What’s the Difference Between Shallots and Onions?

If you’ve never cracked open a shallot, we’d forgive you for confusing them for tiny, oddly shaped onions. While the two are both part of the allium family, they’re actually quite different in taste, texture, and toughness (more on that later). Don’t confuse the two and figure out which is right for you as we dive deeper into the real differences between shallots and onions.

Appearance

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. 

Flavor

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. 

Texture

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.

Varieties

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. 

Culinary Versatility 

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.