English Pickled Onions are a true British treasure! Pearl onions pickled in malt vinegar, sugar and spices. Often eaten straight out of the jar, sliced in sandwiches or accompanying a tasty Ploughman’s lunch. I also like to slice them up and add to sandwiches and salads.
English recipe week continues… and this pickled onion recipe is the 2nd of another component to the Ploughman’s lunch recipe.
The Ploughman’s lunch (see the picture below) is a great British pub lunch dish consisting of cheeses, ham, bread, pickled onions, pickle relish and various raw vegetables of choice.
How do you make English Pickled Onions?
English Pickled Onions are so incredibly easy to make and are a great snack to have on hand as they can also be used with so many other dishes. The hardest (well, most tedious) part to this recipe is peeling the pearl onions, but I do have a “Culinary Ginger Tip” for that in the recipe.
How long do you leave pickled onions before eating them?
The onions must pickle for a few weeks so you must be patient (I know, it’s hard!).
Sealing the jars for long-term preservation
I’ve been asked a few times about using the traditional canning (long-term preserving) method of adding them to a water bath to seal the jars. This, I find can make the onions lose their crunch and the crunch is the one of the best things about these onions, which I why I don’t use this method. More below on this.
If you want to make this shelf stable for long-term use. I recommend proper canning method. This is a great beginners guide if you need it: How to Can.
To sterilize the jars:
Place empty jars in a large pot.
Completely cover the jars with water.
Bring to a boil over high heat.
Once the water reaches a full rolling boil, begin timing. Boil the jars for 15 minutes.
Turn off the heat. If you are not quite ready to fill the sterilized jars and proceed with canning your recipe, you can leave them in the hot water for up to an hour. If you wait longer than an hour, you’ll need to sterilize them again.
The recipe fills 2-12 ounce (340 gram) jars.
If you’ve made these English Pickled Onions, please leave a comment below and let me know how the recipe turned out for you.
English pickled onions are a true British treasure! We often eat them straight out of the jar, sliced in sandwiches or accompanying a tasty Ploughman's lunch.
Prep Time12 hours
Cook Time5 minutes
Total Time12 hours5 minutes
2 pounds (907 grams) pearl onions, peeled * see note
2 tablespoons salt
2 cups (473 ml) malt vinegar
3/4 cup (177 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 bay leaves
2 each, 12 ounce (340 gram) glass jars with lids
Add the onions to a bowl and sprinkle the salt, mix to coat well. No water should be added. Leave overnight. ** see note
Rinse the onions well and dry. Add the onions to sterilized jars (see notes for sterilizing instructions).
To a saucepan add the vinegar, sugar, coriander, mustard seeds, peppercorns, ground ginger and bay leaves.
Heat over medium heat, until the sugar is dissolved. You can tell it is dissolved if you don't not feel the crystals as you stir. Heat only long enough to dissolve the sugar about 8-10 minutes, DO NOT BOIL or breathe in the vinegar fumes. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature. If you add very hot liquid, this will cook the onions and they wont be crisp.
Pour the vinegar over the onions (until they are completely submerged) put on the lids and seal hand tight. I don't recommend long term preservation as the onions will lose their crunch.
Store in a cool dry place for 3 to 4 weeks before eating. If the weather is warm, store in refrigerator.
Refrigerate after opening.
* To easily peel the onions, put them in a heat-proof bowl. Pour over hot water and leave until cooled. They should peel easily by rubbing the skins in the water.
** Do not leave the onions longer than overnight or they won't be crisp
*** Premixed pickling spice can be found in the spice section of the grocery store.
The recipe fills 2-12 ounce (340 gram) jars.
To sterilize the jars: Place empty jars in a large pot. Completely cover the jars with water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Once the water reaches a full rolling boil, begin timing. Boil the jars for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. If you are not quite ready to fill the sterilized jars and proceed with canning your recipe, you can leave them in the hot water for up to an hour. If you wait longer than an hour, you'll need to sterilize them again.
90 Comments on “English Pickled Onions”
Wow that was odd. I just wrote an really long comment but after I clicked submit
my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m
not writing all that over again. Anyways, just wanted to say great blog!
I’m not sure why the comment didn’t show, sorry about that. Thank you for the nice comment.
As a kid in England I loved Laings pickled onions , now you cannot buy them in Canada and every other brand are sweet or just onion in vinegar and do not have the same “bite ” as Laings so I will try this recipe .Question Can you use brown sugar instead of granulated ?
I hope my recipe measures up to Laings. As far as using brown sugar, I have never tried it and I’m not sure how it will affect the flavor so I can’t really tell you either way.
I’m on my second batch of these and while the flavor was great, both times the volume of the pickling liquid came out too low. First time I had somewhat larger (~golf ball sized) onions so I figured it was a problem with too much gap between them in the jar, but this time I found 1-1.5inch (2-3 cm) diameter Japanese “hekolz” and I still came up short. I’d recommend at least 3 cups of liquid, probably simplest to double it as it’s easier to pour out the excess than it is to frantically try to make more in the middle of prep.
Thanks for these great pickled onions. My mother made sweet onions and used turmeric, great color. Have you used turmeric in them or do you have a recipe for sweet pickled onions, I’ll keep your site for future. Thanks again so much.
I have not tried adding turmeric, but I really want to try it. Thank you for stopping by and I hope you enjoy more of my recipes.
I can’t get coriander seeds; can I use ground coriander instead? That I have on hand…
I was able to get the pickling spice mix, could use provide the amount to add to the malt vinegar. Not sure which one to use..
You don’t need the coriander because it will already be in the pickling spice mix. Not having used it for this recipe, I’m not sure exactly how much pre-made pickling spice will work. I would go with a moderate amount like 2 teaspoons as there are a lot more spices and flavor in the mix and this will affect the flavor different to my recipe. I hope this helps, and enjoy 🙂
Sorry, but you don’t can them. Sprinkle peeled onions with a good handful of salt, and leave for 24hrs. Stir occasionally and finally rinse and drain. Boil vinegar with pickling spices and a dessert spoon of sugar per pint. Put onions tightly into clean sterilised warm jars. Take vinegar and spices off the boil and let stand for 10 mins then pour over onions and fill jar to just below lid. Seal and leave. Ready to eat in 6 weeks, and sealed, will easily keep for 2 years. After that they start to soften and aren’t as good.
Why not get your own blog?
Turned out bloody lovely have to make none stop for our family and grandchildren started something ha ha
Ha ha, I love to hear this, thank you
I have no mustard seeds can I leave them out
Yes, you can leave out the mustard seeds. Enjoy.
My name is Roger. I can’t get pickling spices where I live. I have mustard seeds, whole black pepper and bay leaves.
Please tell me how to go about making the spice.
Thanks and all the best.
Hello Roger, I’ve updated the recipe with the pickling spices I like to use. I hope this helps.
Can you please clarify what you mean by “seal”? Water bath canning is not recommended (onions will lose their crunch), so how exactly do you seal?
Thank you for your question. When I say ‘seal’ the jars, I mean hand tight only as I don’t recommend canning/long-term preservation of the onions because of the loss of crunch (I just added this info to the recipe card). I write about this in the body of the blog post (outside of the recipe) because I have been asked by many readers for a canning method. Since I am not well versed in canning, I have included a link with the explanation on how to properly can and seal the jars, just in case anyone wants to do it.
And thanks for the quick reply. I just finished a batch and I hand tightened the jars.
I’m excited to try them in a couple of weeks. That Brine was yummy!
Great, enjoy 🙂
I just read your edit.
Much clearer! Thanks AGAIN!
Thank you. I try and be as detailed as I can and really try and give as much clarity and help as I can 🙂
Is there a difference between the white sliver skin onions and the brown skin ones, for pickling?
I have only ever seen white skin pearl onions, not with brown skins. Could you mean shallots, which are small onions with brown skins? They are larger than pearl onions and more oval in shape. I’ve only ever used the white for this recipe. I hope this helps.
You can use any small onion, shallots are the best, though!
Shallots are not the right onion for this recipe. They are larger and more oval than the pearl onions that are used which are very small.
Ex English in usa too. Recipe works perfectly well I add a little extra sugar as I like mine very sweet and I had no need for the spices. Similar to Sarsens. Love love love them.
Thank you so much for the feedback.
Made this recipe this morning. The 2 lb. of onions filled 4 (not 2) 16 oz. jars. Unfortunately, the brine only filled 2.5 jars. I like the taste of the brine so I will probably try again with half the onions and a bit more than a full batch of the brine. My jars didn’t seal completely, but should be alright with the vinegar acting as a preservative.
The onions I used when I tested the recipe must have been smaller than yours. I’m glad you were able to make it work for.
Tried twice. Great flavor but will not seal
I’m sorry that you are having trouble with the jars sealing. I don’t know much about canning, that is why I have no instructions on sealing the jars and I include a link to the jar manufacturer for instructions. Did you try their methods?
I decided water canning
And they sealed.
Opened a jar to try…
I’m so glad you’re enjoying the pickles. Thank you for sharing.
For years I have tried to find the perfect pickled onion for my daughter. An elderly friend made them in England,but died before we got the recipe. The greater majority of recipes are too sweet. This one is great and my daughter is happily munching. Happy Family.
I’m not a fan of overly sweet ones either. I’m so happy your daughter enjoys them, thank you for the feedback.
I’m having some trouble finding fresh pearl onions. Can frozen pearl onions (with skins removed) be used in this recipe or will the freezing and defrosting make them mushy and not crunchy? Defrost, rinse and dry them then add them to the jars before pouring brine over them? I hoping to make these for my mums birthday as she so misses her english pickled onions. Thanks so much for your help. 🙂
I haven’t tried them, but I think you might be correct in that they will lose their crunch.
I was born in England an moved to US in 1976. My all time favorite was my grandmothers pickled onions. Even store bought are not the same. I’m going to try this recipe over the weekend and hope to be perfect for Father’s Day. A little home made treat for my dad.
This is a lovely gift for your dad. Let me know if you have any questions and I hope you all enjoy them.
I live in Australia also and the spice brand Hoyts have a picking spice I got mine at a Woolworths Store.
It wasn’t very expensive either.
Thank you so much for the info.
Do you put all of the pickling spices in to the jars when it cools? Even the bay leaf?
Yes, all the pickling spices and bay leaves go into the jar with the vinegar so all the flavors continue to permeate the onions.
Does this work for ramps Also
I can’t say that it does work with ramps as I have never tried it, but since they are in the onion family, I don’t see why not.
Will regular white vinegar work as well instead of malt vinegar?
White vinegar will not work instead of malt vinegar because malt vinegar is sweetened and has a very different taste. If you use distilled vinegar, they will end up tasting like cocktail onions.
Janette, tried several times but mine always seem to end up set. Still edible just no crunch.
Make sure the water for the peeling process is not too hot and make sure to allow the vinegar to cool to room temperature. Hot temperatures will start to cook the onions and break them down and they wont be crisp.
How much does this make? Pints?
The recipe makes 2-12 ounce jars, which is what I stored them in. Google converts this to 1.5 pints. I hope this helps.
I just made a few jars of these for the summer for picnics and to try your Ploughman’s lunch, can’t wait for a taste of back home 🙂
I have a very similar recipe minus the sugar, and add a little crushed dry oregano. To give it some color, I also ad a few drops of balsamic vinegar.
Thank you so much for the tips 🙂
Hi, I’m from England and have been pickling onions for years. I make sweet Pickled onions which is almost the same recipe just add more sugar, we love them with our traditional fish and chips 😊 xx
Hi Sarah,thanks for your comment on my recipe. I’m British too, I moved to the U.S a few years ago so I like to often make recipes from back home. I love the sweet pickled onions as well 🙂
Can you reuse the vinegar mixture for the next batch? Bring it to a boil and pour over the onions?
Hi Crystal, I believe that you can reuse the vinegar just one time from what I can find out. Thanks for stopping by.
Do you think it’s possible to use larger onions and quarter them? Just bought a ten pond bag. Thanks
Hi Marilyn, this recipe does call for the very small pearl onions and I have not tried any other cuts of onion. There are other recipes that you can Google to use up your larger onions. I hope this helps.
I absolutely love onions – whether it is white or red, pickled onions are absolutely delicious. I feel like I could eat them straight out of the jar if they have been pickled. Thank you for this great recipe! I can’t wait to give this a go at home.
Hello, thank you for this recipe. I grew up eating pickled onions because of my British parents, and I’m excited to make them for myself. In step one of your recipe, are the onions just sitting overnight covered in salt, or should they be in salty water? Other recipes seem to indicate that they need to be in brine overnight first. Thanks!
Hi Jennifer, the onions are only covered in salt, no water is added or they will not be crisp. I hope you like them 🙂
HI, do they need to be sealed in a water bath, canning method? Or are these just seal and use within a time frame, how long. Thank you
Hi Teresa, I found that using a water bath they lose their crunch and if the hot liquid is added to the jars this helps with sealing and a cool storage temperature is important. Thanks for stopping by.
Hi Jeannette – I’ve been buying pickled onions for years for my English people ☺, but at close to $7 a bottle I’m pretty excited to have found your recipe I’ve so I can try them myself! We’re all pretty fussy about our pickled onions and these look worth a try. When you say “seal the jars” I assume you mean in a water bath – as in boil for ten minutes or so? Thanks for the recipe ?
Hi Cathy, I hear you about the price of the pickled onions, it’s crazy. I really love this recipe and I hope you do to. What I mean buy seal them is, put on the lids and seal (I just changed the verbiage so it made more sense). There are directions earlier in the recipe how to sterilize and prepare the jars. Thank you for stopping by.
Whats in the pickling spice ?
Hi Janet, pickling spice can be found in the spice section of the grocery store. It’s a combination of many spices including mustard seeds, peppercorns and bay leaves. I hope this helps.
Hi I’m in Australia and we don’t have the pickling spice. Can you tell me what quantities I could put together of what to get the right flavour ? Thanks
Hi Belinda, I sent you an email regarding this 🙂
thanks so much Janette, will let you know how it goes
My local store does not stock English pickled onions anymore. Great recipes thanks
Same here Peter, that’s why I made my own. Thanks for stopping by.
I loved pickled onions…I always make the refrigerator ones though. I’ve never ventured into pickling into anything that could be stored for longer. These look delicious though…I am tempted to give it a try!
I love pickled onions and these look delicious! Great photo! Pinned and shared!
Dear Janette, what a great idea. These look wonderful…there are so many uses for pickled onions. I have to try this. Pinning! xo, Catherine
Thank you Catherine.
I love pickled onions. Especially these adorable pearl onions. Instead of using the plain onions in my frittata, I think I’ll add this pickled onion.
Thanks for a lovely pickled onion recipe, I’m addicted, pickled onions did not last long 😀 will have to kerp making so I have a constant supply.
They’re my favorite and it’s funny how they don’t last long in my house either 🙂
Loving your British series. So fun to see all the different cultural foods.
the malt vinegar must give this a great depth of flavor – love the photos too!
Yum! These are great to add into sandwich or tacos. I have a millions ways in my head about how to use these delicious onions now 🙂
These would be great on a burger!
Homemade recipes are the best. These onions look delicious!
Love the English recipes you are posting Janette! Never tried pickled onions, but will definitely do 🙂 Pinning!