Even with just a passing glance, there are some immediate differences between shallots and onions. First of all, shallots are generally much smaller and often have a more prominent point or oblong shape when compared to onions. It’s important to note that the shape is not a hard and fast rule, as there are some varieties that are more squat and round. However, in stark contrast to onions, shallots are grown in clusters as opposed to single bulbs, making them more akin to garlic.
Shallots and onions share a similar flavor, but shallots are milder and deeper. They also lack the typical “bite” associated with onions while still staying pungent. Additionally, shallots have an underlying garlic note which creates an extremely rich and approachable finished product. Similar to onions, shallots taste different in their cooked and uncooked forms, as the cooking process brings more sweetness and knocks out any strong flavors. With that being said, if you’re in a pinch, you can substitute yellow onions for shallots and vice versa.
In their raw forms, both of the alliums are crunchy and crisp, but they change dramatically when cooked. Onions hold up much better in the cooking process and generally retain their crunchiness, while shallots become very tender and almost fade into the background of the dish. To truly test out the two, we’d recommend roasting both and seeing for yourself.
When it comes to diversity in varieties, onions definitely take the cake. Red onions, sweet onions, yellow onions, and white onions all have their own distinct differences, but shallots tend to stay in a similar vein. The biggest difference comes from ease of use; long, straight torpedo shallots have a milder flavor and are easier to peel than standard shallots.
As you’d expect, shallots and onions are true workhorses in the kitchen. Beyond serving raw in salads, sandwiches, and dressings, both hold up well in a variety of cooking methods! Feel free to roast, braise, sauté and grill both to your hearts content.