The Allium Family

Learn about onions, scallions, and shallots.
garlic chives on a cutting board

Even if they haven’t been formally introduced, most people know members of the allium family.

This versatile group of aromatic vegetables includes onions, scallions, and shallots (as well as chives, garlic, and leeks).

How do these pungent veggies differ from one another, and how are they used in cooking?

Members of The Allium Family

  • Onions

    One of the basic ingredients in many a kitchen, onions range in size from tiny to baseball-sized, and in color from white through yellow to purple and brown.

    Common Uses

    Raw onion lends itself to use in salads and, finely minced, in dressings and sauces.

    Cooked as the flavor foundation of soups, stews, and casseroles, onion also stars as the main ingredient in onion soup and onion tart.

  • Scallions

    There’s some controversy among food experts around what, exactly, scallions are.

    “In many parts of the country, they’re called green onions or spring onions,” according to Melissa Clark, a food writer for the New York Times.

    “Spring onions” are early onions on their way to becoming regular, full-sized onions, adds cookbook author Stacy Ballis, who notes that the terms “scallions” and “green onions” refer to the same vegetable.

    She suggests finding out what they are called in your part of the country.

    Common Uses

    Salads and salsas are two uses for raw scallions, and nothing beats a drift of chopped scallions atop a mound of nachos.

    They add an aromatic, pungent note to anything they’re cooked in, and Clark says “they are often paired with garlic and ginger and make up the foundation of myriad [Asian] dishes.”

    The white bulbs have more of an onion taste; the green parts taste more like chives.

  • Shallots

    Although they are clearly related, these members of the allium family have a more delicate flavor than onions and are less sharp than garlic.

    Common Uses

    Widely used by French cooks to flavor sauces, shallots also shine in Asian and Creole cuisines, and add a special flavor when used, finely chopped, in salads or to garnish cooked dishes.

    Shallots can pinch-hit for onions in almost any recipe; substitute them ounce for ounce.

Click to See Our Sources

“The difference between green onions, scallions, spring onions, garlic scapes, leeks, and ramps” by Stacey Ballis,, 4/24/23

“Know your onions (and shallots, leeks, and ramps)” by M. Clark,, 5/17/21

Larousse Gastronomique (2009, Hamlyn, $115)

“What is a shallot? And . . . how, exactly is it different from an onion?” by A. Biggs and editors of Bon Appétit,, 11/13/23


Nan Fornal

Nan Fornal has experience with fiction, nonfiction, and technical publications, working closely with book and magazine publishers from from first edit to final proofing. She has worked with Exeter Press, Boston magazine, and self-publishers alike.