(Allium cepa var. ascalonicum— Family Liliaceae)
Shallot, échalion, long onion, scallion
Shallots, or scallions, differ from other onions in that instead of having a single bulb, it divides into a cluster of smaller bulbs.
Grown from bulbs rather than seed, these little onions will continue to multiply generation after generation. When a “mother” bulb is planted, daughter bulbs form from it to go on to form their own offspring.
A shallot grows in segmented cloves like the garlic, but usually has only two or three segments per shallot. They can come in copper, gold, or grey papery skins and may have white, yellow, or pink-tinges flesh.
The grey variety, grown in France, is not usually found in North American stores. It has a thicker skin than other shallots and holds its shape well when cooked. It is widely used in French cuisine and in Thai and Vietnamese dishes.
Markets in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands overflow with a selection of gray, red-copper, and grape to plum coloured bulbs. Shallots are a source of vitamins A and C and folate.
Shallots were first described before 300 BCE by the Greek writer Theophrastus, who called them “askolonion”. Pliny, in the 1st century CE, wrongly concluded that it was so named because it came from Askalon (now Ashkelon in southern Israel).
The shallot actually originated much further east, probably in Asia reaching India before heading to the Mediterranean. The original Greek names sponsored all of the modern terms, including scallion – which used to mean shallot – spring onion, or any one of the bunching, green onions.
Generally speaking, shallots are milder tasting than other onions. The yellow-skinned varieties are larger and keep better while the red types are smaller, but have the best flavour.
The bulbs can be eaten raw or pickled, and the leaves used like spring onions; but browning makes shallots taste bitter.
One particular kind of shallot grown mainly in Ireland is the potato onion,
so called because it resembles a potato in shape. Shallots and potato onions are perennials, but can be treated as annuals by allowing them to grow and divide over the winter.
Shallots are hardy, mature rapidly, and good for growing in colder climates. They also tolerate heat and grow in poorer soils than common onions.
Potato onions are rounder than shallots, and their leaves grow together in one sheath, rather than individually like the shallot. Red, yellow, and white cultivars of both kinds are available.
Shallots, particularly such teardrop-shaped ones as Frog’s Legs and French Grey, are less pungent than potato onions; but have a more complex flavour tasting like a mild cross between an onion and garlic.
The subtle taste of the shallot makes it indispensible in haute cuisine, as well as other dishes, where only a hint of onion is desired. A regular onion is not a viable substitute. There are a number of different varieties, but the variation is mainly in colour, shape, and size, rather than in flavour.
Some varieties include the following:
can be sown early and produces heavy yields of moderate to large bulbs which are crisp, tasty, and stores well.
Creation is a seed-grown variety which is delicious, highly resistant to bolting (flowers early), and stores well.
Drittler White Nest is an old variety that produces tasty bulbs of variable sizes.
Giant Yellow Improved
has yellow brown skins and are consistently large and high-yielding.
is a mild-tasting shallot used in casseroles and salads. It is reliable and high-yielding, stores well, and produces good edible shoots.
Grise de Bagnolet
is a gray shallot that is not so widely available as the brown or red ones, but are prepared in the same way. It is highly regarded by the French and used in a variety of ways, lifting the ordinary to new heights.
Hative de Niort
is an extremely attractive variety with elongated pear-shaped bulbs with dark brown skins and white flesh.
is prolific and resistant to bolting. Its skin is dark reddish-brown and the flesh is strong and the texture firm.
Red Potato Onion is extremely hardy, having bronze-red skin and pink flesh. It is also a good keeper.
is a large and round with brown skin and pinkish-white, very flavourful flesh. The yields are high and it stores well, but it does have a tendency to bolt and should be planted from mid to late spring when conditions improve.
is a mild-tasting, vigorous, golden-yellow variety that is planted from late winter on. It stores well.
Bunching onions, spring onions, green onions, salad onions, scallions, Japanese/Chinese scallions, Welsh onion, winter onion, ciboules, negi, Tokyo negi, naganegi, nebuka (Japanese), da cong or tsung (Chinese) (A. cepa or A. fistulosum, plus crosses – Family Liliaceae)
Among members of the Onion family, it is the green onion that is the most confusing with its array of names.
In North America, green onions are most often referred to as scallions, bunching onions, spring onions, and shallots.
Green onions are sown tightly together from seed and harvested before they develop bulbs. They essentially are seedling onions and picked when the tops reach about twelve to eighteen inches in height.
Some varieties have a slightly swollen white bulb at the bottom, while others have no bulb. Green onions are mildly hot and can be eaten raw or cooked. They are used heavily in Asian cooking, along with their standard partners, garlic and ginger.
The green onion tops have good amounts of vitaminc A and C and folate, and light cooking does not seem to significantly reduce the nutrient content.
Bunching onions first appeared in Chinese literature in 100 BCE, and their entry into Europe during the Middle Ages. The term Welsh does not refer to the country, but is derived from the Anglo-Saxon welise and the German welsche, which both mean ‘foreign’.
The Welsh onion is considered to be a true scallion or bunching onion, but now unknown in the wild form. It is thought to have originated in Central and Western China, where it is still prized as an herb and vegetable. It is closely related to the Japanese bunching onion known as “chang fa”. The term spring onion means no more than the green part of any onion eaten and is available all year round.
All members of the onion family have moderate amounts of sucrose and other sugars, some protein, very little fat, and no starch. The most nutritious are the immature, green tops, if they are picked before the bulbs have developed.
Green onions have almost four times the vitamin C and up to 5,000 times the vitamin A (beta carotene) that is found in red, white, or yellow onions. The carotenes are masked by the green chlorophyll pigments.
Red onions are coloured with red anthocyanins. Shallots, yellow and white onions, the white bulbs of the leeks, green onions, and scallions are coloured with creamy pale-yellow anthoxanthins. However, none of these natural pigments provides any of the vitamin A.
Although the Welsh onion is much more delicate, it is strongly reminiscent of the leek in appearance and taste and is similar to the scallion. It is distinguished from the bulb onion by its round hollow leaves and only slight bulb formation.
The Japanese type is firmer, with a more pungent aroma than the softer American types, which are sweeter. When allowed to mature, bunching onions do not bulb, but rather just enlarge.
Although red, yellow, and white cultivars are available, most commercial markets offer only the white. Supermarket scallions may also be bulb onions that have been harvested prematurely.
The leaves of scallions are round in a cross section cut, while those of bulb onions are flattened with one concave side. Either can be used as a substitute for the other.
Bunching onions are ones that growers just cannot agree on, not only the name, but the botanical heritage. According to one grower, the distinction made between scallions and green onions is simple: Those who live in New York and Boston call scallions what most everyone else calls green onions. Whatever the name, they are a mainstay for salads.
Some varieties are the following:
Beltsville Bunching is a vigorous mild-tasting variety, tolerant of both winter cold and hot, dry weather.
is a cross between a leek and coarse chives. It is prolific, tender, and a rapid grower, with upright white stems and dark green leaves. It can be left in the ground to thicken and still retain its flavour.
is mild, easy to germinate and excellent for early sowing.
has rhubarb-coloured stalks, with dark green leaves and a non-bulbing white tip.
is a colourful variety which is red near the base and used to liven up salads. It can be thinned to create a mild bulb onion.
Santa Claus is a red variety ready in about six weeks. It keeps its flavour well and can be harvested until the size of a leek. The colour is stronger during cold weather and when they are earthed up.
Tokyo and Feast
varieties have an exceptionally long white end, about two or three times the length of the common varieties.
is a tasty, popular, and reliable variety. It is also fast growing and hardy.
Winter-Over is a well-flavoured extremely hardy variety that is sown in the autumn.
Winter White Bunching
has slim stalks, stiff leaves, and a mild flavour. It is hardy and winters well.