What Are Shallots and How Are They Different Than Onions?

Learn about this petit member of the Allium family, including how to use shallots in your cooking.

If you read a lot recipes, you've inevitably come across shallots in the ingredients list. They're used to add nuance and smooth depth to a wide variety of dishes, like salad dressings, beef stock, pasta dishes, and quiche. Sheathed in a papery skin that protects layers of juicy, tear-inducing flesh, everything about a shallot seems like a smaller, slightly elongated onion—and though they are related, there are some essential differences between them. Here's everything you need to know, including how to cut shallots, and how to use them in your cooking.

What Is a Shallot?

Classified as Allium cepa var. aggregatum, shallots belong to the Allium genus, which includes every kind of onion, from chives through garlic and scallions, and even the giant purple pom-pom flowers in gardens (yes, those are edible, too). Unlike single-bulb onions, shallots grow in clusters, and if left in the earth instead of being harvested, would form clumps. (If you grow shallots, they are the gift that keeps on giving.) This is why, when you peel a shallot, you may find that you have two or more tightly-packed cloves pressed together, in tighter, narrower layers than those of an onion.

who and minced shallots on cutting board with knife


Shallots differ in size and shape according to their variety or cultivar, but they can be used interchangeably, unless you are a purist. Petite red shallots, for example, are a foundation of Southeast Asian cooking traditions, where they might be fire-roasted, pounded into a paste (for this Malaysian prawn and coconut laksa), or fried as a last-minute and essential flourish of crunch. Dutch yellow and red shallots, and French gray shallots (whose flesh is actually pink) are larger and are used more often in so-called Western-style cooking.

Do They Taste Different From Onions?

If you lined up a blind tasting of onions—red through yellow and white—with shallots tossed sneakily in, we defy you to appreciate the difference at once. But if you are patient, and have a smart shallot palate, you will detect more sweetness in the shallots and greater sharpness in the onions. Generally, there is less sulphur in shallots and greater onion-breath in the onions, but this can vary from cultivar to cultivar, region, and can be affected by the growing conditions.

The difference between shallots and scallions (also called spring onions) is more discernible: Obviously in appearance, since scallions' long green leaves give them away, but also where texture is concerned, with the scallions being milder and softer.

How to Substitute Onions for Shallots

You can substitute onions for shallots and vice versa. Just bear in mind that you should use about three shallots for every onion (it really depends on their respective sizes—if the shallots are petite, add more; if hefty, fewer). To substitute onions for shallots in a vinaigrette, where they will be eaten raw, we suggest you first soak the chopped onion in cold water for 10 minutes to remove some of its sting. Then drain, dry, and proceed.

How to Cut Shallots

Separate any clusters into individual bulbs before cutting them. Use a sharp paring knife to remove the stem end, then peel off the shallot's papery skin.

Place one half cutside down on your cutting board and use a small notch cut to remove the root end. Cut it lengthwise or crosswise into slices.

To dice a shallot, follow the directions above to prep and halve the shallot, then cut each half again lengthwise. Cut the shallot crosswise to create diced shallot pieces.

To mince, follow the directions above to prep and halve the shallot. Cut each half again lengthwise and finely slice each half crosswise. Then rock the knife back and forth to mince the shallot.

How to Cook With Shallots

Shallots are versatile, and the base of many dishes from soups to stews to sauces. Consider these ideas a starting point for using shallots in your cooking.


Raw, and chopped finely, shallots are often the building block of French-style vinaigrettes. And what would oysters be without sauce mignonette? They are also delectable when quick-pickled.


Fried shallots can be used to garnish an array of dishes, from Thai-style soups to that cornerstone of Thanksgiving, the green bean casserole. Then there is the frizzle, a riff on frying that keeps the shallot rings intact for an Instagram-worthy presentation.

Slow Cooked

Cooked shallots have a sweetness and depth of flavor that enhances myriad dishes, everything from a vegetable side like caramelized corn, to this cold-season-ready mussel and shallot stuffing.

Don't assume that shallots need to be sliced or diced for cooking. Because of their attractive shape, shallots are beautiful kept whole, just peeled and included in comfort-classics like French beef Bourgignon. Cooked low and slow, whole glazed shallots are an easy side dish or satisfying vegan entrée atop toast. Halved, skinny shallots are delicious with an autumnal pear-roasted chicken.

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