Shallots vs Onions
What’s the difference, and how do I tell which is which?
Shallots are a smaller, slenderer type of onion that have a milder and sweeter taste.
Onions are a bigger, rounder type of vegetable that has a stronger and more pungent taste.
A good way to tell the difference is to associate the first letters of the vegetables with some of their attributes.
So, shallots are slender, while onions are round.
You can also go with shallots are sweeter.
Of course, there is so much more to shallots vs onions than that, so let’s take a closer look at some of their differences.
Shallots vs Onions Differences
Onions are the most widely consumed vegetable in the world. They originated in Asia, and their easy storage and unique flavor make them a popular vegetable. In the US, the average person consumes around 20 pounds of onions a year. That’s a lot of onions!
Both shallots and onions are bulb vegetables that are part of the genus Allium (which includes chives and leeks).
Onions are the species Allium cepa, and shallots are merely a variety of this same species. Even though they are part of the same species, shallots and onions have many different characteristics.
Let’s compare their physical appearances first.
Shallots are smaller and slenderer than onions. They come in many different colors: golden brown, yellow, red, purple, and gray to name a few. The most common colors would be golden brown and red. The inside of shallots (the flesh) is normally white with purple or red layers.
Due to their smaller size, shallots have a lot of thin and very fine layers inside. Their outer skin is less thick and tough compared to onions.
On the flip side, onions are bigger and rounder than shallots. They also come in a variety of colors with the most common being: yellow, white, and red. The flesh of onions is normally white.
Due to their larger size, onions have thicker and less layers. Their outer skin tends to be thick and tough compared to shallots.
So, a key difference between shallots vs onions is their size. Shallots are smaller and slenderer, while onions are bigger and rounder.
Why do onions and shallots make you cry?
Both shallots and onions contain substances that irritate your eyes when you cut into them. This is due to lachrymatory-factor synthase enzymes which are released when an onion or shallot is cut. These enzymes react with amino acid sulfoxides in the onion creating syn-propanethial-S-oxide a gas which causes a stinging sensation in your eyes and often makes people cry.
To reduce irritation, you can refrigerate onions before cutting into them or cut them under running water.
Even though shallots are a type of onion, there is still a difference in flavor between the two.
Shallots are much milder in taste and odor. They have a sweeter, milder flavor and their taste has a hint of garlic. They are also less pungent and less crunchy than onions.
Since their flavor is less pronounced, it tends to lack that distinctive bite that onions have. Shallots are still a type of onion, so they do have some sharpness to them. They are commonly served raw (like in salads) because they lose a lot of their flavor when cooked.
Onions have a stronger taste and odor. They are more pungent and crunchier than shallots. Onions have a sharp and almost spicy flavor to them.
So, another key difference between shallots vs onions is their taste: shallots are milder and sweeter, while onions are stronger and more pungent.
However, onions encompass many different types, unlike shallots. The three main types (yellow, white, and red) each have their own flavor profiles.
Yellow onions are the most common onion, and they comprise over 75% of the entire world’s onion production. In the US, yellow onions make up over 90% of the onions grown.
They have that basic astringent (and complex) taste that people associate with onions. When cooked, they become sweet in aroma and taste.
They have a tough outer skin and very thick layers inside. Their inside flesh can range in color: white with a green tint, plain white, or even yellow. Because they are so common, yellow onions are used in almost anything ranging from soups to stews.
White Onions are not very common and, in the US, only comprise around 5% of the onions grown. They are typically larger than other onion varieties and have a milder taste than yellow onions.
White onions have a mild, sweet, sharp, and crisp taste. They are also the crunchiest of the three main types.
Their outer skin is less tough than yellow onions, and they have thick layers inside as well. Their flesh is white like their outer layers. White onions are commonly used in Mexican cooking (especially salsas).
Red onions are less common than yellow onions and, in the US, only comprise around 8% of the onions grown. They are the most like shallots in term of flavor.
Their taste is the mildest of the three main onion types, and they have a mild and sweet taste.
Red onions’ outer skin is also less tough than yellow onions, and they have thick inside layers as well. Their inside flesh is white with layers of red running through it. The red onion’s vibrant color becomes washed out when cooked, so they are commonly used in uncooked dishes (like salads) to add a pop of color.
Shallots vs Onions in Cooking
Shallots are often eaten raw since they lose most of their flavor when cooked, but they are also preferred when a dish needs a non-overpowering onion flavor (such as in quiches).
They are commonly used in salads, dressings, marinades, custards, quiches, and sauces. Shallots are often pickled as well.
Onions retain their flavor when cooked, but mellow and become sweeter. They are used in a wide variety of dishes and are common in stir-fries, stews, soups, sautés, and any savory type of dish.
Onions have a much more aggressive flavor, so whenever a dish calls for a large amount of onion flavor, then onions are preferred.
The general rule of thumb in the kitchen is that you can substitute three shallots for one onion.
Keep in mind that even though you can substitute them, there is still a difference in their taste and texture.
Since they are smaller, shallots have more fine layers. Therefore, if you are substituting onions for shallots, you must remember to chop them smaller than normal. Shallots are also less crunchy (due to their thinner layers) so keep that in mind as well.
For all the single people out there: shallots are a wonderful (and less known) way to add flavor without having to store leftover partially used onions when you cook for one. A cut onion typically only lasts 7-10 days (refrigerated).
Shallots vs Onions Nutritional Differences
Shallots and onions (like any vegetable) can vary in their size and therefore nutrition. For this article when referring to shallots and onions, we will be referring to an average example of either one of them.
The average shallot has 72 calories, and an average (medium sized) onion has 44 calories. So, even though shallots are smaller than onions they have more calories.
Both shallots and onions only have 0.1 grams of fat.
Shallots have 17 grams of carbohydrates and 2.5 grams of protein.
Onions have 10 grams of carbohydrates and 1.2 grams of protein.
Shallots have 8 grams of sugar and onions have 4.7 grams of sugar. This is probably why shallots have a milder and sweeter taste (due to their higher sugar content).
Shallots have 3.2 grams of fiber, and onions have 1.9 grams of fiber.
Vitamins and Minerals
Regarding vitamins and minerals, both shallots and onions have the same ones: calcium, vitamin C, iron, vitamin B-6, and magnesium. This makes sense because shallots are a type of onion. However, shallots are higher in their percentages of vitamins and minerals:
So even though onions have less calories, carbohydrates, and sugar, shallots have more vitamins and minerals.
Shallots vs Onions Benefits
Both shallots and onions bring more to the table than just their nutritional components. They also contain compounds that have numerous health benefits.
Both shallots and onions contain flavonoids which are phytonutrients that perform a lot of functions in plants, including giving plants their color. The reason flavonoids are important is because they are antioxidants (they prevent or reduce cell damage) and can stop your body from producing free radicals.
Flavonoids have been associated with a myriad of health benefits. Pretty much, they are amazing, and you should eat foods that are high in them. Instead of an apple a day, it should be a shallot (or onion) a day!
Some foods that are high in flavonoids would be shallots, onions, blueberries, parsley, green tea, black tea, and citrus fruits.
While both shallots and onions both contain flavonoids (like the flavonols quercetin and kemferfol), shallots have more flavonoids than onions do. Within the three main onion types, red onions have the most flavonoids, and white onions have the least.
Another important component of shallots and onions is allicin. Allicin is a sulfur compound that has been shown to help treat viral and fungal infections in petri dishes, but how effective it is at treating viral and fungal infections in humans is unclear.
Also, a small trial showed that large amounts of Allicin may help to prevent the common cold. But it was a small study and further research is necessary before we can jump to any conclusions.
Allicin is activated when you cut into an onion, so the finer you chop your onion, the more allicin you will release.
Some foods that are high in allicin are garlic, shallots, onions, leeks, and chives (all of which are from the genus Allium).
Final Thoughts on Shallots vs Onions
It can sometimes be hard to remember the difference between shallots and onions.
Try to keep in mind their attributes: shallots are a smaller, slenderer type of onion that has a milder and sweeter taste. Onions are a bigger, rounder type of vegetable that has a stronger and more pungent taste.
Remember that, shallots are slenderer, while onions are rounder.
The key differences between shallots vs onions are their differences in shape and taste.
Shallots typically are golden brown or red. Onions typically are yellow (the most common), white, and red. Shallots have lots of thin, fine layers and a less thick outer skin. Onions have thicker layers (and less of them) and a thick outer skin.
Shallots are more commonly eaten raw (like in salads or marinades) because they lose a lot of their flavor when cooked. Onions are typically eaten in cooked dishes (like soups and stews), and they become milder and sweeter when cooked.
Even though onions have less calories, carbohydrates, and sugar, shallots have more vitamins and minerals. Both shallots and onions contain flavonoids (phytonutrients) that are antioxidants (they prevent or reduce cell damage). They also both contain allicin (a sulfur compound) that may have some health benefits.
You might enjoy these other articles as well: