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Allium ascalonicum

Photo courtesy of Horticulture New Zealand


Shallots look a lot like a cross between garlic bulbs and small onions, with a brown to reddish skin. While they’re a member of the Allium genus, like garlic and onions, they’re actually a member of the lily family. Shallots are usually grown from a single bulb that multiplies into more bulbs, which is why you’ll often see them in clusters.

Shallots have a strong, sweet flavour that’s similar to onion. They’re high in vitamins A, B6, and C, as well as folate, potassium, and manganese.

Choose shallots as you would onions – check that they feel firm and heavy, with no soft spots or patches of mould. Avoid ones that are sprouting, as these are an indication they’ve been sitting around for a while. Shallots can be stored in a cool, dark place for a couple of months, in the same way as you’d store onions.



Shallots probably originated in Central or South-East Asia, making their way to India and the Mediterranean from there. Their botanical name is derived from Ashkelon, in modern-day Israel, from where crusaders brought them home to Europe in the 12th century.

Shallots have been an important part of French cooking since then, and are also regularly found in Asian food, especially Thai.


Shallots are used in the same way as onions – though not usually raw. They’re good for adding extra flavour to a dish, but in a more delicate way than onion. Their sweetness makes them excellent in stir fries with salty soy or oyster sauce, and they’re a traditional component of the French classic béarnaise sauce, made with egg yolk, butter, and tarragon.

The easiest way to get started with shallots is just to use them in place of onion in a dish you like – use about four shallots for every onion you’re replacing.

When frying shallots, be careful not to brown them too much. Their high sugar content means that they caramelise and burn easily, and this can make them bitter.


Beware if you go to Australia and want to buy these – what Australians often call shallots we know as spring onions.

In Iran, shallots are popular crushed and mixed into yoghurt.

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