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Shallots vs Onions – What is the Difference? and How to Use Them

This guide to shallots vs onions will answer not only this question but will also show how shallots are different from other onion types.

There are many onion varieties so it’s easy to get confused about them. A common question that I get asked is “are shallots and onions the same?”

Shallots are somewhat of a trendy vegetable lately and many recipes call for them.  Members of the allium family

Knowing about their taste and texture, as well as the perfect way to use them in food recipes, can be a big help when you are cooking. Let’s break them all down!Shallots have a papery skin

When you read a recipe and it asks you to use shallots but you only have red onions on hand, the first question that pops into your mind might be “are shallots and red onions the same?”

The short answer is that they are not but there are some similarities between the two. This guide will break down the onion family and compare each type with shallots so that you’ll know which of the varieties can be used as a substitute for shallots.

Shallots vs Onions

You have your recipe ready and it asks for shallots.  But you only have white or yellow onions on hand. Can shallots and onions be used interchangeably?Red shallot and yellow onion

Sorry but no, in most cases they cannot. The difference between shallots and onions is three fold – the way they grow, their taste and how to use them in recipes.

Are shallots and onions from the same family?

Both types are members of the onion family(allium) but a different variety. Shallots – allium ascalonium – have a distinctive tapered shape which makes them look different from other members of the onion family. They often have skins of a copper brown color, they can also be reddish or gray.

Onions – allium cepa – are rounder in shape and can have white, yellow, red or purple skins. Types of onions vary in taste depending on variety from sweet to quite bitter.

Both onions and shallots have skins, but the ones on shallots are fine and very papery and often very dry and brittle.

Do Shallots and onions taste the same?

Again, the answer is no. Shallots have a milder taste and smell than onions do.  It is often common for shallots to be eaten raw, since their flavor is so delicate.

shallot and seasonings

In addition, when shallots are cooked, they lose their flavor quickly, so if the recipe is asking for cooked onions (like in a stir fry ) then onions are preferable.

The flavor of shallots is mild and sweet with just a hint of garlic flavor. Gourmet chefs love to use them since they don’t have the tangy bite that onions do.

It is not just the taste that is different.  Shallots grow differently from onions. Regular onions grow as a single bulb, but shallots grow in clusters, more like a head of garlic does.

Shallots vs Onions Nutrition

Both vegetables have lots of vitamins and minerals. They vary slightly in calories, carbs and protein.

This chart is approximate since it depends on the type of onion used, but it shows the difference in carbs and sugar, particularly. (Nutritional info from Spark People.)
Nutritional info for onions and shallots

100 grams of shallots have 72 calories, 16.8 gr of carbohydrates, 7.9 gr of sugar, and 2.5 grams of protein.

The same amount of onion has 38 calories, 8.6 grams of carbs, 4.2 grams of sugar and 1.2 grams of protein.

When to use shallots vs onions

When cooking a dish how do I know when to use shallots and when to use onions? Just keep in mind how strong the flavor you will want to have in the finished dish.

Use shallots in recipes such as salads or in a vinaigrette. They’ll add an onion like flavor without too much of a bite.  

This makes them especially good as a seasoning in raw applications like vinaigrettes or salads, where they add oniony flavor without too much punch, or in slow roasted or braised dishes, where their sweetness can really enhance a dish without watering it down. 

Save the onions for a dish that calls for lots of onion flavor, such as French onion soup.  No way would the delicate shallots give the body, taste and texture needed for this recipe!

Other onions comparisons

The normal yellow onion is not the only allium family member to consider when the recipe calls for shallots.  There are similarities and differences between some that make substitution either possible, or not desirable.

Shallots vs Red Onions

The color is similar but are these two onion varieties the same? Shallots are made with very fine layers. This allows them to blend well into sauces and dressings and their flavor is some where between that of garlic and onions.Shallots vs Red Onions

The flavor of red onions is a bit more like shallots than yellow or white onions, but when they are cooked, they can add an undesirable color to the dish.

If your recipe calls for sliced shallots, than you can feel free to substitute red onions if you don’t have shallots.  The flavor won’t be exactly the same but it’ll be a better choice in both flavor and color than normal onions.

In salads, and salsas, or as a topping for burgers, feel free to use red onions and shallots interchangeably, but in cooked dishes, they are not a good choice for a substitute.

Shallots vs Garlic

Well then, since shallots have a slightly garlicky taste, are shallots onions or garlic?  After all, they are often described as a cross between the two vegetables so they must be closer to one or the other.

The flavor of garlic is the strongest one in the allium family. Garlic grows as bulbs, (like shallots do) which are made up of cloves.

Shallots have a mild garlic taste and even even though it is “clove type” in looks, it has a more onion-like taste.Shallots and garlic differences and similarities

There are two ways that garlic can be used like shallots.  Garlic scapes can be used – these are the flower bud end of the plant seen in vegetable gardens.

Garlic scapes look much like green onions, except they have long, twisting tails and taste somewhere between garlic and onions, so they can be a good substitute for shallots if you happen to have these growing in your vegetable garden.

Another type of garlic that has a milder flavor is elephant garlic (Allium scorodoprasum or Allium ampeloprasum). Elephant garlic can be sliced and eaten raw in salads or cooked and used as a substitute for onions.

Shallots vs Pearl Onions

Pearl onions (Allium ampeloprasum var. sectivum) are much smaller and sweeter than normal onions. They are often used in recipes for pickling or as garnishes for cocktails. Since they are closer to the size and taste of shallots, they can sometimes be a good choice to use as a substitute.Are shallots the same as Pearl onions?

If the recipe asks you to mince shallots, or to saute them for a sauce, pearl onions (perhaps with a bit of garlic and some of the white parts of a green onion) will give you a similar flavor to shallots. 

If the recipe calls for chopped shallots, or asks you to cook them peeled and whole (for Thai cuisine) then pearl onions are also a good substitute for shallots. The flavor won’t be quite the same and you may need to add a bit of garlic to the recipe, but it’s a pretty good alternative.

Shallots vs Spring onions (Scallions or Green Onions)

Scallions are not a type of onion. They are the immature plants of a bulbing onion variety which is harvested before the bulb is fully formed. The flavor is somewhat similar to chives.How do shallots and spring onions differ?

Scallions are also called green onions, salad onions and spring onions. All parts of the onion are used from the white root to the green tops.

One type of onion which is commonly called “bunching onions” is a member of the allium family called allium fistulosum. The reason they are called bunching onions is because they are often sold in bunches at the supermarket.

Bunching onions produce the delicious scallions with a milder taste than other onion varieties. This makes them a good substitute for shallots.

Spring onions have a mild enough flavor that compares to shallots so they are often substituted 1 for 1 in a recipe. Use the tops, not the bulbs and add them late if you are cooking them so that they do not overcook.

Shallots vs Leeks

Leeks (Allium ampeloprasum var. porrum) are the largest member of the allium family. They look like very large scallions.  Leeks can grow up to two feet long and 2 inches thick and they do not form a bulb, although the end is white and somewhat rounded.

The flavor of leeks is milder than onions. Although they are both in the onion family, shallots and leeks are not considered interchangeable when it comes to cooking.

However, the flavor of leeks is more similar to shallots than to onions, so they can sometimes make a substitute if you are using the top part only. Shallots vs Leeks - Differences and Similarities

Leeks share many properties with green onions, and you can use them as a shallot substitute the same way, by using only the tops, not the white bulb part.

The difference with leeks is that they take much longer to cook than shallots, so add them into your recipe early.

Onion Family FAQ

If you’re a home cook looking for some answers to your questions about the onion family, I hope my article has given you the advice you need. Onion Family FAQs

I’ll leave you with the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions that I receive about the onion family.  Be sure to let me know if you have a question that isn’t discussed in this post in the comments section – I’ll be happy to try to answer it!

Which has a better taste Onions or Shallots?

The answer to this really depends on how you plant to use the vegetable.  If you are looking for a robust flavor that comes from cooked or caramelized onions, use normal onions.

However, if you are planning on using them raw, then shallots would be a better choice since they are milder and sweeter without the bite that normal onions have.

    What is the difference between scallions and chives?

    They look similar with a small white head and green stems, although scallions are larger. So how are they different?

    Flavor-wise, chives have a milder flavor than scallions do. They are considered a herb, and scallions are a vegetable.

    As far as uses go, it is the green stems of chives that are used, while all parts of the scallion are used in cooking. Chives are used mainly as a garnish and scallions are most often cooked.

    Can onions and shallots be grown indoors?

    Onions and many alliums need a period of cold to do well in the garden.  This makes them a better choice to grow outdoors, where they will receive winter cold and bear fruit the following year.

    However, there are ways to grow onions and shallots indoors as a fun project.  You probably won’t get full grown bulbs but the tops are interesting and it’s a fun way to get kids involved in gardening.

    These posts will give you some ideas:

    Is a leek an onion?

    Leeks and onions are both part of the allium family, along with the vegetables mentioned above. They have somewhat of a similar flavor but are two different vegetables.

    It is normal to use the green stem as well as the bulb end in leeks, but with onions, it’s the bulb that is used in cooking.

    Leeks have a herb- like flavor and onions have much more of a bite in the their taste..

    How do I mince shallots?

    If your shallots are quite large, you would just peel and finely chop as you do onions. Lay the shallot on a cutting board and hold on to the end that has the small rootlets.

    Cut off the stem end but leave the root end intact. Peel off the papery skins. Sometimes one layer of edible shallot will come off. That’s fine (I find it easier to peel if I do this.)

    Cut the shallot in half and lay the flat side on the cutting board. Make horizontal cuts toward the root end but not all the way though it several times, then cut fine slices down through the shallot but still leave the end intact.

    Now turn the shallot sideways and and cut across it into fine pieces, discard the root end, and you are done.

    What are dried shallots?

    You may find dried shallots online or at your local grocery store.  These are pieces of shallots that have been freeze dried, air dried or placed in a dehydrator to dry.

    Drying shallots makes them smaller so you would use 1/2 of the amount called for in a recipe as you would use fresh shallots. 1/2 teaspoon of dried shallots is about the same as one shallot clove.

    To reconstitute shallots just cover them in water and let them stand for 5 minutes and then drain them. For raw dishes, such as salads, just toss them into the dish. They have enough internal moisture to reconstitute themselves.

    Why do onions make you cry?

    When you are growing onions, they absorb sulfur from the ground and then form molecules called amino acid sulfoxides.

    These sulfoxides are the reason that we our eyes water when when onions go under the knife. When you slice an onion, you cause it to release propanethiol S-oxide.

    See more about why onions make you cry and some tips to avoid this.

    Can I freeze Shallots?

    Shallots freeze well, just like any onion does.  You can do it one of two ways:

    • Peel, then slice or chop the shallots and place in freezer bags or other air tight containers. They will keep for 10-12 months if frozen properly.
    • You can also peel them and wrap small whole shallots or peeled shallot “cloves” tightly in plastic freezer wrap or heavy duty aluminum foil.

    Pin this post for later

    Would you like a reminder of this post for shallots vs onions?  Just pin this image to one of your cooking tips boards on Pinterest.Shallots and other Alliums - How are the same, and different? Click through to find out

    The shallots vs. onions debate has been going on for a long time, with many cooks scratching their heads wondering about their differences. Now that you have the information, you should be well armed when faced with any recipe featuring the varying types of onions.

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    Saturday 29th of July 2023

    Of course you should call your reader's attention to the fact that there are several types of shallots, some looking very different from others. The seed packet here in Central California I bought a few years ago produced more or less the type you show here. I will look up the packet to get the name. But I sometimes haunt produce aisles and last year I found a small round shallot, light brown in color and about as big as a medium red radish. They were wonderful to eat. The flavor reminded me of the shallots that are ubiquitously used in SE Asia. It's a very distinctive flavor. I don't know if they were exactly the same. Mostly I am thinking of Indonesia and Malaysia rather than Thailand. I planted most of them once I had them home, probably early/mid summer. They grew very vigorously and were blooming. I hoped to get a crop of seed from them, but alas, a local gopher found them very appealing and made short work of them. I'll be looking for them again this year in the grocery stores, but you know how that goes.

    Mr D

    Saturday 5th of February 2022

    Very Informative, thanks.

    Gil Pardo

    Sunday 29th of August 2021

    Congrats for this very elucidating article! I never got a straightforward answer on the matter before. Now, thanks to you, Carol, I know how to use all of them properly. Thank you.


    Friday 22nd of May 2020

    Excellent article! Thank you so much for taking the time to explain so comprehensively and with such detail. I feel like I've learned so much without even using a taste bud.


    Monday 4th of May 2020

    I think what they are referring to is cippoline. I remember my mother using them in the 50's, but cant remember what she made with them.

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