(Oct. 28) CARE: Pearl onions should be stored in cool and dry area at 50 degrees, away from misters, for up to one month. The product also should be kept away from fluorescent lighting, which turns the onions green.
NUTRITIONAL VALUE: Pearl onions are fat free, cholesterol free and sodium free. Two-thirds cup equals 30 calories.
AVAILABLITY: Year-round

Pearl onions are widely used for their sweet and mild onion flavor. Grown in California, Colorado, Idaho and Oregon, these bulbs were introduced in 1911.

Tristan Millar, director of marketing for Frieda’s Inc., Los Alamitos, Calif., says families of Belgian and Italian descent immigrated to California’s San Fernando Valley and brought with them pearl onions. Farmers throughout the West caught on and made pearl onions a commercial product.

These underground bulbs are about the size of a large marble and are widely used in many types of cuisine. These onions are covered in dry, papery skins that should be removed before cooking. When preparing the onions for meals, trim both ends.

VARIETY OF USES

Bob Hauver, vice president and general manager for Merex Corp., Yonkers, N.Y., says the majority of pearl onion consumption occurs in November and December for the holiday season. Consumers use them for stews, such as beef bourguignon, or they cream them for use in recipes that call for caramelized onions, he says. In the warmer months they are used in kebabs.

Merex provides Bon Campo products. The company provides all colors year-round packed in 12- by 10-inch vexar bags with recipes.

Jeff Arnold, produce manager for Food City, Kingsport, Tenn., one of 53 stores, says he uses a peg board to display pearl onions. The board is a 4-foot display where he hangs 10 packages of pearl onions in two rows on two-peg hooks. The pearl onions are placed below shallots and boiler onions.

Arnold says he sells four 6-ounce packages of pearl onions a week, which are typically priced at $1.99, but reduced to 99 cents on ad.

Mike Dixon, produce manager for the single store Archie’s IGA Plus, St. Maries, Idaho, says he has pearl onions hanging on a free-standing display next to a table of shallots and onions. He carries red, gold and white pearl onions in individual packages.

Dixon says he sells a dozen packages of pearl onions a week between the three varieties. He says pearl onions sell for $1.79 a bag or 99 cents on sale. He uses a simple 4-inch square sign that describes the product and gives the price.

HOLIDAY SURGE

“During the holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, we see a 20 percent increase in sales between pearl onions and shallots,” he says.

Larry Jung, buyer for Direct Ethnic Marketers Inc., Los Angeles, says that the white pearl onion is the most heavily produced, while the red and gold varieties are used for color in displays. The company provides recipe header cards.

Millar says pearl onions have a very mild flavor and can be boiled whole and added to soups, stews, salads and served as side dishes. She says Frieda’s pearl onions rank ninth in sales. She suggests retailers put pearl onions next to regular onions. Frieda’s carries red, gold and white pearl onions.

Advise consumers to look for pearl onions that are firm, heavy for their size and have dry, papery skins.