Pickled Vs Fermented + An Easy Red Pickled Onion Recipe

Have you ever tried pickling onions? I started doing this recently and I.Am.In.Love. I’m also that person who craved anything vinegar-y during my pregnancies, but that’s beside the point. There’s something about the sweet and sour mixture – it brings foods up another level. Oh, and that other thing is that it’s SO easy to make them!

Before we get to the recipe – I want to break down the difference between pickled and fermented foods. Because they are both *good* in their own way, but they really are very different:

Are pickled onions the same as fermented?

In a word, no. Pickling can often be used (or confused) with fermented, but pickled foods are made quickly in vinegar, a sweetener, salt and spices vs fermented foods sit for some time and ferment, thus forming beneficial bacteria that is said to be good for the gut.

Basically pickling involves soaking foods in an acidic liquid and in fermented foods the sour flavor is a result of a chemical reaction between a food’s sugars and naturally present bacteria – there is no acid needed.

How are fermented foods beneficial?

Fermented foods are rich in probiotic bacteria. By consuming fermented foods, you are adding beneficial bacteria to your intestinal flora which can increase the health of your gut microbiome and digestive system.

“Fermented foods for most people help to boost healthy gut bacteria which ultimately can help with gut health, improved immune system, and weight maintenance. Plus they can be delicious!”, says Dr. Carlos Jorge of Companion Health

How to use red pickled onions:

Though you may or may not catch me trying to sneak these straight from the jar, these really are a tasty condiment. I like adding them as a topping to grain bowls, putting them on top of salads, fajitas, tacos and burgers – meat or vegetarian. Honestly, once you have them you just seem to find new ways to use them!


  • 1 medium red onion, very thinly sliced
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup 
  • 1 teaspoon salt


  1. Slice onions thin with a mandolin slicer or knife. 
  2. Pack the onions into a mason jar. Place the jar in the sink.
  3. In a small saucepan, mix water, apple cider vinegar, maple syrup and salt. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Stir and remove from heat. 
  4. Pour mixture into the jar over onions. Press onions down into liquid with a spoon. 
  5. Let cool to room temperature before serving – about 30 minutes. I personally like them cold, so feel free to cover and refrigerate after they are room temp.
  6. These pickled onions are best when eaten a few days after making them, but will keep for 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

Kiran Dodeja Smith is a local mom of 4 kids, food blogger, and a health coach. She works with clients at Companion Health, an Integrative Health Clinic that combines functional medicine with traditional medicine to help heal your body from the inside out. 

Companion Health

309 S. Sharon Amity, Suite 206
Charlotte, NC 28211

Phone: (704) 360-5018

Find them on Facebook | Instagram