Small, onion-like and mild, shallots are often used as a base flavour in dishes that require something more subtle than onion or garlic. These sweet, delicate alliums are most often associated with French cuisine, but it is actually thought that they were first grown somewhere in Central Asia. They can be found in a variety of Asian dishes, and are particularly popular in Thailand.
The shallot is an onion cultivar, which means that the two are technically the same species, but shallots have been selectively bred to produce something different. Like other onions, they come in a range of colours, from golden brown to red.
Shallots vs. onions in general
Shallots are milder and sweeter than regular yellow or white onions, with a touch of sharpness and a hint of garlic. They lack the pungent intensity and heat you get from an onion. This makes shallots particularly well suited to raw dishes like salads and dressings, where onion could risk overpowering everything.
You can substitute shallots for onions in your cooking, particularly if you’re looking for a milder flavour. Remember to replace like for like volume, rather than substituting one shallot for one onion, though, as onions are significantly larger than shallots. Shallots also tend to be more delicate, with finer layers, so if you’re substituting an onion, it’s a good idea to dice it finely.
Shallots vs. green onions (AKA scallions)
Green onions, or scallions, can be either immature onions, harvested before the bulb is formed, or varieties of onion that never form a bulb. Both the green and the white parts are edible, and both are roughly the same width, with little or no swelling of the white part at the bottom. Green onions are very different to shallots in appearance, and in terms of flavour, they are even milder, lacking the delicate bite and sweetness of a shallot.
In Australia, green onions are often referred to as shallots, while shallots are called eschalots, so if you’re following an online recipe, it’s worth checking where it was written before you buy your ingredients.
Shallots vs. spring onions
Spring onions are very similar to green onions, and the two are sometimes referred to interchangeably. True spring onions, however, while still far from fully-grown, have a small but definite bulb. They are both stronger and sweeter in flavour than green onions, making them a closer match to shallots.
Shallots vs. red onions
Red onions are significantly larger than shallots, with a distinctive purple-red colouring. They are generally milder than white onions, and are often eaten raw, but their flavour is still far more pungent and spicy than that of a shallot.
Shallots vs. pearl onions
Another smaller, sweeter variety of onion, the pearl onion is often used for pickling or as garnishes for cocktails. It is fairly similar in flavour to a shallot, but without the hint of garlic.
Try the mild, sweet flavour of shallots for yourself with these delicious recipes.
You should store shallots in the same way you would onions: in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place. Moisture can cause rotting, so you should keep whole onions or shallots away from the humid environment of the fridge, instead storing them in a mesh bag or open basket in a cellar. Both are typically cured to remove excess moisture before they are sold, helping them to keep for longer.
Once peeled, however, shallots and alliums should be kept in an airtight container or sealable bag in the fridge. If they have been peeled only, they should keep for up to 2 weeks, and up to 10 days if they have been sliced. Once cooked, they will keep for a further 3 to 5 days only.