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This method for sweet and spicy pickled red onions is the best pickled onion recipe EVER and the perfect place for a novice pickler to start!
Want to try pickling onions at home? These brined slices of YUM are uniquely tangy, sweet, and crunchy.
This is the best pickled onion recipe! It is easy to throw together and is loaded with spices that you probably have in your pantry. In a matter of minutes, you can have a jar full of sweet and spicy deliciousness ready to add a bright crunch to salads, sandwiches, and dips!
Although you can enjoy these zesty pickled onions in less than an hour, they’re even better the longer they sit in the refrigerator. The cool temperatures allow the flavors to meld together, becoming more complex and tastier as time passes.
All images and text ©Jenny DeRemer for Not Entirely Average, LLC
Adding a pickled onion or ten to your burger, taco, or Poke bowl is like adding a little sliver of luxury to an otherwise plain weeknight dinner. If you think that cinnamon and onions can’t possibly go together, this recipe will prove you wrong!
The subtle spice of toasted cinnamon balances perfectly with the bitter bite of the onions and fruity tang of the apple cider vinegar. These common ingredients come together to create a crisp and sour snack that’s truly more than the sum of its parts.
Ingredients for Basic Pickled Onions
- Red Onion—Halved and thinly sliced
- Cinnamon—Whole or ground
- Spice Blend—An aromatic blend of cloves, peppercorns, sugar, and salt
- Apple Cider Vinegar—To provide some acidity
- Lime Juice—Adds extra tang and some citrus flavor
Optional Additional Pickling Ingredients
- Star anise
- Garlic cloves
- Mustard seed
- Bay leaf
- Fresh ginger
- Red pepper flakes
- Cumin seeds
Equipment You’ll Need for Pickling
Aside from a few basic kitchen tools (a chef’s knife, measuring cups and spoons, and a large mixing bowl), you will want to make sure that you have a couple 8-ounce mason jars on hand. As long as the jars have tight-fitting lids, your pickled onions will stay fresh for a very long time.
How to make Sweet and Spicy Onions
Blanch the Onions
Add the sliced onions to a bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow the onions to sit in the water until slightly softened. Transfer to the mason jars and set aside.
Mix Pickling Liquid
In a small pan, combine the cinnamon sticks, cloves, and peppercorn. Cook over medium heat until fragrant.
Add the vinegar, lime juice, sugar, and salt. Simmer the ingredients until the sugar and salt have dissolved.
Load the Jars
Transfer the cinnamon sticks to the jars before adding the brine. Use a kitchen funnel to accurately distribute the brine without spillage.
Leave the jars on the counter until cool. I place them directly on kitchen towels to absorb any drips or spills. Store the jars in the fridge.
How To Store the Onions
These zesty onions will absorb the spices and vinegar rather quickly. After they have been cooled, they should be stored in the fridge until they go bad.
Keeping your pickled onions in a sealed mason jar in a cold environment helps increase their longevity. When stored this way, they will last for up to 3 weeks.
Frequently Asked Questions
While we use red onions for their vibrant color and mild flavor, you are more than welcome to use any kind of onion when pickling. All onions do a great job of absorbing the brining liquid, so you won’t notice much of a difference in the end.
If you don’t have vinegar, don’t worry! You can use a variety of other liquids including lemon or lime juice. While these liquids will leave you with a delicious pickled onion, the flavor will be much more citrusy and less snappy.
Yes and no. Pickled onions are low in fat and calories. Their high levels of antioxidants make them a great addition to a variety of dishes. On the downside, the pickling process makes these onions high in sodium, so it is recommended that you consume them in moderation.
Spicy sweet onions make a great addition to a variety of meals. If you are a fan of my smoked Carolina pulled pork sandwiches, you will love the flavor these will add.
Alternatively, you can serve these pickled onions on top of chicken salad or as a side to barbecue ribs. Other dishes that compliment these pickled onions include:
Sweet and Spicy Pickled Red Onions
- 8 ounce jar(s) with tight fitting lid(s)
- kitchen towel(s)
- 1 large red onion halved and thinly sliced
- stick cinnamon 1 stick per jar
- 12 whole cloves
- 12 black peppercorns
- 3 tablespoons sugar begin with 3; taste and add if necessary
- ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar with Mother, I use Braggs exclusively
- ½ cup lime juice
optional additional ingredients
- star anise
- garlic cloves smashed but left intact
- mustard seed
- bay leaf
- fresh ginger
- red pepper flakes
- cumin seeds
- Begin by slicing the onions very thin. If you have a mandolin, this is the perfect use for it. Add the sliced onions to a medium bowl. Pour enough boiling water over onions so that they are covered. Drain after 45 seconds. Stuff the onions to glass jars or a food safe glass container with lid.
- Toast cinnamon, cloves, and peppercorns (and any additional spices you desire) until fragrant in a small saucepan over medium heat, 3 to 5 minutes. Watch carefully and move the spices around in the pan, as the high heat will scorch them. Off the heat. Whisk in the vinegar, lime juice, 3 tablespoons of the sugar, and salt. NOTE: Use 1 cinnamon stick per jar. ie: If using 1 large onion divided between 2 jars, you will use 2 cinnamon sticks.
- Bring to a simmer and cook until the sugar and salt have dissolved, about 1 to 2 minutes. Taste for sweetness then add more sugar as needed. I used 5 tablespoons in my batch.
- Remove the cinnamon stick(s). Using the handle of a spoon, poke a hole amidst the onions to be able to insert the cinnamon stick down into. Pour brine and spice mixture over the onions. Fill to the top of the jar(s). Tap to loosen any air bubbles trapped in the onions. Allow to stand at room temperature on a kitchen towel until cooled, about 25 to 35 minutes. Place lid on jar and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 3 weeks.
The nutrition value can vary depending on what product(s) you use. The information below is an estimate. Always use a calorie counter you are familiar with.
Please note that table salt and iodized salt are NOT substitutions for Kosher salt. Do not deviate unless otherwise specified.