Shallot ‘Griselle’ from Thompson & Morgan.

Shallots are an underappreciated cousin of the onion
Image: Shallot ‘Griselle’ from Thompson & Morgan.

If you normally grow onions, have you considered planting shallots alongside them? These oval alliums offer a unique flavour profile, prized in French and Asian cuisine. Here we explain the differences between onions and shallots and explore why both are equally worth growing in your veg patch.

Is there a difference between an onion and a shallot?

Shallot ‘Hermine’ from Thompson & Morgan

Shallot ‘Hermine’ produces unusual pure white flesh and skin with a mild flavour
Image: Shallot ‘Hermine’ from Thompson & Morgan

Onions and shallots are perennial vegetables, both grown for their edible flavoursome bulbs. Shallots (Allium ascalonicum) are very closely related to onions (Allium cepa) and have more in common with each other than other members of the allium family like leeks, spring onions, and chives. Shallots are usually split into three groups; grey ‘French’ shallots, pink fleshed ‘Jersey’ shallots, and echalion or ‘banana’ shallots.

Do shallots and onions taste different?

Shallot ‘Meloine’ from Thompson & Morgan

Some shallots develop as part of a larger bunch of bulbs
Image: Shallot ‘Meloine’ from Thompson & Morgan

If you’re looking to add delicate sweetness to a dish, then shallots are perfect – try them in aromatic curries, caramelise them into sauces and gravies or chop them up into fresh vinaigrettes. Onions, on the other hand, provide more ‘heat’ and keep their flavour for longer during cooking, making them ideal for rich stews and long roasts.

The different cellular structure in the flesh of onions and shallots breaks down at different rates during cooking, which basically means shallots caramelise quicker. Replace onions with shallots in a recipe where a milder flavour is needed or if you find onions a bit strong. Use up the whole of your shallot by finely chopping the green tops and adding as a garnish to your finished meal, similar to a spring onion.

How to grow onions and shallots

Shallot ‘Jermor’ from Thompson & Morgan

Shallots are rewarding and easy to grow
Image: Shallot ‘Jermor’ from Thompson & Morgan

Shallots and onions grow in very similar ways. If you have a small veg patch, then perhaps choose to grow shallots as each bulb is slimmer and doesn’t require as much space. Otherwise treat them both exactly the same when sowing and growing.

A windowsill is all you need to start your onions and shallots from seed. Sow early in the year undercover, protecting your young seedlings from frost. Alternatively, start your shallots from sets by planting hardy varieties in autumn and tender varieties in spring. The longer your sets are left to develop in the ground, the larger your bulbs will be when you harvest them in summer. For more detailed advice, read our article on how to grow onions and shallots.

Do onions or shallots store better?

Plaited and displayed shallots on kitchen table

Stored shallots can be plaited and displayed in the kitchen
Image: Mr.paripat niyantang/Shutterstock

For storage purposes, some growers would claim that onions have a slight edge, but both onions and shallots can be kept for up to six months after harvesting if stored correctly. Just remember to ‘cure’ your bulbs by laying them outside in dry, sunny weather for about a week or until the outer skin is dry and papery. After curing, store your bulbs in a dark, dry and cool place, checking them regularly for rot or mould. 

Shallots and onions are both well worth growing. Find all you need to get your own delicious crops started at our onions, garlic and shallots hub page. We love keeping up to date with your sowing and growing, so tag us in your social photos using #YourTMGarden!

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