Yucatán Pickled Red Onions

These slightly sweet, citrusy, and tangy Yucatán Pickled Red Onions are the perfect accompaniment to your favorite tacos, but don’t limit them to tacos. Try them with braised, roasted, or smoked meats. Have you ever had pickled onions on a sandwich or rolled up in a burrito or wrap? Delicioso!

A wood cutting board with a jar of Yucatan pickled red onions and some in a red bowl with a spoon.

👩🏻‍🍳 Tamara Talks – Why Yucatán Pickled Red Onions?

I have been making pickled onions in a variety of flavor profiles for most of my cooking life. Most recently, I wanted pickled onions as a topping for my new Yucatán-inspired shrimp tacos. I opted to do a more regional style of Mexican pickled red onions, with inspiration from Yucatán cuisine.

Pickled onions come in many flavor profiles borrowed from many different cuisines – each with its own unique flavors and ingredients. This list represents a few I have had, but it is not all-inclusive:

  1. Classic pickled onions feature marinated, thinly sliced onions in a mixture of vinegar, sugar, salt, and spices like peppercorns or mustard seeds.
  2. Quick-pickled onions involve pouring a hot brine made of vinegar, sugar, and salt over thinly sliced onions and allowing them to cool to room temperature. They can be ready to eat in as little as 30 minutes, but their flavor intensifies with time.
  3. Mexican pickled red onions involve marinating thinly sliced red onions in a mixture of lime juice, vinegar, and salt. Often you’ll find spices like Mexican oregano, or cumin, and possibly some fresh chile. I use them on this Mexican chorizo burger.
  4. Peruvian pickled onions (salsa criolla) feature thinly sliced red onions marinated in lime juice with fresh ají pepper and cilantro. You often find fresh tomatoes as well! We enjoy them with dishes like Peruvian arroz con pollo and Peruvian beans.
  5. British pickled onions typically feature small whole onions (ie. pearl onions) that are pickled in malt vinegar with sugar and spices like cloves, cinnamon, and bay.
  6. Indian Pickled Onions are pickled in a mixture of vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, salt, and spices like cumin, chili powder, and turmeric.
  7. South African pickled onions are pickled in a mixture of vinegar, sugar, and spices like coriander seeds, mustard seeds, or chili flakes.

How do my Yucatán pickled red onions differ from these (equally delicious!) pickled onions? A combination of citrus juices – orange, lemon, and lime – come close to the Seville oranges used in much of Latin American cuisine. The whole allspice, peppercorn, and bay leaves are quintessential Yucatecan ingredients.

How can I use Yucatán pickled onions?

This is a short – but not exhaustive – list of recipes found on my blog. These pickled onions are so versatile, I’m sure you can find others. They keep several weeks in the refrigerator, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble finishing them up!

🧅 What I Love About This Pickled Red Onion Recipe

  • their bright sweet-tart flavor brightens everything from tacos, to salads, and simple grilled proteins.
  • Yucatán pickled onions are versatile
  • they are quick and easy to make
  • only a few readily accessible ingredients are required
  • they keep for weeks if properly stored!

📋 Ingredients Notes

Ingredients for Yucatan pickled red onions: Red onion, citrus, allspice, peppercorns,bay, vinegar, chile.
  • onion – While I won’t insist you use red onion, they are the onion used in any of the Mexican pickled onion recipes that I’ve made.
  • citrus – As I’ve mentioned Seville (aka sour) oranges are not readily available in many countries. I use a blend of citrus to get close enough for most recipes. NOTE: Seville oranges are a cross between a pomelo and a tangerine. I use lemon and lime for the sour quality, and orange and/or grapefruit for the orange flavor. I go for a ratio of about 50/50, but it’s not an exact science… LOL.
  • fresh chiles – Habanero peppers would be more true to Yucatecan cuisine, but I cannot handle them.😬 I substitute a slightly milder chile like Fresno chile (in the photo above), serrano, jalapeño, even a Peruvian ají amarillo. You want to use a fresh chile! NOTE: If you prefer to avoid any heat, substitute a red or orange bell pepper (for the color).
  • fresh bay leaves
  • whole peppercorns
  • whole allspice

🔪 Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Prep all ingredients – As shown in the photo below, thin-slice your onion, squeeze your citrus and combine, thin-slice your chile, and measure vinegar and salt.
Step 1 - Prepare ingredients for Yucatán pickled red onions.
  • Boil the aromatics – Add the bay leaves, peppercorns, and allspice to a small saucepan with about 2 cups of water (enough to cover the onion when you add it). Bring to a boil.
Step 2 - Sliced red onion added to boiling water with peppercorns, allspice, and bay.
  • Soak the red onion – Remove the boiling water and spices from the heat, and add the sliced red onion. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. NOTE: You DO NOT COOK the onions, you just slightly soften them.
Step 3 - The red onion and spices drained and in a mixing bowl.
  • Strain the onions – Using a strainer (rather than a colander), strain the onions and spices into a clean bowl.
  • Finish the pickled onions – Add the remaining ingredients – fresh chile, salt, vinegar, and citrus juices – to the onion mixture. Stir to combine well.
A close up of a bowl of Yucatan pickled red onions on a wood cutting board.

❓ FAQ

How long will my pickled onions last?

I like them best fresh to 2 weeks, but they will last up to 4-6 weeks if properly stored.

How are Yucatán-style pickled onions different from regular Mexican pickled onions?

I have been making quick-pickled onions forever with many different flavor profiles. Yucatecan pickled onions use a small amount of vinegar compared to others, and the citrus juices lend a sweet-tart flavor to the end product. The peppercorns, bay leaves, and allspice berries are, to my knowledge, unique to Yucatán-style pickled onions.

🧅 Yucatán Pickled Onions Storage

Yucatán pickled onions can typically be stored in the refrigerator for a few weeks. Properly prepared and stored pickled onions can maintain their quality and flavor for 4 to 6 weeks. Keep in mind the pickled onions will soften and mellow in flavor over time. The color is likely to fade as well.

To ensure the longevity of the pickled onions, it’s important to store them in a clean, airtight container or jar. Make sure the onions are fully submerged in the pickling liquid, as exposure to air can lead to spoilage. Keep the jar sealed tightly and refrigerate it to maintain optimal freshness.

A glass jar full of Yucatan pickled red onions on a red striped cloth.
This type of hinged-lid glass storage jar is ideal for pickled onions!

💭 Tips

For the best flavor and texture, use your pickled onions in the first 2 weeks.

The amount of citrus juice required varies according to the size of your onion and chile(s), and the shape of your pickling container. Your onions need to be submerged in the citrus and vinegar. If your onions need more liquid, taste the liquid. Add orange, lime-lemon, or vinegar to taste. Pressing the onions down into the liquid is helpful.

Signature in red and green with chiles and limes. Healthyish Latin cuisine.

A wood cutting board with Yucatan pickled onions in a red clay bowl with copper spoon.

Yucatán Pickled Red Onions

Citrus and vinegar pickled red onions with fresh chile pepper and spices!
5 from 3 votes

Click to rate!

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Cooling Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Course Condiment
Cuisine Mexican
Servings 12 servings
Calories 18 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 15 whole peppercorns
  • 15 whole allspice
  • 2 bay leaves - fresh if possible
  • 1 red onion, thinly-sliced
  • 1 cup mixed fresh citrus juice – orange, lime, lemon combination* - see Post Ingredients for more information
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar - or other smooth, mild vinegar
  • 1 or more fresh chile, sliced thin - see Post Ingredients for more information
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Instructions

  • Prep all ingredients.
  • Add the bay leaves, peppercorns, and allspice to a small saucepan with about 2 cups of water. Bring it to a boil.
  • Remove the boiling water and spices from the heat, and add the sliced red onion. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. 
  • Strain the onions and spices into a clean bowl.
  • Add the remaining ingredients to the onion mixture. Stir to combine well.

Notes

* I do approximately a 50/50 ratio of sweet citrus (ie. orange, grapefruit, tangerine) to tart citrus (lemon, lime, pomelo).

Nutrition

Calories: 18kcal

NOTE: Macronutrients are an approximation only using unbranded ingredients and MyFitnessPal.com. Please do your own research with the products you’re using if you have a serious health issue or are following a specific diet.

Did you make this recipe? Please leave a comment and/or star rating! Email us with any questions: tamara@beyondmeresustenance.com

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2 Comments

  1. I love pickled onions, and these are the second-best I’ve ever had (after the salsa criolla that’s also on this site)!