Best Pearl Onion Substitutes: Versatile Options for Cooking and Garnishing

Pearl Onions are small onions, also known as baby onions and silverskin onions. Heavily cultivated in Europe, they are popular for various dishes and uses. If you need a pearl onion substitute, read on to find out the best alternative for any situation.

What Are Pearl Onions?

White Pearl Onions

Pearl Onions are a small onion that is widely cultivated in Western Europe. They are sweeter than other onions, making them popular in soups, stews, and casseroles. In America, they’re a common ingredient in succotash and one of the most common onions used for pickled onions. They also make excellent onions for relishes of all kinds.

You can find red, white, or brown pearl onions in the store, with the red varieties being milder than the white or brown varieties. However, the most common and popular varieties are white pearl onions.

They’re typically around 1/4-inch to 1 1/2-inch in size, making them a popular ingredient when sautéed (fried) and other ingredients.

Substitutes For Pearl Onions

While pearl onions are most used for pickling, there are many reasons that you might require a substitution for them.

SubstituteTasteGood For
Vidalia OnionSweetSalads, Garnishes
ShallotsSlightly sweet, subtleSlow-cooking, Sautéeing, One-pot recipes
Cipollini OnionMild, SweetSoups, Stews, Sauces, Pickling
Frozen Pearl OnionSavory, sweetPickling, Sautéeing, Soups, Stews

1. Vidalia Onions

Vidalia Onions are both yellow onions and sweet onions. With large, round bulbs, these onions can be substituted for pearl onions in salads, relishes, and other non-cooked recipes.

They’re large onions, so they won’t work for pickling. However, when it comes to taste, they’re not as sweet as some varieties of sweet onion. Giving a similar level of sweetness and subtle hints of savory, all meaning the flavor is rich and delicious.

As with many sweet onions, the Vidalia onion is grown in shallow soil, giving them a higher water content and crunchiness. This means that Vidalia onions and pearl onions have a similar satisfying bite.

One problem with this option is that they’re not always widely available since they can only be produced in the State of Georgia, USA. They’ll work well for most ‘raw’ food situations if you can get them.

2. Shallots

Shallots make an excellent alternative for sautéeing, adding a mild and delicate sweetness that makes them a favorite for making stocks and bases for stews and more.

In fact, shallots are a suitable cover option for most sweet onions in slow-cooked dishes such as soups, casseroles, and so on.

You can use 1/2 a shallot for each pearl onion that you would use.

3. Cipollini Onions

If you want something more robust, with a better, more intense flavor than shallots for stews, curries, and casseroles like succotash, then consider cipollini onions.

Cipollini onions are an ideal substitute for pearl onions to provide a similar sweetness and aromatic taste to your dish.

These onions are small, with ‘squashed’ looking bulbs, and range in appearance from yellow to a rich golden brown.

However, they’re still not as small or marble shaped as pearl onions, making them a tricky proposition for pickling unless you’ve got a large jar that can fit a larger number of them in.

You can use roughly half a cipollini onion for two pearl onions in your cooked recipes.

4. Frozen Pearl Onions

Widely available in grocery stores, you can purchase frozen pearl onions in large quantities. They’re also pre-peeled, which explains their popularity.

These make a good substitute for regular pearl onions for most uses, especially pickled onions. It’s difficult to find similar-sized onions for pickling, making them the ideal alternative to fresh pearl onions.

You can use them in equal amounts for all recipes, so it’s a 1:1 swap.


Pearl onions are a unique and popular onion for pickling, cooking, and more. It can be difficult to find an exact alternative for them in every situation, but if you use one of the options above, you’ll find the best pearl onion substitute for any dish.

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