Shallots vs Onions: What’s the Difference

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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The debate over shallots vs onions has raged for generations, but there are some clear differences that separate these two vegetables.

What are Shallots and Onions?

Shallots and onions are both members of the Allium genus of vegetables, which includes things like garlic, leek, shallot, and garlic chives, among hundreds of other species. They are often used to replace one another in recipes, as they share many similar flavor notes. However, they are two distinct classifications of onions, and there are some important differences between them.

Shallots vs Onions

There are some nutritional differences between shallots and onions, despite their many similarities.

Different types of onions on a table

Different types of onions on a table Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Shallots

  • Unlike regular onions (spring onions), which grow from a seed, shallots grow in a cluster of bulbs, in a way that is very similar to garlic, except the “cloves” aren’t encased in an outer shell, as they are with garlic.
  • Shallots are significantly smaller than onions, and look as though an onion was elongated.
  • In terms of color, shallots can be reddish, gray or coppery, and tend to have a milder flavor than onions.
  • They are rich in polyphenolic compounds, vitamin C, potassium, fiber, and vitamin A, among others.

Onions

  • Onions have a more potent flavor than shallots, but a similar consistency and outer coloring.
  • Onions are good sources of vitamin B6, copper, dietary fiber, potassiumand folic acid, along with other sulfuric compounds and antioxidants.
  • Onions grow in layers, outward, around a central soft seed.
  • In terms of health benefits, they both provide antioxidant support, as well as stronger bones, blood pressure control, and improved digestion.

Substituting Onions for Shallots

When substituting onions for shallots, it is best to soak the onions for a few minutes in cold water, which can leach out some of the strong flavors of the onions. Shallots are milder, so if you are preparing a delicate recipe, using onions can overshadow the intended flavor. When replacing onions with shallots, your dish may lack the characteristic punch of onions.

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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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