What Is a Cipollini Onion?

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  • Written By: Suzanne S. Wiley
  • Edited By: Rachel Catherine Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 11 May 2020
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A cipollini onion is a small, disc-shaped onion used in cooking. The diameter of a cipollini onion ranges from one to four inches in diameter (2.54 to 10.16 cm), and the skin is white to light brown to red. They are sweeter than regular onions when cooked but are often grouped with other mini-onions like pearl onions, instead of being grouped with sweet onions like Vidalia and Maui. The name is pronounced with the stress on the second to last syllable: chi-po-LI-ni. These onions are becoming more common in gourmet grocery stores in countries like the United States, although they are still considered a fancy item and not a regularly stocked food.

Cipollini onions can serve as the main ingredient of a dish, rather than as just a spice or flavoring. Roasting, baking, sauteing and braising are possible cooking methods. Leaving the onion whole when cooking is very common, although slicing or halving is just as acceptable, depending on the recipe.

The skin of a cipollini onion is thin and very tough to remove and often require blanching, if a cook doesn’t have time to peel the onion by hand. Cipollinis can be too pungent to eat uncooked. Older cipollinis that have begun to sprout develop an even sharper taste. Any onions with sprouts that are more than just a tiny spot may be too old to eat. They are also known for causing lots of tears if preparation includes cutting them.

Autumn and early winter are when cipollini onions are most available. They should be firm and smooth, with no obvious spots of decay or mold. The coloring should be even, and areas with darker shades, especially toward the stem end, are a sign the onion is decaying. Cooks should store cipollini onions in a cool, dry area, preferably with Fahrenheit temperatures at most in the 40s. A cipollini onion can last for as long as six months if stored properly. Preserving and canning them are another way to store them, but cooks must use a water bath to process the cans or jars.

Like other onions, cipollinis are low in calories and contain minute amounts of vitamin C and calcium. They have about one gram of fiber per one-half cup (80 grams) of raw onion. Cipollinis also contain antioxidants, just like regular onions, which may work to prevent cardiovascular disease.


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