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Have you ever been preparing a recipe you found online and it’s called for shallots? Or have you been to a restaurant and the menu says your favourite has been made with shallots? If so, you may have been curious and then shocked to find out that these small looking red onion things are so pricy. But why are shallots so expensive? And what’s the difference between them and red onions?

What Are Shallots?

Shallots like yellow onions, red onions and other onion varieties are part of the allium family. However, the onion family aren’t the only alliums as garlic, scallions, leeks and chives also belong to this group.

Whilst being a part of this same umbrella family as onions though, shallots are very much their own thing. Appearance-wise shallots look like a hybrid between garlic and onions. Shallots almost look like thin red onions on the outside with garlic-like bulbs within.

Onions and garlic each have very sharp and distinct flavors. Shallots on the other hand are much milder and have a unique allium flavor. They are often described as being halfway between an onion and garlic in taste, whilst being sweeter than either. Due to this more mild yet flavorful taste many people often like to eat shallots raw such as in salad dressings or vinaigrettes. 

Why Are Shallots So Expensive?

The reason for the expensive prices of shallots compared to onions all comes down to availability. Onions are a more hardy crop and can grow in a wide variety of climates and conditions, and at temperatures as low as twenty-one degrees Fahrenheit or minus six Celsius. Shallots on the other hand require much warmer temperatures, with the lowest they can grow in being thirty-five degrees Fahrenheit or one degree Celsius.

As a result, onions can be grown in more countries around the world than shallots. Over seventy-five million tonnes of onions are grown each year in over one hundred and seventy countries. However, in the case of shallots only around four million tonnes are grown globally, with the majority coming from Mexico.

Additionally, in countries such as the United States, there are tariffs on goods from Mexico which can increase the prices further in regions and limit the number of shallots that are imported to the country.

Which is Healthier, Onions or Shallots?

Whilst neither onions nor shallots could be called particularly unhealthy, the nutritional contents of the two are very different. Within one hundred grams of onion, you’ll find that they contain roughly forty calories, eight and a half grams of carbohydrates, one gram of protein and four grams of sugar.


Why are shallots So Expensive? Shallot vs Red Onion


One hundred grams of shallots however would contain nearly double the amount of each. The shallots would contain seventy calories, sixteen grams of carbohydrates, two and a half grams of protein and eight grams of sugar.

Can Shallots and Red Onions be used Interchangeably?

Out of all the various onion types, red onions probably have the closest resemblance to shallots. Additionally, the flavour of red onions is probably closer to shallots than that of yellow or green onions. However, shallots and red onions are still very different from each other. Also, when cooked red onions can add a less than desirable colour to certain dishes. 

Red onion layers are generally thicker than those of shallots. As such shallots often blend into dressings and salad dressings more effectively whilst providing a truly distinct taste. However, a lot of the distinctive nature of shallots is lost when cooked thoroughly such as if they are caramelised are heavily fried. 

Can a Yellow Onion be used instead of Shallots?

Whilst there are some similarities between red onions and shallots, yellow onions are very different. Yellow onions have a much stronger flavor and no hint of garlic to them. For this reason, they would make a poor substitute for shallots.


Why are shallots So Expensive? Shallot vs Red Onion


Equally though, when a dish calls for onion, whether yellow, white or red, shallots would make an inadequate substitute for them. This is because dishes that call for these kinds of onions often need the strong flavor they inherently contain. Dishes like French onion soup for example would likely taste incredibly underwhelming if shallots were used in the place of the yellow or white onions.

Can Shallots and Onions Ever Be Used Interchangeably?

For the most part onions and shallots perform different functions as ingredients. However, in some cases, they can be interchanged. 

For example, if having fried onions on a burger, shallots may be used instead to provide a slight garlic flavour. Additionally substituting shallots for finely diced red onion and garlic powder can make an adequate approximation for shallots in a vinaigrette.

Along with using them interchangeably though, they can also be used together. An interesting example would be in an egg fried rice dish. Here you may add some red, yellow or white garlic early on. Then add a mixture of shallots and scallions late into the process to lightly fry them, or alternatively after cooking entirely as garnish.

Ultimately though cooking is about experimenting with different ingredients. Whilst there is common wisdom that should always be followed, being willing to try new ideas is always worthwhile. Maybe our salade nicoise recipe could use shallots in tandem with the onions for example.

You’ll never know what you’ll discover if you don’t break the mould after all. And who knows, maybe you’ll discover a way of using shallots that surprises yourself and everyone who tires your dish