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Nerdy Science in the Kitchen

How to Pickle Onions in Balsamic Vinegar



Pickling onions is so easy, anyone can do it!
Pickling onions is so easy, anyone can do it!

Pickled onions are a staple favorite of a lot of dive bars. The intense taste is not for the faint of heart. For those who enjoy the intense flavor of pickled onion, however, they’re an absolute delight. The problem is that the ones you get in a bar aren’t always maximally awesome. The good news is they’re an easy snack to make yourself at home, with plenty of room for experimentation!

How do I get started pickling onions?

When you get started with pickling onions, there are a number of factors you need to consider. What kind of onion do you want to use? You can pickle spring onions (shallots as they’re often called), red onions, white onions, anything. It all depends on what you like.

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You might also be wondering what ingredients to use for the brine. Vinegar is, of course, an essential ingredient, but what spices will you add? Again, that’s your choice!

This post will focus on using balsamic vinegar in combination with a selection of other ingredients and onion varieties.

Balsamic Pickled Shallots

To make balsamic pickled shallots, you will need the following:

  • 3 lbs (about 1 and a half kg) of shallots
  • 1 liter white wine vinegar
  • 150 ml olive oil
  • 600 ml water
  • 5 oz caster sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
  • 2 basil leaves
  • 100 ml balsamic vinegar.

Take the shallots (you can also use pearl onions for this) and pour a pot of boiling water over them. Let them stand a minute and then drain them. When they’re cool enough to handle, turn on your kitchen radio for some sweet tunes and begin peeling them.

When you’ve finished peeling, and busting out a few moves (it’s okay, I won’t tell), set the shallots aside. Pour all the ingredients, except the balsamic vinegar, into a large saucepan. Bring it to boil and then lower the heat, allowing the mix to simmer for about 3 minutes.

Carefully add in the shallots and allow to simmer for a further 8 minutes, or until they’re tender. Scoop the shallots and basil leaves into a jar, or jars, depending on the size. Boil the remaining liquid at a high heat for a further 5 minutes. Turn the heat off and stir in the balsamic vinegar. Then, pour the liquid over the shallots until covered and leave for at least 3 days. They’ll keep for a good 3 months.

Balsamic Pickled Onions

Pickled onions make a delicious topping, appetizer, or snack!
Pickled onions make a delicious topping, appetizer, or snack!

For this one, you’ll need:

  • 2 pounds (about 1 kg) of pearl onions
  • 2 oz salt
  • a large cinnamon stick
  • 1 tablespoon of pickling spices (available at most convenience stores)
  • 850 ml malt vinegar
  • 300 ml balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons honey

Peel the onions and place them in a bowl. Cover them with water and the salt and leave it for 24 hours. Next, take a piece of muslin and fill it with the cinnamon sticks and pickling spices.

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Place the muslin bundle in a stainless steel pot with the malt vinegar. Bring this to boil and then allow to infuse, covered, for 12 hours. Then, stir in the balsamic vinegar and honey.

Drain the onions and rinse them thoroughly with cold water. Once clean, put them in sterilized jars. Pour in the spice-infused mixture until the onions are submerged.

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Store them in a cool, dark place for at least 2 weeks. These pickles will also last you about 3 months.

Balsamic Pickled Red Onions

Balsamic pickled red onions are a little sweeter than the previous two, but absolutely delicious. To make these, you’ll need:

  • 1 large red onion (about 3/4 of a pound)
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • A tablespoon or two of agave nectar, light honey, or sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon of salt.

Boil a kettle of water and slice the onion thinly, placing it in a colander when you’ve done so. In a bowl big enough to fit the onion slices, mix the balsamic vinegar, sweetener, salt and whisk.

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Pour the boiling water over the onion and shake dry. It’s okay if a bit of the water still clings to the onion. Add the onion to the brine and stir it in until coated sufficiently. You should leave the onion coated like this for a day or two, stirring occasionally, stored in a sterile jar.

Store food for longer by using a pressure canner. My article on the best pressure canner for beginners will help you get started.

If you want to enhance or alter the flavors, add a bit of fennel to the mix for the first few hours of pickling and remove thereafter. Otherwise, enjoy as is.

More great recipes!

For more easy recipes, see this post on how to make pickled eggs.

Kitchen Professor author
About the Author: Bryce Heitman

Bryce is not a real professor, but he's real nerdy in the kitchen. He's been barbecuing, chopping, and generally blazing food for many decades. He thinks there's definitely a better spatula or utensil out there that hasn't been invented yet.

3 thoughts on “How to Pickle Onions in Balsamic Vinegar”

  1. I adore balsamic! I think it would create a great flavor once it comes to finally getting to the end product of the pickling process. The fact that you added a cinnamon stick is amazing too! I’ve always wanted to try pickling using cinnamon as a flavor enhancement, as cinnamon is by far bar none my favorite spice. I am more than excited to try this at home and see what kind of flavors I end up with by the end. I love pickled red onions, especially on sandwiches and as a garnish with our family dinners. Thank you again for sharing! This is a great recipe.


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