What Are Scallions?

what are scallions

The Spruce Eats / Lindsay Kreighbaum

Scallions are a variety of young onion also referred to as green onions and spring onions. A scallion is made up of a white base that has not fully developed into a bulb and long green stalks that resemble chives. Both the white and the green parts are used in recipes and eaten both raw and cooked. 

Note that in some parts of the world, notably the UK and Australia but also some parts of the US, what we call scallions (or green onions) are referred to as shallots. But shallots, though they are part of the onion family, are something else altogether.

What are Scallions?

Scallions are a member of the Allium family, which includes garlic, onions, leeks, and shallots. Scallions grow in clumps and develop dark green, hollow tube-like leaves. Although the term scallion is used for several different types of onions, the white base of true scallions has straight sides versus rounded (which distinguishes the beginnings of a bulb developing). There are usually short off-white root threads that protrude from the bottom of the white end. ​

How to Use Scallions

One of the wonderful things about scallions is that they're mild enough to be eaten raw or only slightly cooked, which preserves their crisp texture. 

Although scallions may be cooked, either whole or chopped, they are perhaps most enjoyed fresh in salads, as crudites or as a last minute topper for sauces. Scallions are a popular ingredient in Asian and Latin-American cooking and are often used as a garnish in a variety of recipes.

Latin American cuisine often uses a variety of scallions with larger, more bulbous bottoms called cebollitas, essentially baby white onions with their shoots still attached. But the more common variety of scallions are straight, cylindrical shoots.

Cooked scallions can be included in stir-frys, often as one of the last ingredients added so that they stay crisp. They're also often included in marinades and salad dressings. Sliced thinly, they release more of their flavor to the dish, whereas bigger pieces will release more of their flavor when eaten.

Scallion definition illustration
The Spruce / Tim Liedtke

What Do They Taste Like?

Since scallions really consist of two parts, the white bottoms and the green shoots on top, scallions are a uniquely versatile vegetable with two distinct flavors. The flavor of the bottom white section most resembles the flavor of an onion, especially a white onion, though it is less pungent and more sweet. Although it's the most potent part of the scallion, even served raw, as a garnish or ingredient in a salad, it is generally mild enough for most palates. The green part is distinctively oniony but with an additional fresh, grassy flavor. 

Scallions Recipes

Where to Buy Scallions

Scallions are available at grocery stores and farmers' markets year-round, though they're at their peak during the spring and summer months (which is why they're sometimes called spring onions). They range in size from small to large, the medium-sized being the best tasting. Look for onions whose white base is firm and where the green ends are brightly colored and stiff. Avoid any bunches where the leaves are wilted and yellowing. 

Storage

If you want to keep your scallions fresh for a relatively short time, simply remove the rubber band from the bunch, rinse them, shake off excess water and pat dry with a paper towels. Then wrap them in the damp paper towels (squeeze out the paper towels first if they're soaked) and store them in the crisper drawer on the humid setting for up to three days. 

If you want to keep them fresh for longer, however, you'll need a clean glass jar. Fill it about half-full with water. Remove the rubber band and rinse the scallions, then stand them up in the jar with the white ends at the bottom. Finally, cover the tops with a plastic produce bag and use the rubber band to secure the bag around the mouth of the jar. Your scallions will keep for up to a week. 

Regrowing Scallions

If you use the jar storage method described above, you might notice that the bottoms of the scallions are producing thin, tendril-like roots. This is because your scallions are still alive, and you can use this to your advantage. 

Cut the tops of the scallions off leaving about two inches of the bottoms. Use the tops in your cooking and place the bottoms in a jar with about one inch of water at the bottom and place it on a windowsill. In about a week, the scallions will have regrown. You can also plant them in a pot in the sun where they'll live for two years before ultimately blossoming and then going to seed.