What Are Shallots And What Do They Taste Like?

The allium family is often underappreciated since its members are rarely the star of a dish. These flowering plants include onions, shallots, garlic, leeks, and scallions from which we consume the bulb (via Wide Open Eats). Although they're all related, their appearances and uses vary, making it worthwhile to seek out the best one for each dish. Since onions and garlic are fairly common, we're going to break down what shallots have to offer.

According to MasterClass, shallots have been around for a while, first used medicinally in ancient Egypt, and later by the ancient Greeks who discovered the allium at the port of Ashkelon in current-day Israel. The Spruce Eats explains that the crusaders brought shallots to Europe in the 11th century, where they quickly became a staple in French cooking. Still to this day, shallots are associated with French cuisine, and are required in certain foundational sauces such as Béarnaise, Beurre blanc, and Bordelaise (via Taste of France). 

Shallots look a bit like an oblong, tear-shaped onion and are a fair bit smaller than the average onion. However, there are different varieties which can range in size as well as color. The Spruce Eats remarks that some have a pinkish copper papery outer shell while others border on gray. The interior is generally deeper purple and contains a few cloves, much like garlic. Another shared quality between garlic and shallots is that they both grow in clusters underground (via The Spruce Eats).

How to use shallots in your cooking

Besides looking like a cross between a garlic and onion bulb, Wide Open Eats describes shallots as tasting like a milder onion with a hint of garlic. Since the flavor is subtler, it is common to use raw shallots in dressings and dishes for an added kick. Shallots are regularly used in mignonette, a vinaigrette for oysters classically made with the sweet allium, red wine vinegar, and ground black pepper (via Bon Appétit). Pickled shallots also make a delicious crunchy topping for salads, sandwiches, and tacos.

Proportionately, shallots also contain more sugar than onions and consequently, taste sweeter (via This One vs That One). The Spruce Eats suggests roasting or sautéeing them in butter as the process helps release sugars, leading to a more pronounced sweetness and a melt-in-your-mouth characteristic. They bring plenty of depth to stocks and sauces, and are great in quiche or a pot roast for some added seasoning.

If you find yourself with a recipe requiring onions and you only have shallots, Wide Open Eats recommends to use three for every onion due to the size, noting that the flavors will be subtler and sweeter. On the other hand, replacing shallots with onions will result in a more pungent bite, and using yellow onion would be best, according to MyRecipes. The outlet also mentions that it's best not to substitute raw onions for raw shallots, as the stronger flavor will be overpowering. It's time to get cooking!