Sweet Pickled Onions

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Sweet Pickled Onions are made with fresh onions, sugar, white vinegar, and a blend of bold spices. These delicious quick pickles add a tangy burst of flavor to any meal, and are the perfect topping for salads, hot dogs, hamburgers, and tacos!

sweet pickled onions in jars and served out of a bowl.
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Why You'll Love Them!

  • Easy to make: just slice onions and add to jars with a hot brine. Ready in minutes!
  • Great flavor: the longer they stay in the refrigerator, the better they taste
  • Basic ingredients: only need a few ingredients easily found at the grocery store
  • Versatile Recipe: add or delete spices to make your own signature brine
  • Give as gifts: makes the perfect hostess gift for holidays and parties!

What Are Sweet Pickled Onions?

Sweet pickled onions start with raw onions that are thinly sliced and processed with a tart pickling liquid made from vinegar, sugar, and spices.

It only takes a few minutes for the pickling process to take effect, which creates a crunchy addition to your collection of refrigerator pickles recipes. It's a great way to add sweet and tangy flavor to everything from sandwiches to salads!

three jars of sweet pickled onions ready to eat.

How Are They Used?

This quick pickled onions recipe is used in many cuisines, including Mexican and Southern dishes. Pickled onions are served in Mexico on top of authentic street tacos on every corner. In fact, they make pickled red onions brined in lime juice as a topping for many of their dishes.

Of course, southerners like to add sugar to pickled recipes, and boy...does it ever taste good! Any recipe that calls for onion slices is a potential match for our perfect pickled onions that are both sweet and sassy. They're loaded with all kinds of southern flavor!

In the south, we eat sweet pickled onions on top of pulled pork sandwiches with creamy slaw and calico baked beans. They also taste great on a grilled cheese sandwich or generously sprinkled over yellow eye beans with a side of skillet cornbread.

Equipment

  • sharp knife or mandoline
  • cutting board
  • mason jars
ingredients needed for sweet pickled onions.

Ingredients

See recipe card for quantities.

  • sliced onions - use red onions or a combination of red and white
  • distilled white vinegar - substitute red wine vinegar, or apple cider vinegar if desired
  • water - reduces some of the acidity
  • white sugar - adds sweetness to this recipe, but you can omit the sugar if needed
  • oregano - can substitute Mexican oregano which is more bold and spicy
  • kosher salt - facilitates the pickling process
  • red pepper flakes - gives the onions a little heat, so omit if you don't want spice
  • mustard seeds - adds great flavor to the mix
  • minced garlic - can use whole garlic cloves if you wish

How to Make Sweet Pickled Onions

Cut onions into thin slices with a sharp knife or mandoline in the shape of a circle. Cut through the circles in the middle to create long strips, or leave them in a circle shape if desired.

sliced onions on a cutting board in circle shapes.

Stuff slices into clean mason jars until they reach ¼ inch from the top. Press them down with your fingers until they are tightly nestled inside the jars. Continue to pack slices in until they reach ¼ inch from the top of the jar.

putting sliced onions into jars.

Create vinegar mixture by combining vinegar, water, sugar and spices in a small saucepan. Simmer and stir over medium-high heat until brine comes to a boil and sugar melts.

Transfer brine to a measuring cup that has a spout or use a funnel to pour hot liquid into each jar. Fill until brine covers the onions. Fasten the lids with bands and rinse any residue off of the jars.

pouring brine into mason jars full of pickled onions.

Let jars rest at room temperature for 2 hours to cool down. Once they are cooled, transfer jars to the refrigerator until ready to serve.

You can serve the pickles after they've been brined for at least 30 minutes. However, the longer they sit in brine, the better they taste and the brighter their color will be. They also taste sweeter as they marinate in the brine.

bowl of sweet pickled onions in front of mason jars.

Helpful Tips

  • slice onions with a mandoline to make prep much faster
  • wash mason jars in hot soapy water, rinse and dry before using
  • always use new bands and lids when processing vegetables
  • only use glass jars since plastic absorbs the vinegar

Recipe FAQs

Are pickled onions good for you?

This recipe has tons of vitamins and minerals including vitamin C which helps support your immune system. If you leave out the sugar, these pickles are a healthy choice. With the sugar, they're a special treat.

Do pickled onions go bad?

Any type of produce has the potential to go bad if not processed properly, or if it has exceeded its shelf life. Discard any jars of pickles that appear to have mold growth, leakage, or a strange odor.

Why are pickled onions pink?

If you use a red onion, it will turn a beautiful shade of pink after sitting overnight in the brine. I like to use both white and red onions to get a pastel pink shade. It's fun to experiment with all kinds of variations in color and taste.

Where to buy sweet pickled onions?

Mt. Olive Pickle Company sells a delicious jar of Sweet Vidalia Onion Pickles that can be found in most southern states, or you can order them through Amazon. (ad) Mezzetta also sells red pickled onions in bulk (ad) that are both tangy and sweet.

sweet pickled onions on top of carnitas tacos.

How to Serve Sweet Pickled Onions

Variations

  • Add more heat: toss in sliced jalapeños, green chiles, or hot sauce to spice it up!
  • Leave out the sugar: if you like your pickles more tart than sweet, toss the sugar to the side.
  • Include herbs: add fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary, or bay leaf to the brine for extra flavor.
  • Add other onions: use only red onions, or mix several types together like vidalia and yellow onions for a different look.
  • Change pickling spices: use different pickling spices to create a special vinegar brine. Try black peppercorns, cumin seeds, dill weed or mustard seeds for a different taste profile.
sweet pickled onions after turning pink.

How Long do Pickled Onions Last?

If processed properly, a quick pickled red onion recipe can last up to 4 weeks in the refrigerator. Store pickles in an airtight jar or glass container with a tight seal. Do not store at room temperature since onions aren't processed in a water bath.

For best quality, keep pickles in a tightly sealed mason jar in the refrigerator. Inspect them carefully before serving. They will lose some of their crunch the longer they stay in the fridge.

Storage and Freezing

Proper Storage: store leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 weeks in the refrigerator. The vinegar solution preserves the onions, but the longer they sit, there's a chance they will lose their crispiness. Be sure to store them in their pickling liquid to keep them crispy.

Freezing: storing onions in the freezer is not recommended. Onions don't freeze well because the process causes the texture to change. Once thawed, they won't be as crispy and the liquid may become cloudy.

Craving More Pickles?

Try my Pickled Green Tomatoes, No-Cook Refrigerator Pickles and Fire and Ice Pickles for a crisp and crunchy bite that just screams southern!

Recipe Card

sweet pickled onions packed in pint size mason jars.

Sweet Pickled Onions

Sweet Pickled Onions are made with fresh onions, sugar, white vinegar, and a blend of bold spices. These delicious quick pickles add a tangy burst of sweetness to any meal!
5 from 2 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Appetizers, Pickles
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Servings16
Calories: 73kcal

*See notes in blog post for detailed tips, photos and instructions.

Ingredients

  • 6 medium onions, thinly sliced (can mix onions, but use at least 3 red onions for color)
  • 2 ½ cups distilled white vinegar (can use apple cider vinegar)
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon dried oregano (can use Mexican oregano but it's stronger and more spicy)
  • teaspoon red pepper flakes (omit if you don't like spice)

Instructions

  • Cut onions into thin slices with a sharp knife or mandoline in the shape of a circle. Cut through the circles in the middle to create long strips, or leave them in a circle shape if desired.
  • Stuff slices into clean mason jars until they reach ¼ inch from the top. Press them down with your fingers until they are tightly nestled inside the jars. Continue to pack slices in until they reach ¼ inch from the top of the jar.
  • Create vinegar mixture by combining vinegar, water, sugar and spices in a small saucepan. Simmer and stir over medium-high heat until brine comes to a boil and sugar melts.
  • Transfer brine to a measuring cup that has a spout or use a funnel to pour hot liquid into each jar. Fill until brine covers the onions. Fasten the lids with bands and rinse any residue off of the jars.
  • Let jars rest at room temperature for 2 hours to cool down. Once they are cooled, transfer jars to the refrigerator until ready to serve.
  • If you want to eat the pickles right away, you can do so after they've been brined for at least 30 minutes. However, the longer they sit in brine, the better they taste and the brighter their color will be.

Notes

  • This recipe makes 3 pint jars of pickled onions that taste like bread and butter pickles with a kick. 
  • You'll need about 2 onions per jar when sliced very thin (⅛ inch) You can use all red onions or a mixture of red and white to make a lighter shade of pink.
  • Mexican oregano has more of a bite than Italian oregano. You can substitute regular dried oregano and leave out the red pepper flakes if you don't want any heat.  
  • See guidelines at the National Center for Home Food Preservation before beginning any pickling process.
  • Salt helps to safely ferment pickles. It's best not to alter the amount of salt in this recipe. 
  • Iodized salt contains anti-caking agents that can make pickle brine cloudy. For best results, use only kosher salt, canning or pickling salt.
  • Only use vinegar that has 5% acidity
  • Refrigerator pickled onions must be stored in the fridge since they have NOT undergone the water bath canning process. They’re not shelf stable and shouldn’t be left unrefrigerated or botulism can occur.
  • View the Google Web Story for Sweet Pickled Onions! 

Nutrition

Calories: 73kcal | Carbohydrates: 17g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 0.2g | Saturated Fat: 0.02g | Sodium: 440mg | Potassium: 65mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 14g | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 15mg | Iron: 0.2mg

Nutrition info is an auto generated estimate.

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3 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Thank you for posting this great recipe for pickled onions! Can't wait to try them on my tacos and salads.

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