Why make pickled onions with vinegar, when fermented onions are so much easier and healthier! Fermented red onions use just three simple ingredients: Onions, salt, and water.
Why Ferment Onions
Whenever possible, I turn our condiments into fermented condiments, simply by adding salt, and leaving them at room temperature for a few days.
This simple process helps the food become more digestible, and adds beneficial bacteria to your gut, which we could all use more of!
To learn more about the benefits of cultured foods, I highly recommend checking out Cultures for Health.
Fermenting red onions makes them softer, less spicy, and more tangy and flavourful. They are not as sour as a vinegar pickle. The flavour of vinegar is very intense, where the sourness from lacto-fermentation is much more subtle.
The ‘pickling’ done by our ancestors was, in fact, fermentation. They used salt, not vinegar, to preserve their vegetables.
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1. Gather Your Ingredients & Supplies
What I love about making fermented vegetables, is how utterly simple they are!
No complicated recipes.
All you need are vegetables, salt, and water. (Sometimes you don’t even need the water!)
To make fermented red onions, you’ll need:
- a quart sized mason jar of red onions, thinly sliced. (I use my food processor for this, which only takes seconds!) You can cut the red onions in half to make them fit in your food processor chute if needed.
- 2 tsp. salt (see my notes below)
- 2 cups of water (approximately a pint sized jar). Do NOT use chlorinated tap water. I use water from my Berkey Water Filter for all my ferments.
- Glass fermentation weight
- Fermentation lid
The fermentation weight is important, as it keeps your onions submerged under the brine, so they don’t go moldy. However, the fermentation lid is optional.
There are other styles of fermentation lids, such as these pickle pipes.
Another option is to use a plastic lid (metal will react to the fermentation and it may rust, which you don’t want). If you go with a regular plastic lid, you’ll need to burp your jar regularly to release the gasses as they build up.
My favourite solution, which you’ll see pictured below, is the Easy Fermenter Starter Kit.
It includes 3 glass weights, 3 fermentation lids, an air pump, and a fermentation recipe book!
This kit has served me extremely well over the years, and I’m happy to recommend it.
I used to have a lot of trouble with ferments going moldy until I started using the Easy Fermenter system! The unique lid style allows gasses to escape, without letting any air or contaminants back into the jar. It also has a dial on the top so you can set the date that your ferment should be complete.
A Note About Salt
You don’t want to use table salt for this. You want a good, high quality salt. Himalayan pink salt or sea salt are good options. I use and love Redmond’s Real Salt. It’s so versatile, and I can use it for everything from salting our food, to canning, to making ferments. It’s the only kind of salt I buy!
I buy Redmond’s Real Salt in bulk in these 10 lb buckets, and then just keep a jar of it in my kitchen.
2. Prepare the Red Onions
As I mentioned above, the quickest and easiest way to prepare your onions, is by running them through your food processor with the slicing blade! This not only saves a ton of time, but a ton of tears as well. 😉
Plus, I like that it makes the onion slices all evenly sized.
But if you don’t have a food processor, or don’t want to lug it out, you can simply cut the onions into slices with a sharp knife.
As you’re slicing, place the onions into the jar so you can see how many you’ll need.
You’ll want to pack the onions pretty tightly into the jar, as they will settle as they soften with fermentation. I pushed them down with my fist as I was putting them in.
Leave enough space at the top for your fermentation weight and lid (if you’re using them).
3. Make the Brine for Fermented Red Onions
Now it’s time to make the brine.
The brine is what keeps your vegetables from going moldy. The salt converts the vegetable sugars into lactic acid, which is a natural preservative that inhibits the growth of bacteria.
Add 2 tsp of salt to the 2 cups of water.
Stir well to dissolve. This might take a minute or so.
You could heat it a little to make it dissolve faster, but it’s unnecessary, and if your brine gets too warm it could kill your ferment. So I recommend just stirring until it’s dissolved.
Now pour your brine over the onions.
This amount of brine should completely cover the onions.
You can see the brine is at the surface of the onions. Once you put your glass weight on, it will submerge them completely under the brine.
4. Apply the Fermentation Weight & Lid
Place your glass fermentation weight on top of your onions. If your brine level is too high once you do this, simply pour a bit off.
The onions should be completely submerged under the brine, but there should still be enough space that you have room for your fermentation lid.
Next, apply your fermentation lid, if you’re using one.
I set the date on my lid for 7 days from today, which is when I’ll begin checking it.
Having the date dial built right into the fermentation lid is super convenient! But if you’re using a different style lid, you can just write on the jar itself.
You can either use a piece of masking tape, or one of these chalk markers to write directly on your jar.
Ferment Red Onions for 7-14 Days
Set your jar somewhere where you won’t forget about it, but it’s out of the direct sunlight.
I put mine by the window just to take this photo, but then I moved it to a shelf in my kitchen where I put all my ferments. I walk by it every day, so I remember to check on them!
After about a week, you can begin tasting it to see if it’s at your desired level of tanginess. Generally, somewhere between 7-14 days is the sweet (or tangy) spot.
Once it’s how you like it, remove the weight and fermentation lid, put a plastic lid on the jar, and place it in your refrigerator!
Fermented red onions should keep easily for at least 6 months when refrigerated, if not longer, but I promise you they won’t last that long! They are so delicious, you’ll gobble them up long before then.
Ways to Use Fermented Red Onions
Now, you might be wondering how to use these delicious, fermented red onions! Here are some ideas for you:
- Put them on a pickle & cheese tray for snacking
- Topping for hamburgers or hot dogs
- Pizza topping
- Salad topping
Printable Recipe Card:
- 1 Quart Jar sliced red onions
- 2 cups water (1 pint)
- 2 tsp sea salt
- Thinly slice red onions (using a food processor if desired), and fill a tightly packed quart-sized mason jar.
- Make a brine, by stirring 2 tsp of good quality sea salt into 2 cups of (non-chlorinated) water.
- Pour your brine over your onions.
- Place fermentation weight on top of onions.
- Apply plastic lid or fermentation lid.
- Let sit at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, for 7-14 days.
- After 7 days, begin tasting. When it reaches the desired level of tanginess, remove fermentation lid and replace with a regular plastic lid, and place in refrigerator.
Fermented red onions will keep in your refrigerator for at least 6 months!