Pearl onions, also known as baby onions, cocktail onions, or button onions, are small-sized onions that add a pop of sweet, mild flavor to a variety of dishes.
Their size makes them a darling of pickling, roasting, and using them in stews and braises. But what if you can’t get your hands on these tiny, flavorful bulbs?
Maybe they’re out of season, not available in your local grocery store, or you’re seeking a different flavor profile or nutritional content. Fear not, this guide will introduce you to an array of substitutes that will work in place of pearl onions.
👅 Flavor Profile
Pearl onions have a sweet, mild flavor that becomes more pronounced when cooked. They hold their shape well during cooking, adding a charming aesthetic to dishes while contributing their unique flavor.
The texture of pearl onions is crisp when fresh and turns soft yet firm when cooked, offering a pleasant mouthfeel.
🔄 The closest replacements/substitutes
Shallots are one of the closest substitutes to pearl onions in terms of flavor. They have a delicate, slightly sweet flavor that closely resembles that of pearl onions. Use a 1:1 ratio when substituting. However, shallots are larger, so you’ll need to chop them to mimic the size of pearl onions. Their cooking time is also similar, but they may turn softer quicker due to their thin layers.
Another great substitute for pearl onions, cipollini onions are a bit larger but offer a similar sweet flavor. They have more sugar than pearl onions, which gives them a more caramelized flavor when roasted or fried. Use a 1:1 ratio for substitution.
While larger and stronger in flavor, red onions can mimic the sweetness of pearl onions when cooked. Use them diced or quartered, depending on your recipe. Their vibrant color can also add visual appeal to dishes.
The white lower portion of leeks can be a viable substitute for pearl onions. While they have a milder flavor, they can add a similar texture in dishes. Slice and wash them thoroughly before using.
White onions are a common substitute. They are larger and have a more potent flavor but become sweeter when cooked. Dicing or quartering them will best mimic pearl onions.
Sweet onions, like Vidalia or Walla Walla, can substitute pearl onions for their sweet flavor. They are larger, so adjust the amount used and cooking times accordingly.
Frozen Pearl Onions
Frozen pearl onions are a direct substitute, already peeled and ready to use. They might be slightly softer in texture once cooked, but their flavor remains pretty much the same.
⤵ Other substitutes
Boiling onions are just a bit larger than pearl onions and make a great substitute. They have a slightly stronger flavor and hold up well in cooking, making them ideal for roasting, pickling, or adding to stews. You can substitute them 1:1 for pearl onions.
The most common type of onion is a possible but less similar substitute. They’re larger and have a stronger flavor that becomes sweet when cooked.
A unique substitute, but in dishes where the onion flavor isn’t the star, garlic can be an interesting substitute bringing its own health benefits.
The white parts of scallions can offer a mild onion flavor, but they are more leafy and may not hold up as well in cooking.
💡 Tips and Guidance
To get the best results when substituting, consider the dish you’re making. In a slow-cooked stew, for instance, larger substitutes like white onions can be used as they have time to soften and meld with other flavors. In contrast, in a dish where the onions are served raw or pickled, milder substitutes like shallots or leeks might be preferable.
Remember, while these substitutes may not perfectly mimic pearl onions, they each bring their unique touch to your dishes. Embrace the opportunity to experiment and find new flavors you love!