What Are Pearl Onions Called in the UK?

Pearl onions in a bowl

Pearl onions are small onions that are less than 3 cm in size and that are slightly sweeter than a white onion.

In the UK, pearl onions are known as either button onions, baby onions or silver skin onions.

Pearl onions are often used for pickling though they are slightly bigger than actual pickling onions and have a more delicate flavour.

Pearl onions are said to contain chemicals that can be beneficial for your cardiovascular health and your blood sugar levels as well as working as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory and they are widely considered a healthy onion choice.

Where Can I Buy Pearl Onions in the UK?

Supermarkets are the first place to look when on the hunt for pearl onions. They can be difficult to find, especially fresh ones.

You may find lots of pickled and jarred versions but then struggle to find fresh ones.

If your local supermarket can’t help, then it may be worth contacting a specialist greengrocer or visiting a fresh food market.


Do Pearl Onions Come Frozen?

Whilst pearl onions can be bought fresh, they are most often found in the freezer section of a supermarket.

Freezing the onions is a great way of preserving them and keeping them and makes them very convenient to use as they come already peeled and can be added as they are to dishes that require them.

Pearl onions and pickles

Are Shallots the Same as Pearl Onions?

Shallots are smaller than regular onions and milder in flavour, but they are bigger than pearl onions and have a slightly different flavour profile.

You can substitute shallots for pear onions and vice versa in a recipe but you might find that the seasoning and other flavours need adjusting accordingly.

If a recipe calls for chopped shallots, then whole pearl onions will suffice, and shallots should be chopped if replacing pearl onions.


Can You Substitute Boiler Onions for Pearl Onions?

Another type of small onion is the boiler onion. Both boiler onions and pearl onions are harvested before they are mature.

The boiler onion is less than one inch in size and usually just slightly bigger than a pearl onion.

Due to their size, they can work well as a substitute for pearl onion dishes that require the onions to be whole.


What Dishes Are Pearl Onions Used For?

Pearl onions have many culinary uses:

  • Roasted – Added to the bottom of a dish to help absorb and soften flavours
  • Glazed – Cooked whole with a balsamic dressing these make a delicious side dish
  • Pickling – The size and sweetness of the pearl onion makes them a great choice for picking whole in vinegar
  • In stews and casseroles – Added whole and frozen pearl onions will add great texture and taste to these hearty dishes.

In the UK, pearl onions can go by a variety of names and are often mistaken for other small onion varieties.

While a purist cook might be very clear on which onions suit which dish it is generally considered acceptable to substitute pearl onions with any of the other small onion varieties.