Shallots are all the rage in Western culinary circles these days, but they have been a staple in cuisines throughout the world for centuries.
Read on to learn about shallots, how to grow your own, and how to serve them at your next dinner party!
Looking to buy? Check shallot bulb availbility.
History of the Shallot
Shallots have been used for culinary and medicinal purposes for centuries, originating in the Middle East and quickly spreading to the Mediterranean, where Greeks gave them their botanical name, Allium ascalonicum, after traders discovered them in the Port of Ascalon in Palestine.
They then spread to India and throughout Asia, where they became an integral ingredient in many regional dishes. They were introduced to Europe by crusaders returning home from Palestine in the 11th century.
Over time, they have been cultivated and bred to improve flavor, shape, hardiness, and yield. There are now 13 certified varieties of them you can grow in your home garden!
Characteristics of the Shallot
Shallots are elongated bulbs that resemble small onions, with coppery pink or golden skin and pale purple and white flesh akin to that of a red onion. They grow in clusters, like garlic.
With their delicate acidity and fresh flavor profile, they enhance the flavor of dishes from around the world. They can be roasted, pickled, eaten raw, or even breaded and fried, and their light flavor can range from sharp to sweet, depending on how they’re used.
The three main types of shallots used in the world today are the Griselle, the Jersey, and the Prisma.
Grey, or Griselle, these are considered the only “true” shallot because they must be grown from bulbs. They offer the same mild flavor as other varieties, but are particularly pungent when raw. Griselle shallots are favored for their strong flavor. They grow in a more elongated shape than other shallots and have a grayish skin, with purplish flesh.
Jersey shallots are a long, slender, slightly round bulb covered with golden copper skin. Their flavor is both subtle and intense. They, with their pinkish-white flesh, are the most common type you’ll find in any grocery store in the United States.
Prisma shallots are larger than the other two and have a milder flavor, making them a favorite to eat raw, like in salads. You have probably seen these ones, with their pink, glossy skin at higher-end grocery stores. Prisma shallots are more round than elongated, compared to other varieties.
There are several other varieties of shallot, both heirloom and hybrid.
Health Benefits of Shallots
Shallots are packed with minerals, as well as vitamins A, B, C, and E (C is especially high in raw shallots). They have the highest concentration of antioxidants of any onion variety.
They help you maintain healthy blood pressure, thanks to their high potassium content, and they contain compounds like allicin, which can help lower cholesterol, improve heart health, and boost your immune system.
Compared to other onion varieties, they are a more concentrated source of fiber, protein, and micronutrients, like calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, and folate.
Cooked shallots can be used as poultices to get rid of warts, and hot ones can be wedged into the outer ear to relieve earache.
Drinking a teaspoon of shallot juice has been shown to help alleviate bronchitis. Shallot juice can also be used to relieve flu symptoms and sore throat. (Chop shallots and press the pieces through a sieve to release the juice.)
Raw shallot also works well as a diuretic.
How to Use Shallots
Shallots have become an international staple in cooking and can be eaten in myriad ways.
These little bulbs can be used in place of onions for a lighter flavor. Also, because they differ from onions on a cellular level, they break down more easily when carmelizing for a creamier, more subtle result. They can also be used In place of scallions (green onions) for a sharper, stronger flavor.
Add raw shallots to homemade salad dressings or grill them alongside other veggies and meats in a kabob. Dice them raw and toss them into a salad.
Shallot vinegar is popular to serve with oysters, clams, and other shellfish.
They are an important ingredient in French cooking, used in Béarnaise, de Bercy, and Bourguignonne sauces.
Fried shallots are wildly popular in Asian cuisine, tossed with everything from salads to noodle dishes. They go particularly well with egg dishes.
Growing Your Own Shallots
Shallots can thrive in US Department of Agriculture Hardiness Zones 2-10 with the proper care. They prefer loamy, slightly acidic, well-draining soil and full sun.
Many shallot varieties can be grown from seed (though bulbs are more commonly used in home gardens). Plant seeds as soon as possible in the spring, spacing seeds about 2 inches apart for higher yield. Planting them 3-4 inches apart will result in larger ones.
Bulbs can be planted in the fall, as long as you provide extra layers of mulch to keep the soil warm, removing it when the weather warms up. Bulbs should be planted pointed-end up, just deep enough so that the tops are still visible.
Give your shallots (seeds or bulbs) about 1 inch of water per week, making sure they don’t dry out. Be careful not to overwater.
Harvesting and Storing
Harvest shallots in the summer just when the leafy tops wither (usually about 90 days after planting); however, feel free to trim the leafy tops as the shallots grow and use them in place of chives and scallions while you await the finished product! Mature bulbs will have a papery skin.
Pull the entire shallot from the ground, including leaves, and store them in a cool, dry place for about a week. If you’re drying them outside, make sure they’re in the shade and that no rain is expected.
After the 7 days, remove the root ends and leafy tops and store as you would garlic, in a cool, dry place in a container that allows good air circulation (like a mesh bag). When stored properly, shallots can last up to 6 months.
Pests and diseases
Shallots are fairly resistant to pests and diseases, but can be susceptible to bacterial diseases, onion maggot, downy mildew, pink root, purple blotch, white onion rot, and thrips.
White onion rot is probably the most common problem gardeners encounter when growing shallots. It’s a soil-borne fungus that causes the above-ground foliage to yellow and wilt. Below ground, the fungus infects the bulb and rots the root. A white, fluffy fungus with black fungal bodies can be seen at the base of the bulb.
Treat white onion rot by removing affected bulbs. Be sure to rotate other onion varieties through the space each year to help prevent the fungus from returning.
Onion maggots are among the most common pests that can ruin your shallot crop. Adults lay their eggs around the base of the shallot, and the maggots bore into the roots. In addition to damaging roots and bulbs, onion maggots stunt seedling growth.
To prevent onion maggots from getting at your shallots, remove all bulbs at the end of the season. Floating row covers can help prevent females from laying eggs.
Where to Buy
The best time to buy shallots at your local grocery store is between April and August, but shallots bought outside of this window are still perfectly delicious. Choose bulbs that are firm and don’t have any soft spots. They should be relatively heavy for their size. Shallots that are sprouting are not as fresh as should be avoided.
Larger shallots taste more like onions, and smaller varieties have a sweeter, milder flavor.
Growing your own? Check your local farm and garden store for shallot seeds. Find bulbs at Hoss Tools.
Easy to Grow, Easy to Love
Shallots make a great addition to every home chef’s kitchen and every home gardener’s plot! Try your hand at growing these delightfully mild bulbs and discover all the ways you can enjoy them.
For more great tips on growing and using onion varieties, check out our onion hub page!