I’ve recently been asking myself the question, “Why do people make pickled onions when lacto-fermented onions have so many more benefits?”
If you have a tradition at home in preparing pickled onions why not try adding the healthful benefits of lacto-fermentation? The resulting fermented onions taste more fresh and have a seductive sourness that doesn’t make your mouth pucker.
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Are Pickled Onions Fermented?
The term pickling is often used synonymously with the word fermenting. This is wrong.
Today pickled onions are most commonly preserved in vinegar with sugar, salt and spices. Pickling refers to the preservation of foods in an acidic solution at a high temperature. Therefore vinegar-preserved onions do not contain live enzymes or probiotics. You’ll enjoy more health benefits when canning onions in the kitchen by ditching the pickling method and adopting lacto-fermentation.
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What is Lacto-Fermentation?
At some point, thousands of years ago, early humans learned to use the process of fermentation to enjoy its tasty results. The most familiar fermented foods, like Korean kimchi, Jewish pickles and German sauerkraut are made using lacto-fermentation.
Most people think about beer or wine when they hear the word fermentation. While specialized yeasts are used to convert sugars in grape juice or grains into alcohol, it is tiny bacteria that are responsible for lacto-fermentation. Various strains of these bacteria are naturally present on the surface of plants, especially those growing in or close to the ground such as garlic, carrots, and jalapeños.
The naturally occurring bacteria convert sugars into lactic acid. This acid is a natural preservative that inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria. Lacto-fermentation also increases and preserves the beneficial vitamin and enzyme levels, and digestibility of fermented food.
Why Make Fermented Onions?
- if you’re keen to try fermentation for the first time it’s best to start with an easy recipe. Fermented onions are one of the easiest fermentation recipes you’ll find.
- lacto-fermented vegetables are rich in beneficial bacteria, which have been proven to encourage healthy gut flora.
- fermenting onions allows you to naturally preserve raw onions to enjoy over a long period of time.
- onions that has gone through the process of lacto-fermentation changes its flavour profile and texture over time. Many foodies find onion ferments to be more delicious than the more pungent raw variety.
Get Creative with Fermented Onions
Lacto-fermented onions can be used in any recipe that calls for onions. You ideally want to avoid using it in recipes that require cooking, as the heat will destroy the beneficial probiotics. Here are some of our favourite ways to use fermented onions when cooking at home:
- Onion Salad Dressing: prepare your favourite vinaigrette and replace raw onions with your homemade ferment.
- Caprese Salad: top a classic tomato and mozzarella salad with your new favourite fermented condiment.
- Onion Butter: whip crushed fermented onions into softened butter and spread on fresh bread.
- Pizza and Burgers: top a homemade pizza or stuff a juicy burger with pickled onions for a contrasting sour flavour profile.
- Savoury Cocktails: swap out cocktail onions for fermented onions in your favourite savoury cocktail.
- Cheese and Charcuterie: add your favourite lacto-fermented vegetables to a celebratory cheese and charcuterie board.
Tips on Making Fermented Onions
Our recipe for fermented onions looks very easy based on the short ingredients list. Since lacto-fermentation is a science, it’s best to ensure you understand how fermentation works. Here are our favourite tips and tricks to prepare fermented onions:
- you’ll need to purchase standard fermentation equipment which can be basic or more specialized. At the very minimum you’ll need measuring spoons, measuring cups and canning jars with a rubber seal. If you plan on fermenting often purchase this fermentation crock for large batches or these fermentation jars fitted with bubble airlock.
- do not fill the onions and brine all the way to the top of the jar. You want to have just enough brine to cover the onions.
- you can speed up the fermentation process by adding a teaspoon of organic apple cider vinegar or “sauerkraut juice.”
- ensure the onions are always submerged under the liquid to prevent mould growth.
- open your lid each day to burp the jar, releasing a build up of carbon dioxide. This will help you avoid an unwanted explosion in your cupboards.
- use a variety of white and red Pearl and Cipollini onions as they offer a beautiful colour contrast in the jar.
How To Make Lacto-Fermented Onions
- 3 cups Pearl and Cipollini onions peeled
- 4 cups water
- 2 tbsp salt
- Once your onions are peeled add them to a mason jar so they are 1 inch from the top.
- Prepare a salt brine by dissolving salt in water.
- Pour brine into the mason jar until the onions are covered.
- Optional: add any additional flavourings such as pickling spices or fresh oregano or basil.
- Put the lid on the jar and store at room temperature in a dark place like your closet or cupboard.
- Open the jar once a day to release carbon dioxide. Fermentation fans call this “burping.”
- Continue this process for 3-4 weeks until fermentation bubbles no longer form.
- Move the fermented onions to your fridge once fermentation has completed and enjoy for the next 3-6 months.
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New to fermenting? Check out these great books and products to get you started!
Fermentation Revolution by Sebastien Bureau & David Cote: Covers everything you need to know about fermentation to start a lacto-fermentation revolution in your pantry!
The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz: The most comprehensive guide to do-it-yourself home fermentation ever published.
The Noma Guide to Fermentation by Rene Redzepi & David Zilber: At Noma in Copenhagen, named the world’s best restaurant, fermentation is one of the foundations behind their extraordinary menu. Read their never-before-revealed techniques to creating Noma’s extensive pantry of ferments!
Fermented Vegetables by Kirsten & Christopher Shockey: This easy-to-follow guide presents more than 120 recipes for fermenting 64 different vegetables and herbs.
If you’re ready to start fermenting and are looking to ferment beer or wine purchase this great home brewing kit!
This Easy Fermenter Kit was created to help make fermenting simple. It comes with 3 Wide Mouth Mason Jar Lids & 1 Oxygen Extraction Vacuum.
This 5L Glass Fermentation Crock + 45 recipe book set lets you make delicious, fermented favourites in an affordable design at home.
We also love this Simply Sauer Vegetable Fermentation Kit which comes with 1 oxygen pump and 4 air airlock lids. If you are planning to ferment multiple items at once, they also make this great Mason Jar Fermentation Airlock Lid Kit.
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It’s a nice recipe for fermented onions. I add a cup of salt in the jar and the very salty brine takes out the natural taste of onion and make it better. After whole one month, I replace the brine with less salty brine. That is the way fermented onion is done in middle east countries like Egypt.
Thanks for sharing! Do you add any unique herbs or spices?
Excellent article about fermentation and how to do it in an easy way.
I’ve learnt this from my granny since age 6 as I used to assist her when she made homemade pickles, fermented food, jams, marmalades and sherbets.. For a year use.
When it comes to pickling and or fermentation, we used brine and oil along with other spices and a bit of vinegar.
To reduce that burping process and to make it quick to consume, we mixed spices in onions with half a cup of vinegar for 10Kg onions and leave them in a container covered with muslin cloth. Then mixing it 3 to 4 times a day. After 3 days and on 4th day we put boiled and then cooled water at room temperature. Allow this to stand for 3 more days, occasionally stirring pickle three whole day to four times a day. Keep this covered with muslin cloth all times until pickle is ready.
I’ve just made one and it is my day 4.iwish I could’ve uploaded a picture of my fermented onions and green chilli.
I’ll try your method too.
Hi, been fermenting for a long time but an stymied why the onions I brined last week are in cloudy brine. I have not seen cloudy brine before when I fermented. Is this an onion thing?
All our fermented veggies develop a cloudy brine this is the active bacterial culture doing its thing. Enjoy!