Ever wondered what the difference is between onions, green onions, shallots, and scallions? Perhaps you’ve watched an episode of the Martha Stewart show and she told you that for a particular recipe shallots would be best. But what’s the difference? How do you know which one you’re really using? (Because, to be honest, I’ve seen labels mixed up more than once in a grocery store.)
Let’s start with the common onion, which is familiar to most of us. They produce large bulbs, usually in colors of white, yellow, or red. They’re multi-layered, and make you cry when you cut them.
True scallions are onions that do not form bulbs. They multiply by ‘bunching’. Bunching onions are true scallions. They grow long and straight, with plenty of green leaves above ground and a white root base underground.
Some people refer to immature common onions as scallions. Before the onion plant has formed the large bulb we’re all familiar with, it has a white area near the roots and long, green, hollow leaves. At this point, they look, and taste, just like scallions. So it’s reasonable to call them scallions. But in reality, they’re just immature bulbing onions.
Green onions, or onion greens, simply refers to the leaves of the onion plant, which some people prefer due to their milder flavor. My father used to eat green onions raw, dipped in a bit of salt, along with ‘bread and milk’ – a favorite family meal.
A shallot is a type of onion that divides, not in layers, but in bulbs or cloves underground, like a garlic. Each bulb is wrapped in papery outer layers, like those that cover a single onion, but without an outer skin that encompasses all the bulbs in one, as you see with garlic. Shallots taste like a mild onions, with a touch of the pungency of garlic.