Pearl Onion Substitute – What Can You Use?

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Pearl onions are an incredibly versatile variety of bulb onions. Small in size, pearl onions usually grow from a quarter of an inch to around half of an inch in diameter. 

Pear onions are sweeter than regular onions and add a mild flavor to a variety of dishes, including soups, stews, sauces, and even cocktails. However, pearl onions aren’t as readily available in grocery stores as other types of onions. If your recipe calls for pearl onions, you’re probably wondering what can you use instead.

So, what is the best pearl onion substitute? Frozen pearl onions are the best substitute for pearl onions. Frozen pearl onions are usually pealed and can be found in the freezer section of most grocery stores. Other good substitutes for pearl onions include shallots, cipollini onions, cocktail onions, boiling onions, white onions, and leeks. 

This article lists the best pearl onion substitutes and tells you how to prepare them in your favorite recipes. 

What is Pearl Onion?

Also known as button, baby, or silverskin onion, the pearl onion is a small variety of bulb onion. The pearl onion is closely related to the leek and has a single storage leaf, similar to garlic.

Pearl onions are smaller in size than regular onions, ranging from a quarter inch to around half an inch in diameter. The pearl onion also has a milder and sweeter flavor than regular onion and a juicy, crisp texture.

These small onions are incredibly versatile. Pickle pearl onions to use as a cocktail garnish. You can also sautee, roast, or add pearl onions to soups and stews for a delicious oniony flavor. 

White pearl onions are the most commonly used variety, but they also come in yellow and red colors. 

Best Pearl Onion Substitutes

Pearl onions might not be always available at your local market or grocery store. In those cases, knowing what the best pearl onions substitutes can come in handy.

1. Frozen Pearl Onions

The best pearl onion substitute is frozen pearl onion. Fresh pearl onions can be difficult to find, depending on your location. But frozen pearl onions are available year-round at most grocery stores.

Frozen pearl onions have a stronger, more concentrated flavor and less moisture than fresh pearl onions, but they can be used as a substitute in most recipes. Use frozen pearl onions instead of fresh ones in sauces, stews, and soups in equal amounts. 

2. Shallots

Shallots are an amazing replacement for pearl onions in recipes. The shallot is a variety of onions and is closely related to chives, garlic, scallions, Chinese onion, and leeks. 

The sweet and delicate flavor of shallots will bring out the aroma of other ingredients used when making stews, soups, and vinaigrette dressings. But unlike pearl onions, shallots will also add a hint of sharpness and garlicky undertones to dishes. 

3. Cocktail Onions

Cocktail onions are made from pearl onions that are pickled in brine with turmeric and paprika. White pearl onions are usually used for pickling, but red and yellow varieties can be used as well.

Cocktail onions retain a crisp texture and have a mild and sweet flavor that pairs well with many cocktails. Use cocktail onions as a replacement for pearl onions in sandwiches, salads, antipasto platters, and other dishes that could benefit from some crunch.

4. Cipollini Onions

Cipollini onions are an excellent substitute for pearl onions in recipes. These round, flat onions are about two inches in diameter with a slight yellowish color.

The high sugar content found in cipollini onion gives this variety a sweet and mild flavor that pairs well with many dishes. Use chopped cipollini onions instead of pearl onions when making Italian dishes such as lasagna. 

5. White Onions

White onions are a wonderful substitute for pearl onions when you’re in a pinch. These onions have a similarly mild and sweet flavor as pearl onions, but a slightly stronger pungent smell.

The crunchy and juicy texture of white onions makes them an ideal addition to salads, sauces, soups, stews, and stocks. White onions also pair well with grilled or roasted meat and can be used as a pizza topping too. 

Are Shallots and Pearl Onions the Same?

Shallots and pearl onions are a similar variety of the bulb onion, but they aren’t the same. Pearl onions and shallots differ in several ways.

Pearl onions are smaller than shallots and are usually white in color, although they can also be yellow and red. On the other hand, the skin color of shallots ranges from golden brown to rose red to grey. Pearl onions also have a milder and sweeter flavor than shallots. 

Are Pearl Onions the Same as Regular Onions?

Pearl onions aren’t the same as regular onions. White onion has a similar light, mild, and sweet flavor profile as pearl onion, but it has a stronger pungent smell. 

Are Pearl Onions Just Small Onions?

Most onions sold as pearl onions are just regular onions grown in a slightly different way. True pearl onion is tricky to find, so most growers use several different techniques to control the growth of regular onions.

Planting onion seeds or bulbs closely together, using short-day onion varieties, modifying planting depth, and early harvest are common methods used to control the size of regular onions so they could be sold as pearl onions. 


The pearl onion is a variety of bulb onions with a distinctively mild and sweet flavor. Pearl onions are mostly grown in Europe and can be tricky to find in the USA. 

Most commercially sold pearl onions are in fact regular onions. These onions are grown in a slightly different manner to achieve a smaller size and milder flavor associated with pearl onions.

If a recipe calls for pearl onions and you don’t have any at home, use frozen pearl onions instead. Frozen pearl onions are available at grocery stores all year round and can be used as a replacement for pearl onions in any recipe. 

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