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Pearl Onion Substitute

Pearl onions are tiny white, dried onions (about ½” or less in diameter) used in various stews, soups, and meat dishes. They can also be pickled or added to cocktails. Their mild, sweet flavor makes them a versatile ingredient in the kitchen. Pearl onions are smaller than boiling onions. These little onions are notoriously difficult to peel.  The onions can be found in white, brown, or red. In addition to being used in cooking, the onions are pickled and sold in jars. This is the traditional garnish for the Gibson cocktail or a substitute for an olive in a martini.

Pearl Onion Substitute...

Pearl onions have a mild and sweet flavor with a juicy, firm texture. When cooked, they develop a savory-sweet taste that is less pungent than regular brown onions. Pearl onions are also known as creamers, baby picklers, buttons, or silverskin onions. They contain vitamin C, calcium, fiber, flavonoids, and potassium. Pearl onions are classified botanically as Allium cepa var. aggregatum and are members of the Amaryllidaceae family.

Favorite Pearl onions Recipes

Quick Beef Stew with Red Wine and Rosemary

Long-cooked stews coax flavor from tough cuts of meat but require time. This weeknight-friendly dish features rib-eye, which adds deep flavor after only a short time in the stew pot. Here pearl onion is used to temper the beef and share its sweet flavor.

Carrots, Green Beans, and Pearl Onions with Chardonnay Sauce and Truffled Breadcrumbs

Toasty breadcrumbs add a contrasting crunch to a simple vegetable dish, while a bit of truffle oil creates a beguiling aroma that’s difficult to resist. This dish is super quick to put together and the closest thing to a salad. Pearl onions hold the aroma note of the sauce and blend with the other vegetables.

Spicy Glazed Onions

Sweet little onions get a kick from cayenne and make an elegant accompaniment to roast beef. Cipollini onions are ideal here because they’re small enough to serve whole but big enough that peeling them isn’t a chore. Pearl onions can replace cipollini in this dish.

Italian-Style Beef and Porcini Stew

The mushroom-infused broth from soaking dried porcini is incorporated into this hearty beef stew for more of that earthy flavor. Serve with crusty Italian bread for mopping up every last bit of broth. Pearl onions are not chopped in this dish, rather just pealed and used whole. This adds a unique presentation point to the dish.

Substitutes for Pearl Onion 

White Onions

White Onions


White onions are a great option when you don’t have any pearl onions on hand. They have a sharp zing and plenty of crunches, perfect eaten raw or cooked. Add them to spicy Mexican cuisine, curries, white sauces, potato salad, or pasta salads. We recommend using ¾ cup white onion to replace ½ cup fresh pearls.




Shallots are the closest to the onion family. Fresh shallots have a delicate, sweet flavor with a little sharpness. They are perfect in food that needs an aromatic punch like vinaigrette dressings, soups, and stews. Shallots don’t have the same level of sweetness that you’d get from pearl onions. In some recipes, you may want to try adding a little sugar and vinegar to the dish for balance. Try using ¾ cup of shallots for every cup of pearl onions.

Boiling Onions


Although boiling onions are twice the size of pearl onions, they make a great substitute for pearl onions in some recipes. They’re perfect when you want to add savory flavor to your dish without adding too much heat or spice. Boiling onions can be eaten raw, offering a pungent kick with a crisp texture. Once cooked, this vegetable is much milder with a delicious tender mouthfeel.

Cocktail Onions

Cocktail Onions


Cocktail onions have a nice sweetness to them, which can be good for balancing out richer meals or adding depth of flavor to food. They are often made from pearl onions that have been pickled in brine with spices like paprika and turmeric. They have high water content and are milder in taste than pearl onions. Use them in salads, sandwiches, cocktails, antipasto platters, or other dishes where you’re looking to add some crunch with less of an onion bite.

Try chopping cocktail onions into small pieces before adding them to your recipe. The flavor is similar to pearl onion, but they will soften a bit more quickly, so cook for shorter durations and use less heat. Otherwise, you’ll end up with something mushy rather than soft.

Cipollini Onions

Cipollini Onions


Cipollini onions are small, flat onions so that can be served whole on top of other food or sliced in half for roasting. They are sweet with a strong oniony flavor, like shallots. Cipollini onions are also versatile and, thanks to their high sugar content, are delicious slow-cooked. They’ll also caramelize more easily than many other onion varieties, which is great for adding flavor. Try adding chopped cipollini onions when you’re making an Italian meal like stuffed shells or lasagna – it’ll add texture and flavor.




Leeks are a type of allium and are related to the pearl onion. Their flavor is earthy, sweet, and mildly oniony, making them a potential substitute for pearl onions if you’re in a pinch. Use leeks as an aromatic in a wide range of dishes but keep in mind that they are large and should be sliced before roasting or sautéing them. You can learn how to prepare leeks for cooking here or discover the best substitutes for leeks here.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Which has a better taste, Onions or Shallots?

The answer to this really depends on how you plan to use the vegetable.  If you are looking for a robust flavor that comes from cooked or caramelized onions, use normal onions. However, if you are planning on using them raw, then shallots would be a better choice since they are milder and sweeter without the bite that normal onions have.

Can onions be grown indoors?

Onions and many alliums need a period of cold to do well in the garden.  This makes them a better choice to grow outdoors, where they will receive winter cold and bear fruit the following year. However, there are ways to grow onions indoors as a fun project.  You probably won’t get full-grown bulbs, but the tops are interesting, and it’s a fun way to get kids involved in gardening.

Which onion makes you cry the most?

White, yellow, or red onions are most likely to make you cry. On the contrary, green onions are milder than the aforementioned and won’t make you cry. Sweeter onions are gentler on the eyes than those with a more pungent taste.


Pearl onions are not always easy to find, and they can often be expensive, depending on where you live. If you want to cook with them or don’t have any on hand, here are properly researched pearl onion substitutes that will work beautifully!