A Traditional British Pickled Onion Recipe

traditional british pickled onion recipe

This British pick­led onion recipe is as tra­di­tion­al as it gets. Mild­ly spiced with corian­der seed, mus­tard seed, black pep­per and bay leaves. It’s the taste of long hot British sum­mers and lunch­es in pub beer gar­dens...

The recipe is pret­ty easy to pre­pare, the great­est dif­fi­cul­ties lie with peel­ing the onions but there are labour sav­ing tech­niques to help reduce the workload…

Our tra­di­tion­al British pick­led onion recipe will make five 1 litre jars of crunchy onions.


  • 4kg bag of pick­ling onions.

  • 250g of fine sea salt. Avoid using table salt as it can cause discoloration.

  • 2.5 litres of dark malt vinegar.

  • 600g of gran­u­lat­ed sugar.

  • 80g of gin­ger root.

  • 3 tbsp yel­low mus­tard seed.

  • 3 tbsp corian­der seeds.

  • 1 tbsp black pep­per corns.

  • 12 tsp whole cloves (option­al).

  • 6 dried chill­ies (option­al).

  • 8 bay leaves.


Our tra­di­tion­al British pick­led onion recipe is pre­pared over two days. On day one the vine­gar is infused with the spices and the onions peeled and salt­ed. On day two every­thing is ready for the onions to be added to the jars.

Preparing the Spiced Vinegar

  1. Pour the vine­gar into a saucepan and gen­tly heat while adding the sug­ar. Stir until all the sug­ar is dissolved.

  2. Put the bay leaves aside. Give the gin­ger root a quick bash­ing, add it and the oth­er spices to the vine­gar and bring to the boil slow­ly with the saucepan lid on. Take off the heat and set aside to allow the spices to infuse into the vine­gar overnight.

  3. The fol­low­ing day fil­ter the vine­gar through cheese cloth or muslin.

Peeling the Onions

Top­ping, tail­ing and then plung­ing the onions briefly into hot water will loosen their skins mak­ing them eas­i­er to peel. 

  1. Using either a sharp knife or sharp scis­sors top and tail the onions.

  2. Use a a stock pot large enough to con­tain all your onions with some room to spare. Fill it 34 with water and place on a high heat. After it comes to the boil care­ful­ly trans­fer to your sink. Tip in all the onions and start a timer. At the end of 20 sec­onds rapid­ly douse the stock pot with cold water from the tap, allow­ing the pot to over­flow until all the remain­ing water is cold.

  3. Strain the onions and begin peel­ing them right away. Dis­card any bad onions or cut away bruised or dam­aged areas. The onions may sim­ply pop out of the out­er lay­ers when squeezed hard. Try to remove all the thin mem­branes that are found between each lay­er, these can make the vine­gar go cloudy in the jars .

Brining the Onions

  1. Lay the peeled onions out on a large plas­tic or stain­less steel tray and sprin­kle over the salt. Cov­er with a tea tow­el and leave overnight or for 12 hours but no more.

  2. Rinse the onions thor­ough­ly in a colan­der to remove the salt and set aside to drain.

Preparing and Filling the Jars

traditional british pickled onion recipe

This recipe makes five litres of onions with a lit­tle extra vine­gar to spare. For this recipe I’m using five 1 litre Kil­ner round clip-top jars which have wide mouths for easy filling.

  1. Ensure that your jars and lids are well sani­tised. Place your jars in a cold oven and heat to 130oC for 20 min­utes. Met­al lids and rub­ber seals can be boiled in water for 20 min­utes. Allow the jars to cool in the oven until they can be safe­ly han­dled but are still warm to the touch. Bear in mind that pour­ing hot vine­gar into cold jars may crack them.

  2. While wait­ing for the jars to come out of the oven get the spiced vine­gar back on a the hob in a saucepan and hold at a sim­mer with the pan lid on.

  3. Fill the jars with onions, pack­ing them in as tight­ly as you can while leav­ing 2cm of head space at the top of the jars. Place two bay leaves in each jar as you go.

  4. Using a jar fun­nel ladle the hot vine­gar into the jars. Clean the rim and then seal each jar as it is filled.

Storing and Eating Your Pickled Onions

The onions are ready to eat after about a month and will store well for at least a year kept in a cool place out of direct sun­light. After that the tex­ture starts to suf­fer. Once open keep your pick­led onions in the fridge and con­sume with­in a week or two. 

Amer­i­can read­ers might ques­tion why we Brits don’t process these onions in a water bath can­ner? The rea­son is that they go soft and loose all their crunch. Any­how a near 100% vine­gar brine is an extreme­ly hos­tile envi­ron­ment for harm­ful microbes.

traditional british pickled onion recipe

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