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All About Pearl Onions

Pearl onions are marble-sized, ranging from 1/4-inch to 1 1/2-inch in diameter, and are typically found loose or in netted bags at grocery stores.

These small onions come in a variety of colors, with white-skinned being the most common, as well as gold and red-skinned varieties available. The pearl onion is a close relative of the leek and can be distinguished from common onions by having only a single storage leaf, similar to cloves of garlic.

When it comes to cooking, pearl onions are often used for their mild flavor and delicate texture. They can be incorporated into a wide variety of dishes, from simple side dishes to more elaborate main courses.

Read on to learn all about the pearl onion—from cultivation to cullinary applications!

Overhead close up view of colorful red, yellow and white pearl onions

Types of Pearl Onions

Pearl onions, also known as button or baby onions, come in a few varieties which are mainly distinguished by their skin color:

  • White-skinned pearl onions: These are the most common type. They have a mild taste, which makes them suitable for many dishes and can be used in cooking without overpowering other flavors.
  • Golden-skinned pearl onions: They have a slightly stronger flavor compared to the white variety but are still relatively mild. They can also be used in various recipes, including stews and braises.
  • Red-skinned pearl onions: This variety has a more robust flavor than both the white and golden varieties. These onions are often used in pickling, where their vibrant color adds visual appeal.

Planting and Cultivating Pearl Onions

Keep in mind that these onions can grow to the same size as regular onions, so spacing your onions closer together and harvesting early will help to keep them small and flavorful. 1.5 to two inches apart is plenty depending on what final size you’re aiming for.

Choose a spot with six or more hours of direct sun per day and soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.5.

Planting Seeds

Plant pearl onion seeds about a quarter of an inch below the soil.

Planting Transplants

Pearl onion sets and transplants should be planted about an inch and a half below the soil.

Growing Pearl Onions

If you use fertilizer, choose a 21-0-0 type. Pearl onions need about an inch of water per week to grow properly.

Harvesting Pearl Onions

If you let them stay in the soil more than 90 days, they will grow past the “pearl onion” phase. For optimal pearlish size, harvest within the 60-90 day window.

Nutritional Benefits

Organic Raw Yellow Pearl Onions Ready for Cooking

Pearl onions are a great source of macronutrients, providing essential vitamins and minerals that help keep the body functioning properly. They are low in calories but high in fiber, so they can help promote healthy digestion and weight management.

It is well-known that pearl onions are beneficial for cardiovascular health as they contain significant amounts of flavonoids. These natural plant substances are effective in supporting heart health and preventing chronic conditions. Incorporating pearl onions in your diet can provide long-term benefits for your heart.

Another important aspect of pearl onions is their ability to stabilize blood sugar levels. Consuming them regularly may assist in maintaining steady blood sugar, which is essential for people with diabetes or those at risk of developing the condition.

Pearl onions are also rich in antioxidants. These compounds neutralize free radicals, which can cause damage to cells and lead to chronic diseases. A diet that includes pearl onions may provide an added layer of protection against oxidative stress.

Moreover, the anti-inflammatory properties of pearl onions can help reduce inflammation and alleviate symptoms of various inflammatory conditions. By including these tasty bulbs in your diet, you can enjoy the multiple health benefits they offer.

Culinary Applications

baby green peas with pearl onions vegetables

Pearl onions are small, sweet, and versatile onions that make a delightful addition to a wide variety of dishes. With their marble-sized diameter and unique flavor, pearl onions can be incorporated into numerous recipes as well as prepared as a standalone side dish.

Soups and Stews

In the realm of soups and stews, pearl onions are a popular ingredient due to their mild sweetness and ability to add depth of flavor. They can be used in classic recipes such as French onion soup or slow-cooked in hearty stews like beef bourguignon, where the onions become tender and delightful.

For a lighter preparation, they can also be included in vegetable soups, combining well with ingredients like carrots, potatoes, and peas.

Side Dishes

Pearl onions also work wonderfully as a side dish, either roasted in the oven with other vegetables or caramelized on the stovetop with a touch of balsamic vinegar or wine.

Roasting pearl onions gives them a slightly crispy exterior and a soft, melt-in-your-mouth interior, which can be an excellent companion to a juicy steak or roasted chicken.

For caramelizing, simply toss peeled and halved onions in a pan with butter or oil, and cook them slowly until they’re golden and slightly caramelized. This creates a delicious, sweet accent to any main course.


In addition to their use in savory dishes, pearl onions can also bring a unique twist to cocktails. Pickled or brined in a tangy vinegar solution, they become a popular garnish for classic drinks such as Martinis or Gibsons.

The pickling process helps balance the natural sweetness of the onion with the acidity of the brine, offering a delightful contrast in flavors when sipped alongside the cocktail.

Peeling and Preparing

Whole Pearl Onions on Cement Cutting Board on Cement Countertop

Blanching Technique

The easiest and most efficient method to peel pearl onions is by blanching them. First, bring a large pot of water to a boil. While the water is coming to a boil, trim off the root ends of the onions. Prepare a large bowl of ice water as well, which will be needed after boiling.

Place the onions in the boiling water and boil for 2 minutes. Immediately drain and then transfer the onions to the ice water to cool them down quickly. This process will help loosen the outer papery skin, making it easier to peel off1.

Peeling Tips

Once the onions have been blanched and cooled, it’s time to peel them. Follow these steps for efficient peeling:

  1. Set up your workspace: Use a sharp knife and a clean, sturdy cutting board. The sharper the knife, the easier it will be to peel the onions2. If your cutting board feels like it may slip out of place, try placing a damp kitchen towel underneath it.
  2. Grip the onion: Hold the onion firmly between your fingers and thumb, with the root end facing towards your palm.
  3. Remove outer skin: Discard the papery skin, which should now easily slip off. If any skin remains attached, simply use the edge of a paring knife to help remove it.
  4. Repeat: Continue this process until all of the pearl onions have been peeled.

Now your pearl onions are ready for cooking and can be used in a variety of tasty recipes.

Storage and Preservation

Storing and preserving pearl onions can significantly extend their shelf life and maintain their taste and texture. This section will discuss refrigeration and pickling methods for pearl onions.


Storing pearl onions in the refrigerator is an effective method to keep them fresh for longer periods. To refrigerate pearl onions:

  1. Peel and rinse the onions thoroughly.
  2. Pat the onions dry with a clean towel to remove any excess moisture.
  3. Place the pearl onions in a tightly sealed container or plastic bag.
  4. Store the onions in the refrigerator within the temperature range of 45-55°F. Proper refrigeration can help keep the onions fresh for up to two weeks.

It is essential not to store pearl onions in a completely sealed container, as they require some air circulation to maintain their freshness. Instead, use a container with some air holes or a breathable bag.


Pickling offers another method for pearl onion preservation. Pickling allows the onions to be stored for an even longer duration while adding a tangy flavor. Here’s a simple pickling recipe:


  • 1 pound pearl onions, peeled and rinsed
  • 1 ½ cups white vinegar
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (optional)


  1. In a large pot, combine vinegar, water, salt, and sugar (if using). Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally until the salt and sugar dissolve.
  2. Add peeled pearl onions, lower the heat and simmer for two minutes. Remove from heat and allow the mixture to cool.
  3. Transfer onions and pickling liquid to a sterilized jar, leaving a ½ inch headspace. Seal the jar tightly and refrigerate.
  4. For the best flavor, allow the pickled onions to marinate in the refrigerator for at least two to three days before consumption. Pickled pearl onions can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two to three months.

Where to Buy Pearl Onions

If youd like to grow your own pearl onions from seeds, try these pearl onion seeds.

To start with bulbs or sets, this pearl onion sets variety pack is a great option. These fresh pearl onions are perfect for cooking right away. And if the idea of onions in a cocktail is intriguing to you, grab a jar of cocktail garnish pearl onions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can pearl onions be eaten raw?

Yes, pearl onions can be eaten raw, but they might have a stronger flavor compared to their larger counterparts. Make sure to peel the onions before consuming them, as the outer skin is not edible.

What dishes are pearl onions commonly used in?

Pearl onions are commonly used in a variety of dishes, such as coq au vin, beef bourguignon, and pickled onions. They can also be added to stews, casseroles, and potpies, providing a delicious burst of flavor and texture.

How to store pearl onions?

You should store pearl onions in a cool, dark, and well-ventilated area, just like regular onions. It is important to keep them away from moisture and heat, which can cause them to spoil faster2.

Are there different types of pearl onions?

There are different types of pearl onions, including white-skinned, gold-skinned, and red-skinned varieties. They all have similar flavors, but their colors may vary3.

What is the nutritional value of pearl onions?

Pearl onions are low in calories and high in nutrients, such as fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin K. They also contain antioxidants, which can help support overall health.

Though they provide many health benefits, it is important to consume pearl onions in moderation, as they can contribute to digestive discomfort if consumed in large quantities.

Wrapping up Pearl Onions

With a huge flavor kick for their petite size, pearl onions pack a punch in any stew or rustic dish. They’re easy to plant and you can harvest them sooner than most other types of onions, so you can get to cooking with them as quickly as possible.

Enjoy growing and cooking with pearl onions! For more about onion types and growing tips, check out our onion hub page.