What are Shallots?

Did you know that shallots have many layers, but they get sweeter when you remove each one? Read more about where they came from, what makes them special, and how you can utilize them in all your dishes!

shallots on a table with one cut in half
Table of Contents
  1. What do they look like?
  2. What do they taste like?
  3. Types of shallots 
  4. Where are they grown?
  5. How are they harvested?
  6. Is there a season?
  7. Shallot vs. onion
  8. Shallot vs. green onion (or scallion)
  9. How to cut shallots
  10. Ways to use shallots
  11. Recipes to try
  12. What are shallot substitutes?
  13. What are the health benefits?
  14. Recommended serving size
  15. Nutritional profile

​​The shallot is one vegetable represented in the Allium Cepa group, which includes onions, garlic, leek, scallions, and of course, different varieties of shallots. The complex texture and taste offer endless possibilities for a chef’s world. Changing the way you cook them can yield either a subtle texture or a bold one. If you want to add flair to a simple dish, garnish with some bright colored shallots and add not only vibrancy but a structured dish.

Due to the versatility that shallots bring, chefs fawn over their delicate, sensational taste. When incorporating this allium, you can create a punchier or more robust flavor or use it to soften a dish to bring out the overall natural flavor. A good chef is willing to experiment and play with the flavors of a dish and use exquisite ingredients to have a symphony of taste for the palate.

What do they look like?

Each type of shallot is unique to its coloring and composition. Some are brown or copper on the exterior, but a beautiful purple hue appears and surrounds the interior when you peel back that first layer. This is the most typical-looking shallot. Others can appear as an elongated oval shape and present a pink layer within. Depending on the color, the taste can begin to differ.

What do they taste like?

If one were blindfolded, they would have a difficult time deciphering between an onion and a shallot. The flavor resembles closely that of a white or yellow onion, with some exceptions. Overall, there’s a mellow but sweet flavor. There’s a slight hint of garlic when one consumes the shallot, but a milder taste is present if caramelized. They share the same bite and acidity as their cousin, the onion.

Types of shallots 

French shallot

French shallot

Grown in France, this variety is a little harder to find in the store, but not impossible. They look like a small onion but have a milder flavor. These have a high vitamin C content and are a source of dietary fiber. When selecting, choose a dry, firm one with no soft patches. Store in a cool, well-ventilated place for up to 3 weeks [5].

Pikant

This is a subvariety of French shallots and is also grown and found in France. They are imported to the U.S. and are easy to find. They’re brown or mahogany on the exterior but can be either pink or red on the interior. This one reaches maturity in just 80 days, making it one of the fastest-growing shallot options. They have a strong taste, and you can store them for about a month [1].

French Grey shallot

The scientific name is Allium Schaninii. It’s also referred to as the griselle shallot. This type has a gray exterior with a purple interior. It’s also elongated, and compared to the Pikant, this matures after 200 days. The grey shallot has a robust flavor and has a shelf life of 6 to 7 months. They are extremely difficult to find in the U.S.

Echalion

Echalion shallot

Commonly known as the banana shallot, a hybrid type that mixes an onion and a shallot. This is the largest variety around. The exterior is a brown or rust color and is easy to peel. The taste is like that of a sweet onion. They are grown in England, Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire, and Bedfordshire. These last from 2 to 4 weeks if stored at room temperature, and 3 to 6 months in the fridge [1, 6].

Jersey

Jersey shallot

Also known as pink shallot, they have a long slender bulb with golden copper skin. They have an intense but subtle flavor with a distinctive fragrance. The jersey shallot is the most widely cultivated type in France. In the United States, this is the most common type found in grocery stores. They can last for a month at room temperature and up to 2 months in the refrigerator [7].

Ambition shallot

They have a teardrop-shaped one, and the interior ranges from a rusty brown to a pink coloring. This variety matures in 100 days, and you can store them for 3 to 6 months. It’s mostly grown in France as well and is easy to find locally [1].

Prisma

This is often referred to as the red shallot due to the exterior and interior being red. After 100 days, the exterior is smooth and is ready for harvesting. It has a strong and pungent taste compared to the other varieties. The Prisma is most directly substituted with an onion due to its strong taste. These only last a month at room temperature and 2 months if refrigerated.

Yellow shallot

Yellow shallot

Often called golden shallot due to their coloring. This is a variety of the allium cepa and is milder and sweeter in taste. This type is great in soups and for pickling, but they only last 3 to 4 weeks when stored. You can find the golden shallot in Asia and the Middle East, but it is more commonly found in U.S. stores.

Where are they grown?

Shallots originated from Europe, the primary producer, with France, the Netherlands, and Belgium following behind [6]. The cultivation process is created through many listed commercial cultivars, mostly from France and Italy. They can be grown commercially in the U.S. as long as they have the proper sunshine and heat, such as Louisiana and Florida.

How are they harvested?

To begin, they are an annual plant that grows especially well in light, sandy soil with incredible sun exposure. They don’t prosper well in wet conditions or arid and hot weather [6]. They’re pushed ever so slightly into the soil, with just the tip showing. Flowering will begin in July. Since they grow primarily under the soil, you’ll only see their vivid green tops. When the plant stems are thick and green, they often will reach 6 to 10-inches tall.

Once they reach the specified height, take a spading fork and gently lift the shallot out of the ground where the stem is at. You then “cure” them in a dark, well-ventilated spot for a couple of weeks until the green leaves shrivel up [8]. After that, the shallot is ready to be prepared and cooked however you like.

Is there a season?

They are typically available year-round; however, their peak season is spring and summer, depending on the variety. Some are in season from October to December [6]. Either way, if you’re looking for one, don’t lose hope! There is one that will surely satisfy your desire to incorporate it into your dish.

shallots and different types of onions

Shallot vs. onion

Other than the coloring, shallots are in the same family as the onion. They’re a subset and are elongated. They grow in clusters, having 4 or 5 bulbs attached. They don’t contain as much water and have a thinner outer layer [9].

Shallot vs. green onion (or scallion)

If you’ve ever seen a green onion or scallion, they’re usually in a soup or sauteed dish. Besides the fact that they are green, they are white near the root with no bulb. Scallions compared to shallots are harvested when they are still immature, whereas the latter must mature longer. The green part dies back before the bulb begins to grow and is larger [3].

How to cut shallots

No one likes crying when cutting an onion. Well, unfortunately, shallots possess the same enzyme. When cutting shallots, the damaged plant cell releases an enzyme that changes the sulfuric substance into a strong-smelling complex that makes you tear up. Interestingly, the French grey variety causes the most tears!

Ways to use shallots

French cuisines are the most notable, along with curry pastes and some East Asian cuisines. They are most delicious when caramelized but braising or roasting also extracts the flavor nicely. When applying them to a sauce, dice them very thin, so they don’t overpower it and make it chunky.

If you cook with shallots, make sure to add fresh garlic, olive oil, and some fresh herbs like thyme and rosemary to really enhance the flavor.

Recipes to try

1. Cobb salad with red wine vinaigrette

2. Beef wellington with mushroom sauce

3. Shrimp scampi

4. Ribeye steaks with red wine sauce

5. Skillet potatoes with garlic and herbs

What are shallot substitutes?

 Depending on your purpose, four different options will work. The first and most common substitute is using a white or yellow onion. This gives off a sharp taste and has the most oniony taste. When incorporating this variety, use a 1:1 ratio if the recipe calls for cooked shallots.

If the recipe is utilizing shallots for a milder flavor, a red onion will satisfy that replacement. It’s a great garnish and a good substitute in salads. It’s a 1:1 ratio or a little bit less, depending on your need.

Leeks provide a great fresh flavor. The mid-green part of the stalk resembles that of a shallot. If incorporating a leek, note that it does not take as long to cook compared to the allium family, so add them later in the cooking process or slow cook them at a lower temperature.

Lastly, and probably the most common substitute, is the scallion or green onion. They have a mellow flavor. Unlike the leek, where the mid-green part is used, the white bulb at the bottom is where the flavor profile is. However, the scallion itself doesn’t always give the exact flavor, so adding a little bit of garlic powder or crushed garlic helps blend the flavors [10].

What are the health benefits?

If one is looking for a low-carb diet, incorporating a ½ cup of raw shallots is a great way to help. They’re low in fat and contain several antiviral, antioxidant, and antibiotic properties. They have essential minerals like copper and iron that contribute to metabolic function and circulation. One prebiotic included is inulin. Inulin is not digested or absorbed in the stomach. Instead, it stays in the bowel and helps specific bacteria to grow.

Shallots are a great source of vitamin B6 and B9 and have health-protecting compounds such as quercetin and organosulfur compounds. Quercetin is a natural plant flavanol from the flavonoid group of polyphenols. Organosulfur compounds are organic compounds that contain sulfur. Our bodies need sulfur to survive, and many sweet compounds have organosulfur derivatives like saccharin [3, 6].

A 1⁄2 cup of raw chopped shallots has only 58 calories, 2 grams of protein, and almost 3 grams of dietary fiber. As mentioned before, vitamin B6 is present, and vitamin C, folate, potassium, and manganese. All these contribute to overall health benefits [11].

Nutritional profile

  • 7.2 calories per 1 tablespoon (chopped)
  • 1.68 grams of carbohydrates
  • 0.32 grams of fiber
  • 0.787 grams of sugar
  • 0.25 grams of protein

Surprisingly, there is 3.7mg of calcium, 2.1 mg of magnesium, and 33.4 mg of potassium. So, if you lack potassium and don’t enjoy bananas, try having a cup of shallots with your next meal [12].

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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