The Allium Family – Onions and Garlic
Onions and garlic are the foundation of many flavorful dishes. Yes, they are collectively called the “allium” family, not the alien family:).
I use them in almost all the food that I cook. I love the homemade, hearty flavors that they give to food. Maybe it has something to do with my Slavic roots:). There are also many health benefits of of onions and garlic, and they have been proven to have antioxidant properties, that help protect your body against health conditions such as heart disease and cancer.
Since I like to use many varieties of onions in my recipes, I get many questions from all of you about what is a shallot, leek, etc., where to find it in the store and what can be substituted.
Regular Yellow Onions
Of course, this is the king of the onion family, at least in our part of the world, and the one type of onion that everyone is familiar with. In general, you can substitute this type of onion if a recipe calls for a different type of onion that you can’t find or don’t have on hand.
Vidalia onions are a very sweet variety, and supposedly are less toxic and don’t make you cry as much. I honestly haven’t noticed much of a difference in that department, but I do love the sweetness of these onions. They look very similar to the regular onions. You can also use these onions in most recipes. Since we live in the South, where Vidalia onions are commonly grown, they are available for a good price quite often, so I use them interchangeably with white onions, depending what kind of deal I got that week.
I love to use red onions for grilling or roasting. They are also great in salads.
Besides the yellow onion, this is my favorite onion to use when I want something a little more mild than a regular onion. Whenever I see shallots at the store, I like to stock up. Shallots are wonderful to use when you need the taste of onion, but don’t want it to be too overpowering. They look like small red onions, but come in cloves, like garlic.
Pearl onions are tiny little white onions, that sort of look like garlic cloves. They are also much sweeter than regular onions and are usually cooked whole. You can buy them fresh or they are very commonly sold in the frozen section of the grocery store, already peeled for your convenience.
Green onions are the green tops of the regular onions. They are wonderful to add to salads and as a garnish to many dishes. I love to add it to almost all my soups. They give a wonderful, mild onion flavor with the fresh herb taste too.
Chives are the smallest species of the onion. They are really thin and delicate and have an even more mild taste than scallions. I love chives too. They are a wonderful addition to delicate things, like omelets, poached fish, appetizers, etc.
Instead of growing like a bulb, the leek is a long cylinder, with the edible part being the bottom white part and the light green part right above it. The dark green top part is usually discarded, since the texture is too tough. Leeks are a great addition to many soups, as well as main dishes, such as fish or chicken. Leeks are very aromatic and are great to use when poaching, steaming or making broth. Since they are grown with dirt piled all around them, leeks are very dirty, so you have to wash them really well. I like to slice them and then use a salad spinner to clean them.
There are many different kinds of garlic, and you can use most of them interchangeably. Some are more flavorful and robust then others, but mostly they can be used in most recipes. The top green part of the garlic, the garlic scapes, are a wonderful addition to food, and can be used just like green onions or chives.
How to Store
Scallions, chives and leeks should be stored in the refrigerator. The rest of the onions and garlic should be stored in a cool, dark and dry place. If the space is too warm, your onions will begin to sprout. If the location you chose is too cold, the onions will start to rot. Onions and garlic will absorb moistures, so store them somewhere dry.
If you have onions and garlic that are already peeled or cut, store them in the refrigerator or even freezer. Make sure to seal them really, REALLY well, or everything in your refrigerator or freezer will taste like onions.
Which is your favorite member of the allium family? What do you typically always have on hand in your kitchen?
I have a side question, where is the ideal spot to store onions? White onions for example. Chives I always store in the fridge. Wondering about the big bulbs 🙂
Great question, Roxanne! I added another paragraph about storing in the post.
Love this post, Olga! I also enjoy cooking with all members of the Allium family. Beautiful pictures.
Thank you, Julia.
Katya @ Little Broken
Great post! Very informative. I always get confused between different types of onions, etc.
Great post. Wow, I was wondering about onion differences, but always stuck with white/yellow onion and chives or green onion. I might have to explore more with shallots and pearls. Leeks seems like more work, maybe some day…. You did amazing job in your descriptions. Thanks Olga.
Thank you, Oksana! I’m glad it was helpful.
Thank you very much for the descriptions and pictures 🙂 I love it