 or 2 dried red chillies per jar (optional) but good!


Start by sterilising your jars
  1. Wash the jars in hot soapy water and be sure to rinse well.
  2. Put them into a preheated oven at 150°C/Fan 130°C/Gas Mark 2 for 15 minutes.
  3. Allow the jars to cool completely before adding the onions.
Pickle the onions
  1. Peel the pickling onions and put them into jars so they fill the jar pretty much to the top.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon of pickling spice to a 500ml jar, add your peeled onions and then add another 1 tablespoon of pickling spice.
  3. You will need 4 tablespoons if you are using 1-litre jars.
  4. Optional - add a dried chilli or two if you want your onions hot and spicy.
  5. Fill each jar with malt vinegar so that it covers the onions completely.
  6. Put the lids on the jars and leave them for at least 6 weeks.
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  1. Hi Jan! Real North American Pickled Onions are much the same as yours, using small pearl onions. Peeled, popped into jars, covered with a hot vinegar mix containing pickling spices, some sugar and often turmeric for colour. These will then be processed in a hot water bath for safety. The red ones you see on a lot of blogs these days are the exception not the rule! Your onions look lovely! I have to say British pickled onions are an acquired taste I have found! Very sharp, but crisp and lovely! Gorgeous photos!

    1. Marie - I didn't know about North American pickled onions.
      Thank you, I'm really trying to get better photos these days!

  2. i made these for all the family this christmas. They all loved them. Thanks for the advice. Neil in Salford.

    1. That’s good to hear, thank you letting me know!

  3. Hi Jan, is the pickling spice you use ground or whole seeds,etc. I have only found ungroung here in New Zealand

    1. Hi From NZ, always use whole spices, as shown in the picture. Happy pickling!


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