Top 5 Green Onion Substitutes

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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Green onions are often preferred over regular onions because of their milder flavor. But what do you do when you don’t have any at hand? Fortunately, green onion substitutes are quite easy to find, particularly among plants and herbs that are closely related. Knowing the best green onion substitutes will ensure that your dish never lacks that special hint of flavor.

Green Onion Substitutes

Green onions are young onion shoots that have small green stalks and small bulbs. They are milder than fully matured onions and are often used as a raw topping on salads and dips. Green onions also add a refreshing crunch and color to entrees, casseroles, and soups.

Green onion strands piled together on a wooden background

Green onion is an excellent source of Sulphur which is beneficial for overall health. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Green onions are found in most grocery store produce sections. Sometimes you can find them labeled under scallions or spring onions. However, if your favorite grocer happens to be out, there are a few substitutions like chives, leeks, ramps, shallots, and onions that can save your dish.

Green onion is an excellent source of sulfur which is beneficial for overall health. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Chives

For garnishes and raw dishes, use fresh chives to substitute for green onions. Chives are thin and small like green onions but without the white bulb section. They are not quite as crunchy as green onions, but the taste is extremely similar.

To use: Use fresh chives and not dried ones as they are closer to onions in flavor. To use, just snipe the chives and add them to the recipe. These should not be cooked for a long period. It is best to use them towards the end of the cooking time or to top soups and stews.

Leeks

Leeks look very similar to green onions, but the stalks are much wider and leaf-like. However, they taste similar to full-strength onions and might overpower a recipe if you use too much. They are a good substitute only if you are using them in a cooked dish, where the flavors will be able to mellow and the stalks will soften.

To use: Trim the leeks by removing the tough base and the rougher upper green tops. Cut the leeks lengthwise and wash under running water. This will remove the dirt and grit that is often present between the layers. It is usually chopped and added at the beginning like onions.

Ramps

Ramps are wild leeks that are popularly foraged in the spring. They grow wild throughout Europe, Asia, Canada, and the Eastern United States, and many people consider the first ramps of the season to be a delicacy. Ramps have a very strong flavor of not only onion but also garlic.

To use: As ramps are strong, they should be used sparingly and to taste. They are not appropriate as a garnish but will work well in a cooked recipe or sauce. They are prepared much like leeks. Their taste is enhanced by vinegar. So, they are also perfect for pickling.

A bunch of wild leeks on a white background

A bunch of wild leeks Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Shallots

Shallots are smaller onions that have a milder, sweeter flavor. When being used in place of green onions, a small amount of minced shallot will not overwhelm the recipe. They are usually used as substitutes in cooked dishes. Raw shallots are quite pungent.

To use: Shallots are usually minced and added towards the start of the cooking. They are not typically used as garnishes or topping.

Onions

White, yellow, or red onions can work as a final resort but use sparingly. The reason onions are not as effective is because they are substantially stronger than green onions. They are more pungent and have a stronger flavor. Do keep in mind that these won’t work as a substitute for the leaves of the green onion.

To use: Mince them very finely, and use with discretion. The bite of raw yellow or white onion can easily overpower a dish if too much is used. Red onions are sweeter and more mellow, and if you are using them for a garnish on tacos or in salsa, they are a better choice. Most recipes will ask you to slice them thinly.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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