Pearl onions are a type of small onions that acquired their name due to their lustrous appearance. However, pearl onions are not always white like pearls, but they can also be red or brown.
They are often used in soups and sauces as well as gratins, casseroles, salads, pasta, roasted meats, and many other dishes. They can also be fermented or used in mixed drinks. They’re a versatile ingredient in the kitchen because of their subtle, sweet flavor.
Pearl onions are not commonly available everywhere and are sometimes difficult to find. Here are some of the best pearl onions substitutes that you can easily find and use at home.
- Frozen Pearl Onions
- Canned Pearl Onions
- Brown Onions
- White Onions
- Red Onions
Besides those above, there are also a few pearl onion replacements that are quite close in flavor.
Hence, it would be a good idea to find out which ones are good enough for you to enjoy almost the similar results.
16 Best Substitute For Pearl Onions
Pearl onions are less acidic than other types of onion due to their somewhat sweet flavor.
This is also one of the reasons why pearl onions are often used to treat fungal infections, chest infections, stomach infections, and other ailments.
Some of their best substitutes for cooking include shallots and white onions. Of course, it is best if you can get your hands on frozen pearl onions or canned pearl onions to get the taste as close as possible.
Frozen Pearl Onions
Frozen pearl onions are a convenient option to use when fresh pearl onions are out of season. They are easier to have on hand than fresh ones since you can find them in the frozen veggies and fruits section of most grocery stores and supermarkets.
They are not only easily available, but they are also easy to use. No need for defrosting and peeling. All you need to do is to toss them in the pan and mix them with your ingredients.
Frozen pearl onions are best served in soups, stews, and casseroles. But you can also use them in your salads if you wish to. Just thaw them out at room temperature before serving.
Canned Pearl Onions
Just like frozen pearl onions, you can also buy canned pearl onions in grocery stores and supermarkets. These ones are a perfect substitute for fresh pearl onions, especially if you are always in a hurry or you don’t have time to go to the market.
Canned pearl onions also last longer because they may have added preservatives in them. Due to this, you should be careful when adding them to your dish as they can be extremely salty.
Shallots are the closest ingredient to onions in terms of taste and aroma, which is why they are one of the best substitutes to use if pearl onions are not available.
The flavor of fresh shallots is delicate, sweet, and somewhat crisp. They’re great in vinaigrette dressings, sauces, soups, and stews because they pack a punch of flavor.
Pearl onions have a higher level of sweetness than shallots. So, you might want to try adding a little sugar and vinegar to some of your recipes to balance all the flavors.
Brown onions are the regular onions that we mostly see in the market and grocery stores. Its distinct, well-rounded onion flavor is suitable for many cooking needs, thanks to its crisp white flesh and papery brown skin.
Brown onion, which is usually too pungent to consume raw, should be cooked over medium to medium-high heat to bring out its sweetness.
Actually, brown onions have a secret aspect that comes out when they’re sautéed. Their flavor changes dramatically from spicy, strong, and savory to mildly sweet, making them an authentic pearl onion alternative.
White onions are a perfect alternative to pearl onions not only because both are similar in color but also because of their similar flavor profile.
White onions are crisp and pungent. But as you cook and mix them with other spices, they become considerably sweet just like pearl onions.
White onions can be eaten raw or cooked. They are best consumed in soups, salads, roasted meats, veggies, stir-fries, and even in sauces.
Red onions are bigger in size and may be a little different in shape when compared with pearl onions. However, if you are not after these two factors, chopped red onions may be useful in mimicking the taste of pearl onions in your dish.
What’s more, red onions will also make your dish more appealing due to their colorful tints. When fresh, red onions may be a little bit strong and spicy but when cooked, they bring out a hint of sweetness that is significantly similar to pearl onions.
Leeks are similar to onions, especially in terms of flavor. When fresh, the white part is very light, crisp, and pungent. But when cooked, the burst of freshness, sweetness, and tang are all brought out.
Leeks become quite similar to yellow onions when they are warmed, making them a good substitute for pearl onions. They are best served in soups, stocks, and stews as well as sprinkled on top of certain dishes.
Leeks are related to pearl onions with their soft and sweet oniony flavor. Furthermore, they also come from the same cultivar as pearl onions.
Although they look different, they share the same common flavor. And since pearl onions and leeks belong to the same family and have a similar taste, you can easily swap them out in dishes that call for pearl onions.
Also known as scallions, green onions can also be used as an effective substitute to pearl onions. Green onions have a mild, crisp flavor that goes well with almost any food. Salads, soups, sauces, grilled or fried foods can all benefit from finely chopped green onions.
Green onions are technically similar to Pearl Onions. The only difference between them is that scallion bulbs are not fully developed and pearl onion bulbs are.
Green onion also has a milder flavor and a scent that is almost identical to shallots so it should not come as a surprise that they are linked. The green leaves of the scallions can be eaten fresh or cooked. It’s also one of the most versatile vegetables in the onion family.
Cocktail onions are basically onions that have been brined and pickled with spices. They have a subtle sweetness that is significant in balancing the rich flavors of a dish.
Cocktail onions have a higher water content compared to pearl onions, so they might have a milder flavor and a softer texture. However, when it comes to flavor, it is similar to that of pearl onions.
Cocktail onions are best used in salads, bread, and drinks. Just make sure that you cook them in only a few minutes over low fire since it melts faster than regular onions.
If you’re allergic to onions or prefer a milder flavor, Supasweet onions are a good option. Supasweet Onions are known for their subtle and sweet aromatic flavors, as their name implies.
You may use these onions fresh in salads and sandwiches. They’re not as pungent as typical onions, so they’re safe to eat even if your stomach is sensitive.
Another advantage of this type of onion is that, due to their light, largely sweet aroma, they do not provoke nearly as much sobbing as brown onions.
So, if the acidic side of onions bothers your stomach, you may substitute this tasty alternative in any dish that calls for pearl onions.
Cipollini onions are round and flat onions that have a strong onion flavor but a hint of sweetness in it. It can be split in half when cooking or it can also be used and served on dishes as a whole.
Compared to shallots and pearl onions, Cipollini is particularly sweet and soft, especially when cooked. It is actually the best onion type to use for slow-cooked dishes because of its high sugar content that is perfect for caramelization.
When creating an Italian dish like lasagna, try topping it with some chopped Cipollini onions for added texture and flavor.
The Caperberry derives from a similar shrub to the Capers, but it is allowed to mature into a fruit. In terms of appearance, Caperberries are different, although they may have the same size and color.
While pearl onions contain an unappealing stone that should be removed, the Caperberry has countless little seeds that are essential to its survival.
Caperberries have a pungent aroma and a strong, peppery, and salty flavor, which may not be exactly similar to pearl onions. But if you’re looking for something that could suffice for your recipe, this is a good alternative.
Caperberries are the fruits of the caper plant, and they are pickled with the stems. These berries have a strong or mild flavor similar to capers. They are also used in cooking and as a garnish. Overall, Caperberries are best served roasted, pan-fried, or fried.
Boiling onions are white onions that are twice the size of pearl onions. They have a sharp and spicy flavor when raw. When cooked, however, the harshness is diminished, and the flavor becomes milder and sweeter.
Boiling onions work well in both raw and cooked applications such as dry roasting, roasting, and slow cooking. They’re usually cooked whole and can be used in casseroles, alongside roasts, in pureed dishes, in soups, stews, stocks, fried foods, or on barbecues.
Chives and green onions may look different, but they have a somewhat similar taste. Chives are little green veggies with hints of onion and garlic flavor.
They don’t have a particularly harsh flavor, but when used in certain recipes, they impart a considerable kick that enriches a dish’s overall flavor.
Chives are also visually appealing due to their deep green color. However, if you want your meal to look like pearl onions, chives might not be the greatest choice. As a result, you should choose the white options instead.
Fennel bulbs, also commonly known as sweet anise, have a subtle licorice flavor. It is a popular vegetable in Europe, particularly in Italy and France. However, it should not be confused with herb anise, which is farmed for the seasoning seeds.
The feathery branches that grow above the bulb of fennel can be used as an herb to flavor soups and stews, just like dill. The large bulbous base is eaten fresh, thinly cut in salads, or sliced and cooked.
Fennel bulb has a sweet, aromatic, and anise-like flavor and looks like a cross between an onion and the base of a bunch of celery. However, rather than imparting a licorice flavor to meals, fennel gives them a fresh, crisp spring flavor, just like pearl onions.
Celery is a plant that’s usually found in wetlands and has been used as food for centuries.
If you enjoy greens, you must have a few celery roots on hand. Celery root has a similar feel to celery but cooks more quickly. If you have a recipe that calls for pearl onions and you don’t mind obtaining a slightly different flavor, use celery root instead.
You can even go straight for the carrot or celery stem if you only need a little flavor without the sweetness. To guarantee that the ensuing taste is to your liking, add only a little spice.
Maybe you’re wondering why carrots are included in the list but this vegetable does go well with delightful dishes. They can either be eaten fresh or cooked and they will still taste great.
Carrots are crunchy, smooth in texture, and have a subtle sweetness in flavor. They may be orange in color which is opposite to pearl onions but they can somehow add a distinct flavor to the dish that you are cooking. What’s more, carrots are full of vitamins and nutrients!
Carrots and onions are perfect in soups, stews, stocks, and even stir-fried foods. In cases where pearl onion is not available, carrots can suffice and still work wonders on your dish.