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Pearl onion

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Pearl onion
Pearl onions and peas topping a crockpot dish
SpeciesAllium ampeloprasum var. sectivum or A. ampeloprasum 'Pearl-Onion Group'
Cultivar'Pearl onion'

The pearl onion (Allium ampeloprasum var. sectivum or A. ampeloprasum 'Pearl-Onion Group'),[1] also known as button onion, baby onion or silverskin onion in the UK,[2] is a close relative of the leek (A. ampeloprasum var. porrum), and may be distinguished from common onions by having only a single storage leaf,[3] similar to cloves of garlic. In French they are known as oignon grelot. One English-speaking reference also mentions the term petit poireau antillais.[4]

Cultivation and storage[edit]

Pearl onions are cultivated mostly in Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy,[5] usually in home gardens,[1] although formerly on a commercial scale.[4] They are mostly used for pickling.[6]


Pickled pearl onions.

Because of its uniquely small size and a taste sweeter than that of a common onion,[2][7] it has also been used in dishes ranging from mid-20th-century American casserole dishes such as succotash to sweetly flavored onion relishes in Indian cuisine. It can also be used in stews soups or sautéed (fried) with other vegetables.[8][2][9] It can also be used in cocktails such as "martini standing".[5]

Pearl onions are a staple to the cuisine of Northern Europe.[citation needed] Also in modern Europe they are used as a flowering plant, and in Israel as a cut flower.[4]

Pearl onions contain chemical compounds that have health benefits including helping cardiovascular health and stabilize blood sugar levels, and acting as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.[10][11][better source needed]

Common onions as a substitute[edit]

The majority of onions grown for pickling are common onions (A. cepa),[12] which are normally much larger, but are grown to a small size suitable for pickling by planting them so densely that each one has very little room to grow.[13] Common onions grown in this way are often referred to as "pearl onions" even though they do not belong to the same family as true pearl onions.[5]

White varieties of common onions grown in this way for pickling include Crystal Wax[5] and White Bermuda.[7] There are red varieties as well, which are milder in flavour.[10] Common onions grown from seed to produce small bulbs for pickling are ready to harvest in 90 days.[7] In their fresh state they can be stored for up to a month in a cool, dry, dark place.[10][11]

Cultural references[edit]

Larry Wall's yearly State of the Onion speeches about advancements in Perl programming, an allusion to the many layers of the language, are named as a pun both on the pearl onion and the U.S. president's State of the Union addresses.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b Fritsch, R.M.; N. Friesen (2002). "Chapter 1: Evolution, Domestication, and Taxonomy". In H.D. Rabinowitch and L. Currah (ed.). Allium Crop Science: Recent Advances. Wallingford, UK: CABI Publishing. p. 9. ISBN 0-85199-510-1.
  2. ^ a b c "Onion". waitrose.com. Retrieved 23 January 2017.
  3. ^ AVRDC - The World Vegetable Center. "Onion cultivation". Archived from the original on 4 March 2011. Retrieved 25 April 2011.
  4. ^ a b c "Parisian Onions". traveltoeat.com. 17 June 2012. Retrieved 23 January 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d Linda Griffith and Fred Griffith Onions, Onions, Onions: Delicious Recipes for the World's Favorite Secret ..., p. 126, at Google Books
  6. ^ Hanelt, Peter (2001). "Alliaceae". In P. Hanelt (ed.). Mansfeld's Encyclopedia of Agricultural and Horticultural Crops (except ornamentals). Berlin: Spring-Verlag. p. 2266. ISBN 3-540-41017-1.
  7. ^ a b c "Pearl Onions". cooksinfo.com. Retrieved 23 January 2017.
  8. ^ Pearson, Liz (21 December 2007). "SKINNING A PEARL ONION". saveur.com. Retrieved 23 January 2017.
  9. ^ Maister, Kathy. "How to Peel Pearl Onions". startcooking.com/. Retrieved 23 January 2017.
  10. ^ a b c "Pearl Onions". bonappetit.com. 6 February 2008. Retrieved 23 January 2017.
  11. ^ a b "Pearl onion nutrition selection storage". fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org. Retrieved 23 January 2017.
  12. ^ Fritsch, R.M.; N. Friesen (2002). "Chapter 1: Evolution, Domestication, and Taxonomy". In H.D. Rabinowitch and L. Currah (ed.). Allium Crop Science: Recent Advances. Wallingford, UK: CABI Publishing. p. 20. ISBN 0-85199-510-1.
  13. ^ Brewster, James L. (1994). Onions and other vegetable alliums (1st ed.). Wallingford, UK: CAB International. p. 212. ISBN 0-85198-753-2.