The Best Pearl Onions Substitute (#3 You MIGHT HAVE NOW!)


You either love or hate onions; there’s no in-between! Personally, we love onions because of that subtle spice and crunch, giving any dish that kicks it needs. Plus, sautee onions with garlic, and your kitchen will smell like any foodie’s dream. If you’ve got none of these around, it’s high time you learn about the best pearl onion substitute!

While these small onions look cute, some of us have difficulty finding them in supermarkets. And if we do find pearl onions, they come at expensive prices, depending on your location.

But don’t fret if you want to cook using pearl onions, as you can use a replacement that will still work excellently.

Let’s talk about how you can replace pearl onion to complete your dish.

What factors do you consider when choosing a pearl onion substitute?

  • Canned or frozen pearl onions work best if you need something similar to onions. You can try using cocktail onions, essentially marinated cocktail onions, though the added seasoning can result in different flavors.
  • Boiling onions and shallots is another close pearl onion replacement in flavor and size. While Cipollini comes at a slightly bigger size, it’s part of the sweet onion group, like the Supasweet variety.
  • Green onions and leeks give you a mild aroma you want, with the green parts going well with salads, dips, sauces, or soups.
  • Red and brown onions aren’t the best pearl onion replacement in terms of size and shape, but you can use them in any recipe, thanks to their versatility! Note that red onions are sweeter than brown ones, especially when still raw.

What are the top 17 substitutes for pearl onions?

Interestingly enough, there are a ton of onion varieties available to use, each having slightly unique properties perfect for individual recipes. Pearl onions are a small onion variety we often find in recipes like sauces, stews, soups, or even in cocktails! Think of them as a hybrid of garlic cloves, as they look so similar to them.

As the name suggests, pearl onions are small, marble-sized onions. They measure about ¼ to ½ inch distance across. (*)

Thanks to the pearl onion’s gentle and sweet flavor, you can use it in a variety of dishes and beverages or even eat it entirely on its own if you really love onions!

Fun fact: There are different varieties under the pearl onion – White-cleaned pearl onions are normal, while gold and red-cleaned pearl onions aren’t as easily accessible. Its origins aren’t clear, but we believe they were grown in Europe first in the 1500s.

If you’re stuck looking for a replacement for pearl onion, we give you reasons not to… 16 reasons, to be exact. Please select the best pearl onion alternative based on these 16 options; we’re THAT complete!

1. Frozen Pearl Onions

Frozen pearl onions are the best and most obvious solution to replace pearl onion. Sure, people think frozen vegetables would lose their crucial nutrients and aren’t as delicious as fresh produce; they’re wrong!

There are instances where it’s better to use frozen vegetables, like when pearl onions are out of season. Plus, frozen pearl onions are easy to use to the point you don’t need to defrost them. Simply place them in the pan, stirring until they release their excess moisture. If you use it fresh for salads or garnish, defrost your pearl onions at room temperature.

2. Canned Pearl Onions

Like frozen pearl onions, canned pearl onions are another perfect pearl onion substitute. They are as easy to use as the frozen variety, and the best part is that we don’t need to peel them, an excellent advantage for those who HATE peeling onions!

Plus, when using canned pearl onions, you won’t have to worry about defrosting them since you can use these pearl onions immediately. However, they may have extra seasonings, tasting sour and salty, impacting your dish’s overall flavor. Because of that, we recommend rinsing canned pearl onions under cold water before using them to get the most authentic flavor you desire.

3. Shallots

Shallots come from the onion family, resembling a small, stretched onion. It has a milder flavor than pearl onions with a hint of garlic flavor. However, it is NOT onions per se, though they taste, smell, and cook similarly to our favored vegetable. (*)

Fresh shallots are fragile and delicate vegetables with an elongated shape and purple flesh with pink-reddish skin. Quite different from pearl onions, hey?

Even then, shallots are an excellent pearl onion alternative, especially if you want a slightly sweeter and milder flavor for your dishes. Just take into account shallots’ softer texture, which has them cook quicker and caramelize better. That’s why we recommend broiling shallots until they caramelize.

Use one medium-size shallot for every two stalks of pearl onions. You can use it in different recipes, especially salads!

4. Cocktail Onions

We love cocktail onions when replacing pearl onion if you need something quick and convenient. You won’t need to bother peeling them since they’re just seasoned and pickled pearl onions.

Just keep in mind cocktail onions are sweeter and have more seasonings than canned versions. Other than using cocktail onions in cooking or salads, you can use them as a garnish, particularly in cocktails.

5. Boiling Onions

Boiling onions are another excellent substitute for pearl onions. While they aren’t as small as the pearl onion, boiling onions take on a small size and have a softer texture once cooked. It’s also sweeter compared to the usual spicy and pungent flavor you expect from onions.

Why boiling onions? Because you use them whole in stews, soups, salads, or other dishes without chopping or dicing them. Compared to chopped onions, boiling onions keep their texture and structure.

If you want to peel boiling onions, do what you would with pearl onions. Boil them for about half a minute, and place them in a bowl with water and ice, allowing them to sit for a few minutes before peeling.

6. Cipollini

You might not have heard of the Cipollini, but it’s extremely popular in Italy! You can also find Cipollini in other cuisines.

Similar to the pearl onion, Cipollinis has a distinctive sweetness, making them suitable to caramelize. We also like how Cipollini doesn’t have that overbearing and pungent flavor some onion varieties have (though we appreciate that in certain dishes, too).

Like pearl onions, you can use Cioollini cooked, caramelized, raw, or pickled, depending on your recipe and what you prefer. This onion variety works excellently in different meats, fish, and even sauces or condiments.

7. Leeks

While we often interchange the terms leeks and green onions, they are very different in flavor and texture. When comparing them to regular onions, leeks still taste milder but are more aromatic and flavorful than green onions.

But once you cook leeks, they release a unique and characteristic sweetness that enhances any dish’s flavor, especially when combined with meat. You can also use leeks raw, having more pungency and spiciness. However, not to worry, the taste isn’t too dominant.

You can use leeks to replace pearl onion in virtually any scenario, such as sauces, dips, stews, soups, or even in salad and burger dressings.

8. Chives

Chives are an excellent pearl onion replacement as they are available all year long compared to the seasonal pearl onions. Moreover, chives taste delicate enough to use as a garnish with their pleasant flavor.

Chives’ flavors resemble garlic and onions, fitting most recipes to replace the onion’s complex taste. Use it in soups, vegetable stocks, salads, and more!

9. Brown Onions

Brown onions are one of the most common onion varieties. Though they are bigger than pearl onions, brown onions are incredibly versatile, and you can use them in any recipe that requires other onions varieties, including the pearl onion.

If you like a dominant and pungent flavor, use brown onions raw. But if you want a different dimension of flavor, a sweet one, then saute or fry these onions.

10. Green Onions

Green onions, also called scallions, are young onions harvested before the bulbs form completely. These can come from other onion varieties as long as the bulb hasn’t formed yet.

While scallions are more pungent than pearl onions, they still taste subtler and milder than your regular onions. You must use the white part of the scallions, but what do you do with the green part?

Please don’t throw the green parts away as they have numerous uses, too! Chop the scallions’ green parts for dips, sauces, condiments, and even cooked dishes. Before serving your dish, you can also use the green part as a garnish or décor for your plate.

11. Red Onions

Who knew how many colored onion varieties were there? We’ve got green, brown, white, and the infamous red onions! Unfortunately, red onions aren’t the best substitute for pearl onions in terms of shape and size, but their flavor and appearance make up for it.

We love the delicious results we get from red onions, and when chopped, we like the brightness it gives to dishes because of the red, pink, and purple hues.

Plus, while red onions are bigger than pearl onions, they aren’t too big. They only measure about six inches in diameter at most.

Moreover, while red onions are sometimes spicy and more pungent, they have the sweetness you’ll want from an alternative to pearl onion. That said, we recommend using red onions cooked. When used raw, it will taste spicier and more pungent.

12. White Onions

White onions are a personal favorite because it’s what we usually use for onion rings! These also make a fantastic pearl onion replacement as they have a similar flavor profile but with a more exciting flavor. That said, they have a slightly stronger smell, which may not fly for those with sensitive noses.

13. Supasweet Onions

As the name suggests, Supasweet onions are dominantly sweet. They also taste milder than other onion varieties, going well in salads and sandwiches when raw.

We appreciate the fact that Supasweet onions aren’t as acidic as other varieties, so you can enjoy them even if you’re prone to heartburn or acid reflux. If you aren’t a huge fan of the spicy, pungent flavor most onions have, then Supasweet onions are the best way to go.

14 Celery

Celery is another aromatic, tasty veg that works as a pearl onion alternative if you’re not a fan of onions. It’s an interesting alternative as it has a combination of strong yet mild flavors! However, they taste super different, and some people may not enjoy celery, so you’ll want to be wary of how much celery you add to your recipe.

Learn more: Celery Substitute: 14 Tasty Options For Cooking and Drinking

15. Carrots

Hate onions, or allergic? Then carrots are another good substitutions. These are orange root vegetables with different sizes, shapes, and textures than the pearl onion. However, you can find other colors like purple, red, white, yellow, and dark carrot cultivars.

You get sweetness from carrots without any spice or pungency. Combine its sweetness and earthiness; you can add even more carrots than what the recipe calls for with pearl onion. You also get a lot of health benefits when eating carrots as they contain lots of vitamins and nutrients.

16. Caperberries

Caperberries come from a similar shrub from, you guessed it, capers! It forms a fruit and resembles pearl onions. But remember, caperberries are NOT onions, having different flavors and slightly differing appearances.

While caperberries and pearl onions are similar in size and shading, the caperberry contains numerous little seeds and a mild er flavor. We recommend using caperberries if you want a milder flavor and more assortment in your dishes.

17. Fennel Bulbs

These are blossoming plant species from the carrot family, a tough and perpetual spice with padded leaves and yellow blossoms. While it’s native to the Mediterranean, it’s now broadly naturalized in various parts of the world. It’s very similar to onions, having a sweet taste, whether raw or cooked.

Use it in vegetable soups, sauteed vegetables, or various dishes that need pearl onions. Use a 1:1 ratio, but you may want to lessen the number of fennel bulbs added if it’s too strong.

Besides the ones on our list, you can also try using onion powder or garlic as a pearl onion replacement if you’re in an absolute pinch. These ingredients may not work as amazingly as the other alternatives mentioned above, but they pass in terms of adding flavor to recipes.

What recipes use pearl onions?

Pearl onions go well in numerous recipes, such as:

  • Creamy pearl onions
  • Pearl onions au gratin
  • Garnish a pearl onion in Gibson cocktails
  • Sauté with vegetables
  • Add with meat dishes
  • And many more!

Besides the recipes featuring pearl onions, you can cook and prepare this onion variety in so many ways. Braise, roast, pickle, glaze, caramelize or cook with them however you want to.

Fun fact: Like onions and other vegetables, the pearl onion has its own health benefits. Raw onions can lower cholesterol and thin blood, helping prevent heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. It also contains decent amounts of vitamins B6 and C, folate, and potassium!(*)

Frequently Asked Questions

Would you like to learn more about pearl onions and their substitutes? Check out the frequently asked questions below:

Wrapping It Up

We love onions’ versatility and variety, but we hate that we can’t use them all at the same time!

Jokes aside, we appreciate all kinds of onions, including the pearl onion. But if you can’t get this variety, you can never go wrong with an excellent pearl onion substitute like leeks, shallots, chives, and other onion varieties!

Did you find this article on the best pearl onion alternative informative? If so, let us know in the comments section below and check out our Best Common Vegetable Substitutes article at Nomspedia!

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