Pickled Red Onions

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Made with just 5 ingredients, Pickled Red Onions are a tangy and delicious way to jazz up your salads, tacos, or grain bowls. Not only is this dish beyond easy to make, but it yields some of the best onions you’ll ever eat, guaranteed.

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If you’ve never tried pickled red onions before, allow me to change that for you. These Pickled Red Onions are made with just a few simple ingredients and are seriously so good.

They are so good with all kinds of Mexican dishes including these chicken tinga tacos, steak tacos, and taco bowls. But they are also amazing on burgers, salads, grilled chicken, and so much more.

Let’s be honest, these pickled onions taste amazing on just about everything.

The great thing about pickled onions, as opposed to a lot of pickles, is that they are quick. No long brining time. No complicated canning.

These are ready to go in just 30 minutes and all you need is red onion, some limes, white vinegar, salt, and peppercorns.

Pickled onions with thinly sliced red onions in a jar with lime juice, vinegar, salt, and peppercorns with cilantro on the side.

Key Ingredients and Substitutions

To make these tangy pickled onions, you will need a few key ingredients that you probably already have on hand:

  • Red onion: With its slightly sweet flavor and bright color, red onions are the perfect choice for pickling. Sweet onions, yellow onions, white onions, and baby onions also work.
  • Lime juice: Freshly-squeezed lime juice is the key to locking in all that zesty flavor. I highly recommend sticking to fresh limes for the freshest flavor. Lime juice is key in making Mexican pickled onions, if you prefer a more traditional pickled onion, swap in apple cider vinegar. If you use all vinegar, you will need to add some water. Instruction below.
  • White vinegar: Feel free to swap this out for apple cider vinegar, if you prefer.
  • Salt: Pickles need salt to bring out the flavor. Kosher or sea salt is best.
  • Peppercorns. Black peppercorns are optional, but I love the peppery flavor they add to this dish.
  • Optional sweetener: Red onions have a lot of innate sweetness, so I don’t like adding sugar or sweetener to my pickled onions. If you prefer a sweeter pickled onion, add 1-2 tablespoons of honey, maple syrup, or sugar.

How to Make Pickled Red Onions

These pickled onions couldn’t be easier to make. Here’s what to do.

1. Choose Mexican Pickled Onions or Traditional Pickled Red Onions

There are two main types of pickled onion recipes out there. There is a Mexican pickled onion where the pickling liquid is mostly made of lime juice. Then there is a more traditional pickled onion method, that uses vinegar as the main liquid.

Both methods create delicious pickled onions. We prefer Mexican-style pickled onions for Mexican dishes since the lime in the onions complements Mexican flavors.

With that said, both methods are delicious and work with any food you choose. One important note, the traditional pickled onions keep a bit better in the fridge since the lime juice breaks the onions down more over time.

2. Thinly Slice the Onions

For both methods, start by slicing the onions nice and thin. Thick onions will not be pickled in 30 minutes. If you have a mandoline, that is the easiest method to get thin, consistent onion slices. Otherwise, just slice them thinly with a sharp knife.

Pro tip: If you prefer really mild onions, soak them in ice cold water for 30 minutes before pickling them. This removes some of that strong, pungent onion flavor.

3. Prepare the pickling liquid

For Mexican-style pickled onions, you need enough lime juice to cover the red onions sliced completely. Using a citrus juicer speeds up this process. For every red onion, you will likely need 4-5 limes. Combine the lime juice with white vinegar, kosher salt, and peppercorns.

For more traditional pickling liquid, bring ¾ cup of vinegar, ¼ cup of water, 1 tsp kosher salt, and 1-2 tablespoons of sweetener to a simmer on the stove.

4. Combine onions and pickling liquid

Combine the thinly sliced red onions and pickling liquid. Give everything a good stir or shake and make sure the onions are fully submerged in the pickling liquid, pressing them down into the liquid.

Let the red onions rest for 30-60 minutes. Taste and season with salt if needed.

5. Serve

Now it’s time to eat! Serve the pickled red onions with all your favorite dishes. Store the leftovers in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Jar with pickled red onions and lime juice with wooden tongs.

Recipe Ideas and Variations

You can prepare this recipe as is or switch it up a bit to suit your preferences. Here are some of my favorite ways to make these pickled onions your own:

  • Make it spicy: Try adding some jalapeno, serrano, or habanero peppers to the jar with your onions. Habanero peppers are the most traditional in Mexico, but they will be really spicy.
  • Add garlic: For some extra garlic-y flavor, try adding some thinly sliced garlic cloves to the jar.
  • Add some herbs: For a ton of added flavor, feel free to toss some herbs into the mix. Some of my top choices include fresh dill and bay leaves.
  • Switch up your vinegar. No white vinegar on hand? No problem! You can use rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar for this dish as well.
  • Blanch the onions. If you want to mellow out the onion flavor, blanch them in hot water before adding them to your brine.

How to Serve Your Pickled Red Onions

Pickled Red Onions are an incredibly fun dish to serve, as they go great with almost everything! To get you started, here are a few ideas for serving your pickled onions:

How to Store Pickled Onions

Because they’re so versatile, Pickled Red Onions are great to have on hand for salads, bowls, tacos, and other dishes throughout the week! Therefore, I typically double the batch so I have extras to keep around.

To store pickled onions, simply keep them in the jar you marinated them in. Then, you can store them in the fridge for up to 2-3 weeks. I don’t recommend freezing this dish.

Are pickled onions healthy?

Yes! By pickling your onions, you’re actually turning them into a lightly fermented food. Fermented foods are full of healthy probiotics and digestive enzymes that are great for supporting gut health and boosting your immune system.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about this pickled onion recipe:

Absolutely! Although this recipe calls for red onions, you could pickle any kind of onion using the same method. Feel free to try a few different variations to see which one you like best.

Pickled onions have a tangy, sweet flavor, and they are known for their signature crunch. The lime juice gives them an incredibly refreshing flavor, while the peppercorns balance it out with a peppery twist.

Because they have such a long shelf life, it can be tricky to tell when pickled onions have gone bad. However, if they develop a funky smell, change in color, start bubbling in the jar, or get slimy in texture, then it’s time to toss them out.

Red onions that are pickled in lime juice and vinegar served in two glass jars.
The Recipe
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Pickled Red Onions

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  • 1 red onion, sliced thin
  • 4 limes, juiced (more if needed)
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 tsp kosher salt (or sea salt)
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns

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Mexican style: Slice the onions very thin using a sharp knife or mandolin. Add the onions to a glass jar or bowl. Cover with lime juice, white vinegar, salt, and peppercorns. Add more lime juice if the onions aren't mostly submerged. Shake or stir, pressing the onions down into the lime juice. Let sit for at least 30 minutes, ideally 60 minutes.

Lime juice being poured into a jar with sliced red onions.

Traditional pickled onions: In a small pot, bring 3/4 cup vinegar, 1/4 cup water, 1 tsp kosher salt, and 1-2 tablespoon sweetener to a simmer. While the mixture simmers, slice one onion into thin slices. Combine the red onions and simmering pickling liquid. Shake or stir, making sure to press the onions down so they are fully submerged. Let sit for at least 30 minutes, ideally 60 minutes.

Wooden tongs picking up pickled onions.
Nutritional Facts
Serving Size: 1/4 cup
Amount Per Serving
Calories 17
Calories from Fat 1
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 0g
Saturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 296mg
Total Carbohydrate 5g
Dietary Fiber 1g
Sugars 1g
Protein 0g

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

The Nutritional Values provided are estimates only and may vary based on the preparation method.


This recipe includes methods for Mexican-style pickled onions in lime juice and more traditional vinegar pickled red onions.

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About the author Meet Kristen McCaffrey
Hi, I’m the cookbook author, recipe developer, and food enthusiast behind Slender Kitchen. I am obsessed with making healthy food that is easy to prepare and absolutely delicious. Meal planning is my secret weapon and I hope I can make meal time easier for you with our tried and tested recipes and foolproof meal plans. Learn More
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