Shallots Vs. Onions

Are shallots and onions the same? Can I replace shallots with onions in my meat recipe? Well, these are some common questions that come to mind, when using or purchasing either of them. Hence, the following article elucidates some basic similarities and differences between the two.
Tastessence Staff
Last Updated: Mar 5, 2018
The two most commonly used ingredients in different cuisines are shallots and onions. Many people consider them very similar and often use them as substitutes of each other in various recipes. Though these two ingredients are similar in many ways, most people fail to realize that they do have their own distinct tastes and textures.
  • Often considered to be another form of onion, shallot is a member of the family Alliaceae belonging to genus Allium and species A. oschaninii.
  • It has a pointed or tapered shape with a smooth texture and coppery brown skin.
  • Being native to Israel and other regions in the Mediterranean, initially shallot was named after an ancient city of Israel called Ascalon and was known as Allium ascalonicum. However, the plant was later introduced to other European countries by some reformists who brought it from Ascalon during the 12th century.
  • Shallot has a unique flavor of a sweet onion with a slight taste of garlic. It is commonly used to add flavor to different meat and vegetarian recipes.
  • The sulfur compounds absorbed from the soil by the shallots are responsible for bringing tears to the eyes. Upon being cut, these compounds diffuse in the air, and react with the saline solution in our eyes. This leads to the formation of a weak sulfuric acid that, in turn, makes us cry.
  • It is popularly used in Asian cuisine with some other seasonings like thyme, chervil, and tarragon. Many Thai and Indonesian dishes employ flavorings made from shallots. Beef, veal, fish, and poultry recipes are often prepared with shallots.
  • One of the oldest known vegetables, onion is another most commonly used ingredient in almost all culinary preparations. Like shallot, onion is a member of family Alliaceae belonging to genus Allium and species A. cepa.
  • The term 'onion' has been derived from a Latin word unio meaning single or one. It is scientifically known as Allium cepa, and unlike its cousin garlic has a fine texture with a brown, white or red, paper-thin skinned bulb.
  • Often known to bring tears in our eyes, onion cell contents upon being cut react to produce a sulfur-based gas, which on contact with the eye forms a fiery irritant, i.e., sulfuric acid. It also brings pungency to the breath. This versatile vegetable which has a sharp, spicy, tangy, or sweet taste is used in almost every type of food including cooked foods, fresh salads, and even as a spicy garnish.
  • Besides its culinary uses, onion is also loaded with vitamins and minerals, and therefore offers numerous health benefits like reducing blood sugar levels, improving cardiovascular health, helping in digestion, minimizing the risks of colon cancer, improving bone health, and reducing the severity of symptoms associated with arthritis.
Differences Between Them
No Shallots Onions
1 Like garlic, shallots grow as a cluster of bulbs from a single planted bulb. They grow as an individual mature bulb per plant.
2 They are elongated, yet short in comparison to onions. They are almost disc-shaped bulbs, and hence, they have a greater diameter when compared to shallots.
3 They are commonly referred as Allium ascalonicum and belong to species A. oschaninii. They are generally referred as Allium cepa and come from species A. cepa.
4 Their taste at times resembles that of onions, but they are milder and sweeter. On the other hand, onions have a sharp, spicy, tangy, pungent or mild, and sweet flavor.
5 They multiply by vegetative reproduction, and are easy to maintain and care. On the contrary, onions are seed propagated and demand more care and attention.
6 Shallots tend to grow faster than onions, but they do not have a long storage life. Onions, on the other hand, take more time to grow, but have a longer storage life.

No matter how different or similar they are, both have their own advantages and utilities in our culinary world.
Chopped and whole red onions on a cutting board with a knife
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Shallot onions
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Shallot onions
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Spanish Onions
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