Onion vs shallots: What is the difference between the two?

onions vs shallots

About Onions and Shallots

When you’re following a recipe calling for shallots, it’s easy to just grab an onion from the pantry. Most kitchens have them lying around because of their commonality and versatility. But when it comes to getting the right flavor and texture, choosing onions vs. shallots can make a pretty big difference.

Onion is a term generally used to describe plants from the Allium family. However, as a common name, it usually refers to the specific garden or bulb onion. A shallot, on the other hand, once represented an entirely different species in the Allium family.

Onion vs. Shallots: Key Differences

The three biggest differences between onions and shallots are their growing conditions, their taste, and their texture.

Onions grow underground as big, individual bulbs. When cut open, they reveal multiple layers and typically have a stronger and more dominant flavor. Shallots, on the other hand, grow in clusters of bulbs (think garlic) and have a milder flavor and firmer texture.

You can easily spot the difference between an onion and shallot because onions are often larger and covered by a smooth, papery skin. Shallots are smaller and look like elongated onions, dividing into cloves rather than having rings.

Shallot flesh is off-white and skin varies from golden brown to reddish hues. There are even shallots that appear gray.

Difference in the Taste between an Onion and a Shallot

The three common onion variants, yellow, red, and white, each has a different flavor. Although there is a slight range in sweetness, the varieties tend to have a spicy, sulfuric fragrance that’s easily identifiable. When uncooked, many will find their pungent flavor overpowering.

Shallots have a subtler flavor that some describe as a cross between an onion and garlic. It is a little sweeter than an onion but has a much milder flavor overall.

Difference in Nutrition of Onions and Shallots

Shallots and onions are both nutrient-dense, healthy vegetables. They do, however, feature varying nutrients in differing amounts. The below chart features the nutritional information for a 100-gram serving of each.




72 40
Vitamin A 1190 IU (24% DV)

2.0 IU (0% DV)

Vitamin C

8 mg (13% DV) 7.4 mg (12% DV)
Vitamin B6 0.3 mg (17% DV)

0.1 mg (6% DV)


34 mcg (8% DV) 19 mcg (5% DV)
Potassium 334 mg (10% DV)

146 mg (4% DV)


0.3 mg (15% DV)

0.1 mg (6% DV)


1.2 mg (7% DV)

0.2 mg (1% DV)


60 mg (6% DV)

29.0 mg (3% DV)


21 mg (5% DV)

10.0 mg (2% DV)


37.0 mg (4% DV)

23.0 mg (2% DV)


6.1 mg

Health Benefits of Onions and Shallots

Both onions and shallots are good sources of nutrition and antioxidants that can contribute to your overall health in a number of ways.

If the taste isn’t enough and you’re looking for some tangible benefits to hold on to, some of the ways these vegetables may aid your health include:

Diabetes management: Both onions and shallots feature nutrients that help regulate blood sugar levels and act as anti-diabetic agents. The active ingredients that help shallots fight diabetes include the phytochemicals allium and allyl disulfide. Chromium is also present in a good supply in onions, which may also help regulate blood sugar levels.

Heart health: Shallots tend to feature higher levels of minerals than onions, which promote circulation. Iron, copper, and potassium work to produce red blood cells that supply oxygen throughout the body. Allicin, another compound found in onions and shallots, has been linked to regulating cholesterol. This may help reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke, while also lowering blood pressure.

Protect against inflammation and oxidation: Shallots and onions are also a source of quercetin, vitamin C, and various sulfuric antioxidants. These provide the vegetables with an antioxidant capacity to protect your cells from damage, battle cancer, and fight inflammation.

How to Use Onions and Shallots

Onions are extremely versatile and can be tossed into a salad or sandwich raw or cooked into meals and sauces. They can even be cooked down for use as a thickener in curries or stews. Onions also lend themselves well to pickling and are used as a topping for tacos, salads, and steaks.

Shallots have nearly as much versatility, but are very good raw or pickled to be sprinkled atop of many dishes. They can also provide crunchy texture to dips, spreads, and salads.

Onions vs. Shallots: Culinary Uses

Onions and shallots are used in a variety of ways, in many cuisines and meals from around the world. Again, both can be cooked, pickled, or eaten raw. They can also be used to add texture or taste, and are readily available in virtually any grocery or corner store.

Different types of shallots are more common in various regions. For example, pink shallots are often used in French cuisine, while red Thai shallots are commonly used in a number of Asian/Southeast Asian cuisines, including Indonesian, Vietnamese, Thai, Cambodian, Malaysian, and Filipino foods. Various shallots are also used in multiple regional Indian dishes.

Onions are also common ingredients in foods from countless regions. Whether you’re in America, Italy, Spain, Greece, China, or India, you can bet there will be onions.

Can You Interchange Onions and Shallots in Recipes?

Shallots and onions may look similar and have a relatively comparable taste, but that doesn’t always mean it’s an easy substitute. In many cases, you will be able to swap the two; however, there are some important factors to consider. If you need to know when to use an onion vs. shallot for cooking, here are some things to consider.

The first is texture. If you’ve got a recipe calling for cooked shallots, onions will fill in as a substitute. However, if the shallots are to be left raw, then onions may not do well. And if your recipe is calling for cooked onions, you can use cooked shallots without concern.

It is also important to remember that shallots have a much milder flavor than onions. So, if you need onions and only have shallots, you may need to cook more of them. The opposite would be true if you need to cook shallots but only have onions.

One more thing to consider is that shallots are much smaller and have finer layers than onions. So, if you’re using an onion in place of shallot, try to cut it a little more finely if possible.

Onions vs. Shallots: Size, Shape, Taste, and Nutrition

I’m sure we’ve all reached for an onion in place of a shallot and quickly understood why the recipe exists as it does. The smaller, subtler shallot is the less in-your-face member of the family compared to its garden onion cousin. So, when the recipe calls for one or the other, most of the time you’ll want to follow it to a tee to get the desired flavor and texture.

Shallots have a slight nutritional edge on their pungent cousin, and both fit nicely into a healthy diet.

Also read:

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