30 July 2022

The 11 best pearl onion substitutes for your recipes

By Killian

Pearl onions, also known as scallions, are usually presented in dry form, and have numerous uses in the kitchen. Although the “pearl” attribute is commonly associated with the color white, pearl onions can also be red or brown, but not as commonly.

However, if you can’t find pearl onions at your local grocery store, that doesn’t mean you have to change the entire recipe. A good substitute for pearl onions it will give you similar results in all your cooked dishes and salads.

If you are looking for one suitable alternative to pearl onionread on to discover the best options.

The best pearl onion substitutes

We already know that many cooked foods, including various types of stews, meat-based dishes, and soups, would not be the same without onions. Onion is a basic ingredient in all kinds of diets and cuisines, and it is difficult to replace it.

Luckily, there are many varieties of onion to choose from, and they are quite interchangeable. It depends on your personal preferences and the flavors you like to achieve in your kitchen.

When it comes to pearl white onions, in particular, they tend to taste a bit sweeter and milder than regular size white onions. They’re also not as hot and spicy, making them a great alternative for people who can’t handle the depth of flavor of other types of onions.

If you don’t like fresh onions, you’re sure to love canned pearl onions. These little onions make a beautiful garnish and are an amazing addition to any salad, sandwich or snack. They will add just the right amount of crunch and heat.

Also, if you are sensitive to the heat and aroma of onions and find it difficult to peel and dice them for your dishes, you can expect pearl onions to be milder in this regard. However, they can be quite tricky to peel, considering their shape and size.

When peeling pearl onions, it’s best not to rely on the techniques and methods you normally use to peel an onion. It will probably take you a lot of time and effort. All you have to do is bring a pot of water to a boil and add the onions.

Let them sit in the boiling water for about 30 seconds, then remove them from the pot and add them to a bowl filled with water and ice. After a couple of minutes, you can proceed to peel them effortlessly, as the skin will practically fall off.

In case you don’t have pearl onions and don’t feel like shopping, here are some ways to substitute these little white onions in your kitchen.

1. Frozen pearl onions

The most obvious solution when looking for a substitute for pearl onions would be frozen pearl onions. Although many people assume that frozen vegetables tend to lose their crucial nutrients and are not as good as fresh produce, this is actually a common misconception.

For example, it is better to use frozen vegetables than fresh if they are out of season. This way you make sure that you are buying a quality and delicious product. Also, frozen pearl onions are very easy to use.

For most of your dishes, you won’t even have to bother defrosting the onions. Just put them in the pan and stir them for a couple of minutes until they have released the excess moisture. For salads and garnish, we do recommend thawing them at room temperature.

2. Canned pearl onions

If you need a quick fix, canned pearl onions are a good substitute for frozen pearl onions. They’re just as easy to use as there’s no peeling involved, so you can skip the whole peeling process we’ve talked about.

Plus, with canned pearl onions, you don’t have to think about defrosting the onions one way or another – they’re ready to use right away! Of course, they will often be in some type of marinade, so keep that in mind when using them in your recipes.

Be sure to taste them before adding them to your dishes, as they can often be quite salty or acidic, which could affect the flavor profile of your dish. If you want to get rid of these flavors, simply rinse them under cold water.

3. Shallots

Although shallots are practically not onions, they taste, smell, and cook similar to onions. Unlike pearl onions, shallots are elongated and their flesh is usually purple, while their skin is pinkish and reddish.

Shallots are a good substitute for pearl onions, as they are noticeably milder than most onions, just like pearl onions. Its flavor is rather sweet, but they provide the dose of sourness and spiciness that you need for your onion-based dishes.

Another difference between shallots and onions is that their texture is softer, which allows them to cook faster and caramelize better. They are also a great option for salads, just like pearl onions.

4. Cocktail Onions

Cocktail onions are a great substitute for frozen pearl onions if you are looking for a quick and convenient solution. Also, you probably don’t want to bother peeling the onions. They are essentially pearl onions, but seasoned and pickled.

In addition to pearl onions, many people pickle other types of onions, such as crystal wax onions. However, you can find varieties like red onion in this type of brine. Keep in mind that cocktail onions tend to be sweeter and more seasoned than canned ones.

In addition to being used in cooking and salads, cocktail onions are popularly used as a garnish, especially in cocktails, hence the name.

5. Boiled onions

Boiled onions offer pretty much everything you’d want in a substitute for pearl onions. They are small (not as small as pearl onions) and their texture is softer when cooked. Its flavor is certainly more on the sweet side than on the spicy side.

The name boiled onions comes from the fact that they are usually used whole. They are added to stews, soups, salads and just about any dish without chopping or dicing. Unlike chopped onions, this is how they retain their structure and texture.

When peeling the boiled onions, we suggest the same method as with the pearl onions. Boil them for no more than 30 seconds, then add them to a bowl of ice and water and let them sit for a while.


These onions are a real hit in Italy, but they are also used in other cuisines. Like pearl onions, they have a characteristic sweetness, making them an ideal choice for caramelizing.

Plus, you’ll love cipollini if ​​you tend to avoid the over-the-top, spicy flavor of other popular onion varieties. Like pearl onions, they can be used raw, cooked, caramelized, or pickled, depending on your preferences.

They go well with all kinds of meat and fish, as well as seasonings and sauces. When buying cipollini, just like any other type of onion, be sure to choose firm bulbs with no soft spots or damage.

7. Green onions

Green onions, also known as chives, are basically young onions harvested before the bulb has fully formed. Actually, they can come from different varieties of onion, but in all cases, the bulb has not yet formed.

Although they can be a bit spicier than pearl onions, they are still milder and more subtle than regular “regular size” onions. Although the white part of green onions is used like any other onion, the green part should not be thrown away as it also has many uses.

The chopped green part of these onions can be used in all kinds of sauces, condiments and cooked dishes. It is also a great option to decorate the plate and finish off the meal.

8. Leeks

Although they may resemble green onions, they are actually very different in both texture and flavor. Compared to regular onions, they’re still on the milder side, but leeks tend to be more flavorful and aromatic than green onions.

However, when cooked, leeks release their unique and characteristic sweetness, which can contribute to any dish. Especially if you combine them with meat!

When used raw, they have much more heat and tartness, but this flavor is not overly dominant.

Leeks can substitute for pearl onions in everything from sauces and sauces to stews and soups. They are also a delicious option for salads and burger dressings.

9. Red onions

Red onions are not the best substitute for pearl onions when it comes to shape and size. However, if you need chopped onion for your recipe, you can get delicious results with red onions. In addition, they are very decorative due to their red, purple and pink tones.

Although they are certainly larger than pearl onions, red onions are considered medium onions, and their bulbs typically do not exceed 15cm in diameter.

Though hot and sometimes spicy, they offer the sweetness expected of a pearl onion substitute. It goes without saying that if you use them raw, you can expect the pungency and spiciness to be more pronounced.

10. Brown onions

When you imagine onions, the first thought that comes to mind is brown onions. Whenever we refer to onions as “regular” onions, this is the variety we have in mind, as they are the most common type of onion.

Although brown onions are certainly much larger than pearl onions, you can’t go wrong with them for any type of recipe. If you prefer its spicy and dominant flavor, you can use them raw. If you sauté or fry them, they will reveal another dimension of flavor, mainly sweet.

11. Super Sweet Onions

As the name suggests, super sweet onions are predominantly sweet, and much milder than brown onions and other similar varieties.

These onions can be used fresh in your salads and sandwiches. They’re not as acidic as regular onions, so they’re fine even if you have a sensitive stomach.

Another thing that people like about these types of onions is that they are not as tear-inducing as brown onions, due to their mild and mostly sweet aroma.

How to Choose a Pearl Onion Substitute

In case you need a similar option, and you don’t want to experiment, you can always resort to canned or frozen pearl onions. Cocktail onions are usually pearled but marinated onions, so keep in mind that there will be some seasoning.

The closest alternative to pearl onions in terms of size and flavor are boiled onions and shallots. Cipollini, on the other hand, are usually somewhat larger, but they still belong to the group of sweet onions, just like Supasweet onions.

With green onions and leeks, you’ll still get the mild aroma you’re looking for, and the green parts can be used in a wide variety of dishes, from salads and sauces to soups and sauces.

Lastly, red and brown onions don’t quite fit the box when it comes to size and shape, but they are extremely versatile and delicious solutions for just about any recipe you can think of. Keep in mind that red onions are sweeter than brown, especially raw.