Onions, Shallots and Leeks: What’s the Difference?
It’s hard to differentiate at times between onions, shallots and leeks. After all, they’re closely-related vegetables and share several characteristics. But each is different from the other in noticeable ways.
A round, multilayered vegetable, the onion comes in numerous types and varieties. It has many different shapes, sizes, colors and flavors, and is a favorite ingredient in culinary dishes worldwide. The taste differs based on the type and variety. Be it red, yellow, white or green, the onion runs the gamut of flavor—sweet, mild, pungent, spicy…the list goes on. The onion grows above ground, showing only a single, vertical shoot. Its bulb grows underground, where it stores energy.
Shallots are firm in texture, much finer than the onion, although relatively smaller. Their flavor is sweeter—an onion/garlic hybrid. In fact, shallots share about as many similarities with garlic as they do with onions: their roots are garlic-flavored and made of cloves, and their bulbs—which are the majority of the plant—grow similar to garlic. Unlike onions, shallots normally bloom white or violet flowers.
Leeks look like overgrown green onions. The stalk formation—long, bundled sheaths—makes the flavor of its edible parts (the white base and green stalk) much milder. Leeks are hardier than onions and shallots, but they don’t cook as well. They can also be thinned during the growing season, which allows the plant to grow to much larger in size once fully mature.
Onions, shallots and leeks are not considered interchangeable when it comes to cooking. Make sure you use whichever your recipe calls for, as the distinct flavor of each may alter the taste of your dish.