How to Peel Pearl Onions

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The quickest and easiest way to peel baby onions for all of those holiday dishes!

Purple and white pearl onions stacked on blue table.

Baby pearl onions are so, so charming. From the Thanksgiving classics of Creamed Pearl Onions (with or without peas!) to a nice tray of roasted vegetables, whenever pearl onions hit the table, they’re an instant (and adorable) crowd-pleaser.

The only problem is that they are a pain in the neck/fanny to peel. Yes, you can always opt for the bag of frozen peeled pearl onions, and for many purposes, that’s fine. But sometimes you want them fresh…without having to spend the better part of your day separating the peels from the onions.

Pile of red and white pearl onions.

Pearl onions are so charming in different dishes, but they are a pain in the neck to peel. Here’s an easy method for peeling pearl onions.

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What Are Pearl Onions?

Pearl onions are smaller than the average white, yellow, or red onion. They are usually around the same size as a large marble (or an eyeball, if you’re feeling spooky).

Pearl onions are called pearl onions because they look like pearls. Smaller and often rounder than regular onions, they’re like a cute, precious version of an onion. The most common variety is the white pearl onion, which makes these little guys seem even more like pearls. But they come in gold, purple and red, too. Despite the color of the peel, the taste doesn’t vary perceptibly.

What Do Pearl Onions Taste Like?

Pearl onions definitely still pack a punch when they’re raw, just like regular-sized onions, but they’re somehow even sweeter than whole onions when cooked. The layers of pearl onions are so thin that they practically melt away in your mouth when cooked right, with a sweet hint of onion, even when they aren’t fully caramelized.

How To Choose Pearl Onions

When picking which pearl onions to buy, choose firm onions. It’s important that they have papery skins, no sign of sprouting, and no mold or decay. Size doesn’t matter — in fact, the smaller the better!

Red and white pearl onions on a blue surface.

What Kinds of Onions Can Be Peeled?

This peeling trick works on all kinds of small onions, from pearl to Cippolini or Cippoline.

Cippolini onions are similar to pearl onions, though a bit bigger and sweeter. They are squattier in shape as well. If pearl onions look much like mini regular onions, cippolini onions look like mini Vidalia or other sweet onions. They grow in Italy and the U.S., and often accompany roasts, either cooked until they’re soft or pickled.

Cipollini Onions on a green board.
Cipollini Onions

How to Peel Pearl Onions

  1. Prep your workspace: 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.
Woman cutting the end off of a red pearl onion.
  1. Blanch the onions: Place the onions in the boiling water and boil for 2 minutes. Drain. Submerge the onions in the ice water and let sit, stirring with your hand once or twice for a few minutes until cool enough to handle.
Boiling pearl onions in large pot.
  1. Pinch the skin off: Use your fingers to pinch the stem end of the onions, and the skin will loosen and then slide right off.
Woman sliding the peel off of a red pearl onion.
  1. Cook: Use the onions in the recipe of your choice.

How To Cook Pearl Onions

Pearl onions can be prepared in a variety of ways. They can be braised, glazed, roasted, steamed, sautéed, stewed, or gratined. All of those preparations can make a holiday table feel extra complete.

Creamed Peas and Pearl Onions in yellow bowl.
Creamed Peas and Pearl Onions

How to Store Pearl Onions

Pearl onions can be stored in a cool, dry place for at least a month. Avoid storing them with potatoes or other vegetables since that can make them spoil more quickly.

FAQs

What’s the difference between pearl onions and regular onions?

Pearl onions are the smaller and cuter cousins of regular onions. Just like normal-sized onions, pearl onions also come in a variety of colors. On the whole, they’re sweeter.

Do you have to peel pearl onions before cooking?

Yes, you do — onion skin isn’t great for human stomachs. Luckily, the trick to take the casing off these little onions is quick and easy, and it’ll save you tons of time.

What to Serve With Pearl Onions

Creamed Pearl Onions
Creamed Pearl Onions

More Pearl Onion Recipes

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5 from 1 vote

How to Peel Pearl Onions

The quickest and easiest way to peel baby onions for all of those holiday dishes!
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 2 minutes
Total Time: 17 minutes
Servings: 8 people
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Ingredients 

  • 1 pound Pearl onions
  • Water (as needed)

Instructions 

  • 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.
  • Place the onions in the boiling water and boil for 2 minutes. Drain. Submerge the onions in the ice water and let sit, stirring with your hand once or twice for a few minutes until cool enough to handle.
  • Use your fingers to pinch the stem end of the onions and the skin will loosen and then slide right off.

Notes

Make sure to have the ice water ready before you add the onions to the boiling water.

Nutrition

Calories: 23kcal, Carbohydrates: 5g, Protein: 1g, Fat: 0.1g, Saturated Fat: 0.02g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.01g, Monounsaturated Fat: 0.01g, Sodium: 2mg, Potassium: 83mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 2g, Vitamin A: 1IU, Vitamin C: 4mg, Calcium: 13mg, Iron: 0.1mg
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About Katie Workman

Katie Workman is a cook, a writer, a mother of two, an activist in hunger issues, and an enthusiastic advocate for family meals, which is the inspiration behind her two beloved cookbooks, Dinner Solved! and The Mom 100 Cookbook.

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