What Are Shallots?

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Shallots have a similar skin to onions but grow in cloves, similar to garlic.
Shallots have a similar skin to onions but grow in cloves, similar to garlic. (Image: Tay Jnr/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Shallots are a bulb-like plant, similar to onions and garlic, and a member of the allium family. Shallots are commonly used worldwide as a substitute for onions or garlic, or for their slightly sweeter flavor. They can be found in the produce section of many grocery stores.

Appearance and Flavor

Shallots have a thin, brownish layer of skin on their outer layer, similar to onions. The growing structure of shallots is similar to garlic and grows in cloves. According to the "Clueless Cook’s Handbook," shallots can be described as “mini red onions” but are distinct from onions because of the pinkish-purplish hue found on the inner flesh. The flavor is described as a mix between a sweet onion and garlic.

Preparations

Although shallots grow in a similar fashion to garlic, an entire bulb of shallots is generally considered one shallot, as opposed to one clove of garlic. Remove the outer skin with a paring knife. Then, remove the root ends similar to slicing an onion. When substituting for onion in recipes, use only half the amount of shallots.

Dish Ideas and Cultures

Shallots are commonly used in fine French cuisine, as well as Thai, and Indonesian. They are frequently added to stews and broths and used in soup recipes worldwide. Shallots can also be used to make vinaigrette and pair especially well with chicken or fish.

Origins

Shallots originated in Israel and the surrounding Mediterranean regions and were originally named allium ascalonicum, but later changed by Europeans to Allium cepa.

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