What’s a Shallot? Can’t I Just Use an Onion?

Bowl of shallots on a table
October 2021


If you like to cook, you probably have onions in your pantry. And if you cook a lot, you probably have both red and white onions. But what about shallots? You’ve likely come across recipes that call for them. And you’ve probably substituted onions for shallots. If you wondered whether it makes a difference, read on. We’re here to demystify the shallot.

The Basics

Shallots are a member of the allium family – along with onions, garlic, and chives. They look like smaller, elongated onions and you can find them near the garlic and onions in your grocery store. What makes them unique is their sweet, mild flavor. That makes them especially useful in foods that won’t be cooked, such as dressings and salads.

What to Use When

If possible, it’s always best to use what the recipe calls for. If you’re thinking of substituting onions, the most important factor is whether you’ll be cooking or using them raw. When cooked, both onions and shallots mellow and sweeten. That means substituting one for the other isn’t very noticeable. When a dish uses raw shallots, the stronger, pungent flavor of an onion could easily ruin or at lease diminish the taste. If you have no choice but to use raw onions instead of shallots, use red onions because they are sweeter than white onions. You’ll also want to reduce the amount by about half.

When substituting onions for shallots, keep in mind that one small onion is about the same size as three shallots. Also, since shallots have more fine layers than onions, make sure to chop your onions into smaller pieces.

One last thing to keep in mind… since shallots keep well in a cool, dark place, it’s worth picking up a handful for your pantry. Once you begin using them, chances are you’ll appreciate their subtle flavor and find yourself never substituting with onions again.