Pickled onions are a tasty topper for cheese on crackers and a crunchy snack on their own. This gluten free pickled onion recipe is the perfect addition to a gluten free charcuterie board or cheese platter.
This recipe is coming to you courtesy of my Dad, Grant, who is a huge pickled onion fan. He’s the only one in the house that eats these, but he’s been known to pickle 5kg of onions at a time, to eat throughout the year (and share with a lucky few who share his pickled onion passion).
Up until his Coeliac diagnosis, he used the same recipe that my Grandma used, which was given to her by a family friend, Dulcie. Their recipe was a traditional English pub-style pickled onion recipe using malt vinegar.
Since then, Dad has adjusted the recipe to use different kinds of vinegar in place of the gluten-containing malt vinegar, while still achieving that lovely golden brown colour and similar traditional pickle-y flavour and crunchy texture. And I’ve convinced him to share this easy recipe with you!
The key to crunchy pickled onions
This recipe makes super crunchy pickled onions, and the reason they’re so crunchy and stay crunchy even when stored over time is that they’re not brined before pickling.
Some pickled onion recipes call for soaking the onions in salted water before pickling to soften them, but if you skip that step they stay crunchy.
Prefer softer pickled onions? Then by all means soak your onions overnight in a bowl of cold water with a couple of tablespoons of table salt. The next day, rinse and continue with the recipe.
- Onions: You’ll need to buy small pickling onions for this recipe. They may be sold as “pickling onions” or “baby onions”, and they are usually brown onions or white onions. Small red onions will also work.
- Apple cider vinegar and red wine vinegar: Dad’s preference in this recipe is to use a combination of apple cider vinegar and red wine vinegar, but you can definitely experiment with kinds of vinegar if you like. Keep in mind that white vinegar is a very strong, harsh flavour, so for a milder flavour stick with cider vinegar, red or white wine vinegar, or even balsamic vinegar. Remember that malt vinegar is not gluten free, so definitely don’t use that.
- Brown sugar: Brown sugar adds a richer flavour, but you can use white sugar if that’s all you have.
- Golden syrup: Golden syrup also adds to that rich flavour, but if you don’t have it or don’t want to use it, you can use three tablespoons of extra brown sugar and add an extra tablespoon of vinegar, or leave it out for less sweetness.
- Mixed spice: Mixed spice is an easy way to add flavour to your pickled onions as it contains spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger and cloves. But you can experiment with adding other whole or ground spices, fresh herbs, dried herbs, peppercorns, mustard seeds, chilli, bay leaves, really any other flavours that you like.
- Salt: Use regular table salt, iodised or non-iodised is fine.
Note: When scaling Dad’s recipe down from the huge batch he usually makes, we miscalculated the amount of pickling liquid needed for this sized jar. So the ingredients shown in the photo above and process shots below weren’t enough, but the adjusted, correct recipe is in the recipe card below.
How to Make Gluten Free Pickled Onions
If you’d asked me to list some recipes I probably wouldn’t ever write about on either of my websites, this could have been on it. As someone who can’t eat onions, and who never really liked the taste or smell, this isn’t my wheelhouse.
So you’ll notice in the pictures below that Dad will be using his “stunt hands” to show you his process and recipe, and I’m just here to take the photos and write everything up.
Making pickled onions is actually very easy.
You’ll start by making the pickling liquid, simmering the vinegar, sugar, golden syrup, spice and salt together for a few minutes.
Then it needs to cool to room temperature. It’ll cool faster if you transfer it to a heatproof jug or bowl.
Next, peel the onions. Dad just tops and tails them with a sharp knife, then peels off the skin and usually the first layer of onion. If the outsides are a bit manky (technical term) or the onions are a little too big, you can always peel an extra layer off.
Then pop the onions into your clean jar. Try to pack them in quite tightly, right to the top.
We used a 1 litre jar here, which is the perfect size for 1kg of onions, but you can do two smaller jars if that’s what you have.
Pour in the vinegar mixture. You need to make sure the onions are completely covered, if you don’t quite have enough liquid, top it up with a little more vinegar.
Pop the lid on, then store them in a cool dry place for 2-3 weeks before eating.
As they sit, they’ll become darker in colour and over time they will soften more, so if you like them softer, leave them longer, and if you like them crunchier, eat them sooner.
Serving Gluten Free Pickled Onions
You can serve gluten free pickled onions however you would usually serve pickles. We served them up below with some cheeses and some gluten free crackers. From left to right, these are Seed crafted crackers, Wellaby’s cheese crackers and Olina’s Bakehouse Fig and Almond crackers.
You could also add these to sandwiches, or eat them straight from the jar.
Gluten Free Pickled Onions
- 1 ⅓ cup apple cider vinegar, (see notes on vinegar types)
- 1 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 cup brown sugar, (firmly packed)
- ½ cup golden syrup
- 1 teaspoon mixed spice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 kg pickling onions
- Place the apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, brown sugar, golden syrup, mixed spice and salt into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Leave the vinegar mixture to cool to room temperature. It will cool faster if you transfer it to a heatproof bowl or jug.
- Cut the tops and bottoms off the onions, and peel off the skins. Rinse under water to remove any bits of skin, then place into a clean 1 litre capacity jar. Make sure they're packed nice and tight.
- Pour over the cooled liquid. The liquid needs to cover the onions, if there isn't quite enough to cover them, then top it up with a little more of one of the vinegars. Close the lid.
- Leave in a cool, dark place for at least 2-3 weeks before eating. As long as the onions are covered by the liquid, they should keep for at least 6-12 months.
Pickled onions can be gluten free, as long as they don’t contain malt vinegar, barley extract, or any other gluten-containing ingredients.
Most store-bought pickled onions contain malt vinegar, which contains gluten and is not suitable for a gluten-free diet. Take a look at the ingredients list on the back of the jar, if they are made with different types of vinegar, they may be gluten free. Remember – all allergens must be clearly labelled as such in NZ and Aus, so if it says there is gluten present, try another brand, or easily make your own using this recipe!
As long as they don’t contain malt vinegar, barley malt extract, or any other gluten-containing ingredients, Coeliacs can eat pickles. Always check the allergen statements on the jar.