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16 Interesting Facts About Cipollini Onions

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With their small, flat, disc-shaped bulbs and sweet, mild flavor, Cipollini onions are a unique and tasty onion variety. Here are 16 fascinating facts you may not know about these flavorful alliums:

1. Their Name Comes from Their Shape

The name “Cipollini” comes from the Italian word “cipolla,” meaning onion. The “-ini” ending is a diminutive, referring to something small or little. So “cipollini” quite literally translates to “little onions.”

An apt name for these flat, coin-shaped bulbs!

2. They Originated in Italy

Cipollini onions hail from Italy. They have been grown there since at least the early 19th century. Certain regions of Italy, like Venice and Lombardy, are especially known for cultivating these special onions.

3. They Are Flattened Side to Side

Unlike most onion varieties, Cipollini bulbs grow flattened at the poles. Rather than rounding out evenly like globe onions, they flatten out on the sides, resulting in that signature disc shape.

4. They Can Be Anywhere from 1 to 4 Inches Wide

Cipollini onions span quite a range of sizes. At the small end, they may be only an inch or less across. On the larger side, they can reach 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Any onions under an inch wide may be marketed as “Cipollini Perle” (which translates to “Cipollini pearls”).

5. There Are Both Red and Yellow Varieties

a pile of beets

Cipollini onions come in traditional yellow as well as red-tinged varieties. Red Cipollini onions have all the great flavor of their yellow cousins, with a more colorful, lyrical appearance. They lend a striking pop of color to any dish!

6. Their Flesh Stays White

Regardless of whether they have red skins or yellow, Cipollini onions have crisp, white flesh on the inside. So they add mainly flavor and texture to recipes, rather than lots of allium color.

7. They Have Very Mild, Sweet Taste

Thanks to lower levels of the sulfurous compounds that give most other onion types their tear-inducing bite, Cipollini onions have a very mellow, sweet, almost fruity flavor.

This makes them perfect for eating raw in salads, pickling whole into onion rings, or caramelizing to sweet, buttery perfection. Their gentle sweetness shines through beautifully.

8. They Are Delicious Caramelized

Speaking of caramelizing these little beauties, it is one of the absolute best ways to enjoy Cipollini onions!

Their flat shape allows them to caramelize quickly and evenly. And their high sugar content means they develop an absolute luscious, buttery, candied flavor when browned that has to be tasted to be believed.

9. They Add Great Texture to Dishes

Due to their flattened shape, Cipollini onions have a notably high ratio of tender skin to flesh. When cooked just right so the skins soften but don’t toughen, they add fabulous texture contrast to any dish they garnish.

The mild sweetness of Cipollini onions also makes them a fantastic candidate for pickling and marinating.

Quick-pickled into tangy onion rings or marinated artfully in herbed vinaigrettes, they stay nice and firm while soaking up all the great flavors they are paired with.

11. They Can Be Hard to Peel

That lovely high skin-to-flesh ratio also means prep can be tricky with these little fellows. With so much tightly-clinging skin, cleanly peeling a raw Cipollini is tough work!

When cooking them whole or in wedges, it’s often easiest just to leave the skins on. If a recipe calls for peeled ones, consider quickly blanching them first to make the job easier.

12. They Are Seasonal

In most regions, Cipollini onions are at their peak from late summer through fall. But unlike many other onion varieties that store well for months, their thin skins mean they do not have a very long shelf life.

So enjoy these seasonal treats as a late summer specialty! Their limited window makes them even more special.

13. Cipollini Onions Are Allium Ampeloprasum

Botanically speaking, most Cipollini onions fall under the species Allium ampeloprasum. This makes them more closely related to leeks and other non-bulbing alliums than to traditional round bulb onions.

14. Not All Cipollinis Belong to That Species Though

However, there are some varieties of flattened, disc-shaped onions called Cipollini that fall outside that species. These may belong instead to the Common Globe Onion group, Allium cepa.

Most true Italian Cipollini onions are A. ampeloprasum. But some similar-looking hybrid varieties grown elsewhere typify A. cepa instead.

15. The Plants Themselves Are Decorative

With pretty white blooms blushed with purple, Cipollini onion plants are almost as ornamental as the onions themselves!

As spring-planted perennials, they will keep growing back year after year as long as winters stay mild. That makes them a great edible ornamental addition to any herb or flower garden.

16. Cipollini Onions Roasting Looks Like Edible Art

And saving the best for last…just look at how visually stunning a baking sheet of caramelizing Cipollini onions is!

With all those perfect flat discs neatly lined up, artistically browning and sweetening to candy-like perfection…they almost look too lovely to eat.

Luckily both their beauty and their fabulous, rich flavor are worth enjoying with your eyes and your taste buds alike.

So next time you spot those signature flat onion bulbs at the market, pounce on the chance to take home some Cipollini!

Key Takeaways:

  • Cipollini onions get their name from the Italian for “little onions,” thanks to their small, flattened shape.
  • Originating in Italy, they have a sweet, mild taste perfect for eating raw, pickling, or caramelizing.
  • Their thin, flat shape gives them a high skin-to-flesh ratio that adds great texture contrast when cooked right.
  • Seasonal through late summer and fall, they have a relatively short shelf life compared to storage onion varieties.
  • From the botanical group ampeloprasum, they are more closely related to leeks than traditional round onions.
  • With pretty blooms and a striking pattern when roasted, they can add visual interest as well as flavor to your kitchen!

Frequently Asked Questions:

Why do Cipollini onions look so flat?

Their unique flattened shape comes from how the bulbs grow wider side-to-side rather than evenly rounding out. The ends flatten together, forming that signature disc shape.

Can you substitute Cipollini for regular onions?

Generally, yes! Their mellower, sweeter flavor profile will change the dish some compared to stronger alliums. But they can be swapped in most recipes, just keep in mind they have a shorter cooking time.

How long do Cipollini onions last?

Only 2-4 weeks in general. Buy them as fresh as possible and use within a couple weeks before they start to spoil. Their thin skins don’t allow for long storage times.

Should Cipollini skins be removed before cooking?

Not necessarily! Leaving skins on when roasting or sautéing whole prevents losing flavor and texture. But for dishes requiring chopped/peeled onions, blanch them briefly first to easily slip off the skins.


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