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Pickled Red Onions with Habanero Peppers

Pickled Red Onions with Habanero Peppers

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While traveling through the Yucatan area of Mexico, we found one local condiment that made most local dishes that we tried just that much better.

Mexican Pickled Red Onions are a critical ingredient to add a bright spicy flavor and crispy texture that elevates the flavor of many of our favorite Mexican recipes. 

In the Yucatan, almost every taco and most sandwiches are dressed with these spicy quick pickled onions – Escabeche de Cebolla.

The idea is to enhance the flavor of grilled and slow-cooked meats, adding a little spicy kick without overwhelming the dish. Many of the marinades use tangy vinegar and citrus as a base which combines beautifully with the savory flavor of the meat.

Pickled onions are a great topping on cochinita pibil!

Can I Use Different Onions in the Recipe?

Red onions, known for their purplish-red skin and mild to sweet flavor, are often consumed raw in salads, sandwiches, and salsas due to their relatively milder taste and vibrant color. They add a colorful and tangy element to dishes, making them popular for their aesthetic appeal and mild flavor profile.

By contrast, white onions have a sharper and more pungent flavor compared to red onions. They are commonly used in cooking, particularly in dishes that require a strong onion flavor, such as soups, stews, and stir-fries.

When cooked, white onions tend to become sweeter and softer, making them an excellent choice for caramelizing or sautéing. They are also popular in Mexican and South American cuisine for their strong flavor and ability to enhance the taste of savory dishes.

Yellow onions are an option, but they also tend to have a stronger flavor than red onions.

You can certainly use other onions in this easy recipe, but you might find the sweetness missing. Plus, the pop of color from the red onions is part of what makes the addition so popular as a topping.

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Mexican Pickled Onions Recipe

What is Mexican Oregano?

Mexican oregano is a pungent and flavorful herb that, despite its name, is not botanically related to the oregano typically used in Mediterranean cuisine.

This herb is derived from the Lippia graveolens plant, which is native to Mexico, as well as Central and South America. Mexican oregano boasts a stronger, more robust flavor profile compared to its Mediterranean counterpart, with hints of citrus and mild licorice notes.

It is a key ingredient in various Mexican and Latin American dishes, such as salsas, moles, and other savory sauces, imparting a distinct and aromatic essence that contributes to the complex and rich flavors of these cuisines.

Mexican Oregano. Photo Credit

This herb is available in both dried and fresh forms and is highly valued for its ability to add depth and character to a wide range of dishes, making it an essential component of authentic Mexican culinary creations. That said, if you can’t find it and need to substitute it with regular oregano, the pickled onions will still be delicious!

You can also play with the flavor profile by adding other whole spices, such as allspice berries, black peppercorns, cumin seeds, or even star anise.

Apple Cider Vinegar vs. White Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is made from fermented apple juice and retains a slightly sweet, fruity flavor profile, making it a popular choice for salad dressings, marinades, and chutneys. It is also known for its potential health benefits, such as aiding digestion and managing blood sugar levels.

On the other hand, white vinegar, which is made from the fermentation of grain alcohol, has a sharp, intense taste and is commonly used for pickling, preserving, and even cleaning due to its strong acidic properties.

You can use white vinegar, or a combination of apple cider vinegar and white vinegar for this recipe. We do think, however, that apple cider vinegar adds a flavor profile and complexity to the onions.

The simple recipe can be adjusted more by using red wine vinegar or even rice vinegar for a milder flavor.

A Word About Habanero Peppers

Habanero Peppers

Habanero Peppers.  Photo Credit

One of the things we love about Mexican cuisine is the liberal use of heat in the form of chile peppers. We use habanero peppers for this onion recipe for extra heat. These lantern-shaped peppers come in a range of vibrant colors, including red, orange, and yellow, adding a visual pop to the dish. And despite their intense spiciness, they also possess a subtle floral and tropical fruit undertone.

Be careful when slicing habanero peppers – their potency requires careful handling. The spicy capsicum will stay on your hands for some time after working with them. This could lead to unpleasantness if you rub your eyes after chopping them.

If you want to tone down the heat, you can scrape out the seeds and discard them. If habanero is too hot altogether, you can substitute a less fiery pepper such as jalapeño or any other medium heat pepper.

Why You Should Use a Glass Container When Pickling

Using a glass container for pickling is important for several reasons.

Firstly, glass is non-reactive and non-porous, which means it won’t interact with the acidic or salty components in the pickling solution. This ensures that the taste and quality of the ingredients remain uncompromised, preserving their flavors and textures.

Additionally, glass containers are transparent, allowing you to easily monitor the pickling process and observe any changes in color or texture. This transparency also helps in determining the readiness of the pickles without exposing them to unnecessary light or contaminants.

Glass containers are also generally more airtight compared to other materials, preventing the entry of unwanted microorganisms and maintaining the overall freshness and quality of the pickles.

Mexican Red Onion Serving Suggestions

Mexican pickled onions add a little crunchy texture and a pop of flavor that brings all the flavors together in our favorite Mexican recipes. They are a great addition to Barbacoa Beef Tacos, fish tacos, or our seriously delicious slow-cooked pork tacos, Cochinita Pibil. They also make a wonderful addition to a favorite Mexican breakfast staple, Chilaquiles!

Egg Chilaquiles with Black Beans

We often substitute Pickled Red Onions wherever we may use regular red onions, such as a topping for a bowl of chili, in salads or sandwiches. You’ll find that once you have a jar of these in your fridge you will use them all the time.

Here are some additional Mexican food-inspired recipes that you might enjoy:

Yield: 8 Servings

Mexican Pickled Red Onions with Habanero Peppers

Pickled Red Onions

Mexican Pickled Red Onions with Habanero Peppers is a perfect condiment that gives a crispy texture and a bright, spicy finishing flavor that elevates the taste of many popular Mexican dishes

Prep Time 10 minutes
Additional Time 4 hours
Total Time 4 hours 10 minutes


  • 1 Medium Sized Red Onion
  • 2 + Cups (473 ml) Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1/2 Fresh Habanero Pepper
  • 1/8 Cup (36g) Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon (1g) Fresh Mexican Oregano
  • 1 Bay Leaf


  1. Thinly slice the onion and habanero pepper with a sharp chef's knife
  2. Place the sliced onions inside a glass pickling jar.
  3. Add the salt, bay leaf, oregano, and enough apple cider vinegar to cover the vegetables.
  4. Mix well so all of the ingredients are combined.
  5. Cover and place in the refrigerator for a minimum of 4 hours.
  6. The pickled onions can be stored for several weeks.

Nutrition Information



Serving Size


Amount Per Serving Calories 19Total Fat 0gSaturated Fat 0gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 0gCholesterol 0mgSodium 400mgCarbohydrates 2gFiber 0gSugar 1gProtein 0g
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