What Is a Shallot and What Does It Taste Like?

Updated: Aug. 08, 2023

This small aromatic vegetable adds an extra layer of flavor and taste to so many dishes. But what is a shallot, exactly?

If you’ve ever been scouring the onion buckets at the supermarket only to find small purple oblong-looking onions, chances are those were shallots. And what is a shallot, exactly? We’ll break down the delicious vegetable plus how best to use it for elevated, aromatic meals.

What Are Shallots?

Shallots are vegetables in the allium family, which also includes leeks, chives, garlic and onions. Similar to garlic and onions, shallots are used for aromatic cooking before searing or sauteing proteins and other vegetables. You can also mince shallots and add them to homemade salad dressings and sauces or roast them to top a variety of dishes as a flavorful garnish.

What Does a Shallot Taste Like?

Shallots are a little bit sweet like garlic (with less sharpness) and a little bit pungent like onions. Because of their slightly sweet notes, shallots are more mild than most onions.

What Is the Difference Between a Shallot and an Onion?

A shallot is similar to garlic in its structure and cook time. Because of its smaller structure compared to onions, it breaks down much quicker when added to hot oil, in much the same way minced garlic does. Onions, conversely, take a while to soften and turn translucent. Onions also have a much stronger aroma.

What Can You Substitute for a Shallot?

Feel free to swap in onions for any recipe that calls for shallots. Since onions are larger, a recipe that calls for a whole shallot may not require a whole onion.

Yellow or sweet onions are the closest flavor profile, so reach for one of those in place of a shallot instead of something more bitter and sharp like a red onion. To vary flavors in a recipe, you can also try splitting the vegetables, using half onions and half shallots.

How to Cut Shallots

Use a small paring knife or chef’s knife to get the best cut on shallots. Like cutting onions, you’ll want to cut the shallot in half horizontally (from root to stem) first. Then, cut off the tip on the stem side. Lay one half of the shallot on your cutting board, flat-side down. From there, slice into the shallot lengthwise, while keeping the root intact. Once all cuts are made lengthwise, very carefully slice into the shallot widthwise until your knife nears the root.

Now you’re ready to dice. Hold the shallot together at the top, and chop away. All the little cuts you made will result in evenly chopped bits of shallot.

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