What Are Chives? Get to Know This Perennial Herb's Most Popular Varieties—and Learn How to Use Them
Like onions, scallions, shallots, leeks, and garlic, chives are part of the allium family. But what is a chive, exactly? It's a slim, bright green herb with a mild onion-like taste. They differ from other allium crops because they are perennials and less pungent, says Steve Reiners, professor and horticulture section chair of Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Home cooks use fresh chives as a garnish, like they would other herbs, such as parsley or basil, to add a finishing touch of savory flavor.
Get to know three popular varieties of chives—common chives, garlic chives, and Siberian chives—before using them in your cooking.
As their name implies, these are the most common types of chives and the easiest to find packaged in your grocery store. Common chives grow in clumps of small, slender bulbs that produce very thin, blue-green leaves, ranging in height from 10 to 15 inches. Their edible, flavorful flowers can be found in white, pink, purple, or red, depending on the variety.
When shopping for chives at the grocery store, make sure that they don't show any visible signs of wilting. Common chives are best used fresh, but they can also be frozen in airtight freezer bags, says Reiners. They are often used as a garnish, particularly in French cuisine, and are an ingredient used in fines herbs (a mix of chives, tarragon, chervil, and parsley). Chives should only be cooked briefly and served immediately after cooking due to their delicacy, otherwise the flavor will be lost. We love using common chives to garnish latkes, omelets, chili, this epic Dutch Baby with Ham and Chives, our Cucumber-Herb Salad, or this Winter Caprese Salad.
Before they're picked and packaged to be sold, garlic chives—also known as Chinese chives—typically grow taller than common chives and have flatter leaves and white blossoms. They're aptly named because of their more potent, garlic-like flavor. Unlike common onion chives, they are not hollow. Use this variety just like common chives to give even more savory flavor to mashed or baked potatoes—or mix them into a fragrant herb salad dressing or dip.
This lesser-known variety of chives, sometimes referred to as blue chives due to their blue-green foliage, is another Asian species native to central and Northeastern Asian countries including Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia, and China. Siberian chives grow up to 2 feet tall, making them significantly larger than common or garlic chives. When used in cooking, you'll find that their flavor is, however, quite similar to common chives. You may find Siberian chives at a farmers' market, gourmet food store, or local herb farms.