Onion Pickle Master Class

Three Ferments are Ready for Their Closeups

Move over dill spears, kraut, and kimchi, there’s new ferment magic on the block.

For years I have been lacto-fermenting onions as a condiment. So many cuisines include the sour crunch of onions. A flexible kitchen includes sauces and condiments to quickly embolden common ingredients. Pickled onions are a sure way to spark any dish.

I scoured Japan, Mexico, and my own imaginings—to tweak these recipes for fermented onions. They will lead you to a renaissance in your pickledom

Mustard Onion Pickles: MOP

I will bet my pickledom that this will become as standard as ballpark mustard

This onion pickle is straight forward, slice onions then add dried mustard to a standard brine. Over many repeats I have included variations that build flavor. Note the upper right photo includes potato chips! – Recipe by B. Hettig 2022

INGREDIENTS: 1 QUART I use Vidalia or sweet onions to keep the yellow in the final pickle

  • onion – 1 large or 2 medium, 4 cups, thinly sliced pole to pole [see above]
  • mustard – dry, yellow, 1 TBS
  • turmeric – dry, 1 tsp
  • OPTIONS: I found a great secret addition: potato chips!
    • smoked paprika – 1/2 tsp
    • garlic powder – 1/2 tsp, [or I like 1/4 tsp hing, aka asafoeteda]
    • wasabi powder -1 tsp, and reduce mustard powder by 1 tsp]
    • potato chips – 1/2 cup ground to yield 2 TBS
  • Brine – 2 cups filtered water, 1 TBS sea salt
    • Optional: if you have some leftover dill pickle brine, add to the ferment jar before adding the brine
Pole to Pole Slices Make for a “Crescent” Shape Rather than Half Moon Shapes


  1. Peel and slice onion through the root into 4 quarters; then cut into thin slices down each quarter [rather than across], then cut slices in half to yield bite sized “crescent”pieces
  2. Toss the onions with mustard and turmeric [and any other options]
  3. Make the brine
  4. Pack the onions into a clean lacto-fermenting one-quart jar
  5. Stir and pour in the brine then seal the fermenter according to instructions [I use the Perfect Pickler kit]
  6. Ferment for 4 days at around 70-75º, then refrigerate
  7. Some onions can be very spicy, and you may require a second 2-4 day stretch in the fridge; taste at the 4 day mark and if so, they will temper in the fridge

These onions “glow.” Served with rice bowls for a great color and taste punch

Japanese Onion Pickles

This recipe uses secondary fermentation to make a probiotic-rich condiment. There is a triangulation of flavors that is truly a delight. Secondary fermentation is a slow, not very obvious type of ferment. We use fermented products—soy sauce and rice vinegar—to create the action.

No recipe: it’s just freshly sliced onions submerged in equal parts soy sauce and rice vinegar!

For Razor Thin Slices I Often Use a Ceramic Mandolin Slicer


Let’s go ahead and make a pint. Thinly slice or shred a large onion. I use it for a condiment so I tend to make them very thin. Or consider shredding. For the fermenting brine use equal parts rice vinegar and soy sauce to submerge the onions.

I prefer to use live-culture soy sauce and/or vinegar. Source them on the internet or larger Asian markets.

Place the onions in a clean jar, pour in the soy sauce and vinegar and seal. Set in room at about 70-75º for 3-4 days. Store in the fridge

Here’s my favorite way to use Japanese Onion Pickles

Russ Shulman, friend and former cooking assistant, created this breakfast favorite: beat a few eggs and thin with a bit water or dairy. Add in some cooked quinoa, salt and pepper to taste. Then scramble in oil. Top with some of the pickled onions, a drizzle of brine, and some chopped herbs/chives.

Scrambled Eggs with Quinoa and Fermented Onions. One of My All-time Favorite Breakfast Treats


Toasted Sourdough Cheese Melts: toast bread 4 minutes and cool. Spread on some mustard and a thick slice of cheddar and toast again for about 4 more minutes. Top with Japanese Pickled Onions

Lime Onion Pickles LOP

Here’s an onion pickle with classic Mexican flavors —cumin and lime. Makes a quick crunchy topping for grilled entrees, street food, sandwich toppers, and garnishes. They’re also great in omelets, salsas, and salads in place of raw onions.      – Recipe by B. Hettig 2009


  • red onions – 1 large or 2 med., about 1 pound, thinly sliced
  • lime – 1, zest and juice
  • cumin seed – 1 tsp, toasted and ground for best flavor
  • water, filtered – 2 cups
  • sea salt – 1 TBS

BELOW LEFT: In ferment mode; UPPER RIGHT: Soaking harsh onions in baking soda; LOWER RIGHT: Classic combo on onions, lime, and cumin ready for ferment


  1. In a bowl mix together the slices onion, cumin, lime zest and juice
  2. Place the onion mixture in a clean fermenting kit [I use the Perfect Pickler kit]
  3. Combine the water and salt and dissolve
  4. Pour brine into the kit and seal according to instructions
  5. Ferment four days and refrigerate

VARIATION: Lime Onion Pickle Relish

Mince finished onions, then squeeze in some agave nectar or honey as desired. For some heat, add chili powder of choice

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