Shallots Vs. Green Onions: What's The Difference?

"Am I looking for scallions or shallots?" It's a question most of us have asked ourselves while standing in the produce aisle, trying to remember ingredients for a recipe. Also known as green onions (although there are some minor differences), scallions come in bunches of long, thin, flexible green stalks with white tips. Shallots, on the other hand, look a lot like garlic bulb-sized onions.

Despite their obviously different appearance, the two are often confused for one another. The Spruce Eats suggests the common mix-up stems from the fact that shallots are called scallions in some parts of the country, particularly in Louisiana. PeakYard theorizes the confusion is alphabetical in nature — too many of the same letters (S, A, L, and O) in common. To add to the conundrum, both are members of the allium genus, a family of plants that includes garlic, bulb onions, leeks, and chives, among others (via The FruitGuys).

What are shallots?

Shallots look a lot like pointy little onions. They can vary in color from golden brown to red. Inside, the flesh is white with hints of green or pink. Although, they resemble onions on the outside, cut into a shallot and you'll discover two or three separate cloves — like garlic, but without the protective sheaths. 

When it comes to flavor, shallots are more delicate than onions. Bon Appetit describes them as sweet with a hint of sharpness, easily adaptable as a replacement in recipes calling for onions. That more subtle flavor also makes them a good choice for preparations requiring a softer onion flavor, especially in raw applications like vinaigrette or salad.

Savory Simple says to look for shallots that are firm with shiny, unmarked skin. Store them in a cool, dark place. A cabinet or pantry is a better choice than the refrigerator where humidity will compromise texture.

What are green onions (aka scallions)?

Let's cut to the chase: Green onions and scallions are one and the same, and they can be used interchangeably, raw or cooked. If you want to get nit-picky about it, Healthline explains they are the same vegetable, but officially the variety called scallions is harvested earlier, so they have a milder taste. Green onions spend a bit more time in the ground, so they develop a wider bulb and have a stronger onion flavor.

All Recipes suggests selecting bunches with bright green leaves and firm white stalks. Lots of cooks toss the leaves (or save them for garnish) and use only the stalks in recipes, but the entire scallion is edible. Popular in Latin-American and Asian dishes, scallions add a pop of flavor to marinades, salads, and stir-frys.

Store fresh scallions in your refrigerator crisper drawer. It's good practice to rinse and pat dry, then wrap in a damp paper towel before tucking them away. Another option: Stand the scallions, leaf side up, in a glass of water and cover the tops with a plastic bag.

Best substitutes for shallots and green onions

Shallots and green onions can replace one another in recipes — with a few caveats. As MasterClass points out, green onions have two distinct parts: leaves and stalks. Shallots are more like onions with a consistent texture and flavor throughout.

If you choose to substitute green onions for shallots, stick with the stalk end closest to the bulb and roots. The Gardening Cook makes the same point and suggests adding a bit of garlic to the mix to more closely capture the shallot's flavor. The Gardening Cook also mentions onions, leeks, garlic scapes, and red onions as suitable alternatives for shallots.

On the flip side, MasterClass suggests chives as a good substitute for the leafy part of a green onion. Chives will bring a slightly milder onion flavor to the table, so taste and adjust accordingly. Options to replace the white stalk include raw onion or the white part of a leek.