This seems to always be the case for me. Any time I'm marinating a salad or pickling vegetables it always seems that the raw onion bite is very much diluted after soaking in vinegar. Is the vinegar 'cooking' the onions in a way, or are the offending chemicals water soluble and just dissolving into the liquid?

  • I've noticed the same thing when soaking cut onion in lime or lemon juice. Adding cut onion soaked in lime juice to salsa makes the onion much less pungent. Oct 31 '12 at 18:06
  • i'm going to test to see if its the acidity or water. i'll let you know what i find. Oct 31 '12 at 18:10

I expect it's just the water. Soaking in water, after at least cutting the base off the onion to expose the core, is commonly recommended as a way to reduce the potency of onions to avoid crying. It should also reduce the potency of the flavor. If you're giving it enough time to marinate or pickle, the effect will be even larger than the shorter soaks people use to try to avoid crying.

Edit: I'm not sure how thoroughly you're marinating and pickling, but very generally, adding one strong flavor tends to reduce our perception of others, so you may also have some effects just because you're tasting the vinegar.

  • 2
    i'm going to test this by soaking the onion in water, reducing said water and tasting how much like onion the resulting liquid tastes like to see if the flavor is simply dissolving into the liquid. if the liquid tastes not like onion, i would posit that the vinegar/whatever other liquid had no bearing on 'cooking' the onion and it was exposure to air. Oct 31 '12 at 17:43
  • @wootscootinboogie this is not conclusive. Imagine following scenario: the onion contains some stable molecule, which reacts with water to create a new molecule which is both stingy and volatile. If the reaction occurs on your tongue, the result "bites" before it escapes. If you do your experiment, the reaction can occur in the water first, and the biting molecule can escape from the water before you test it. I am not saying that this is how onion works (although I have some vague recollection of it reacting with water), just that this is one scenario which your experiment design can't catch.
    – rumtscho
    Oct 31 '12 at 21:12

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