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Scallions are a member of the Allium family, joining garlic, leeks, shallots and onions. They’re often used to add a bit of color or a garnish to a dish but are often overlooked for their nutritional value and overshadowed by other ingredients. Like others in the family, scallions contain sulfuric compounds designed to protect them from predators.1
The word scallion is derived from the Greek askolonion,2 referring to an ancient Palestinian port considered the home of the onion. However, it is now known onions are native to Asia. The word shallot is also derived from the word askolonion, meaning scallion in Australia, Canada and the U.K. Shallots are a completely different species in the U.S.
Although believed to originate in Asia, seeds of the onion plant have been discovered in Egyptian tombs dating 3200 B.C.3 According to the National Onion Association,4 King Ramses IV was entombed with onion bulbs in his eye sockets, possibly because some ancients believed onion scent carried magical powers to prompt the dead to breathe again.
Scallions are a member of the onion family, but may easily be confused with chives, green onions, spring onions and shallots. Before planting indoors or in your garden, let’s identify the scallion.
The scallion is a young onion, sometimes called green onions. It has a white base and a long green stalk resembling chives. The plant will have stringy white roots, long tender green leaves and a stiff white stalk with no bulb. The plants are grown in bunches and harvested young.
A scallion has a mild onion flavor — not as intense as regular onions — and may be used raw or cooked. Spring onions look like scallions, but they have a small bulb base.5 They are a more mature version and may be planted as seedlings in the late fall and harvested in the spring, hence their name. Spring onions often taste sweeter than regular onions, but the greens are more intense than scallions.
Although they may look similar, chives6 are a different species. They are often used as a garnish in omelets, soups and salads. Botanically, they are classified as an aromatic grass. A true shallot is a bulb with a more delicate garlic flavor than onion flavor. It’s believed to have originated in Asia Minor7 and although they’re both from the onion family, they’re different varieties.
In many cases, you may substitute one for the other in a recipe, but you’ll experience a different flavor.8 Shallots have a thin outer layer of skin making it appear more like an onion than a scallion does. They grow in a similar manner to garlic — in clusters with a head or a bulb containing multiple cloves.
Scallions may be grown indoors or outside. Most perennial scallions thrive in hardiness zones9 3 to 9 and enjoy full sun. They may handle partial shade but also require regular watering so it’s important not to plant them in hot dry soil.10
When starting from seed, consider planting indoors five or six weeks before the last frost or waiting until the soil begins warming before sowing directly in your garden. Plant the seeds thickly 1 to 1 1/2 inches deep, whether in the garden or in a flat indoors.11
Like other types of onions, scallions’ seeds may germinate slowly and poorly. The plants require constant moisture in well-draining soil, so they aren’t sitting in a puddle of water. When starting indoors, harden them off as the roots begin to fill the cell pack.
Hardening gives the seedlings time to become accustomed to the outdoors. Start on a mild day with two to three hours of sun exposure, adding a few hours every day. If the temperature drops below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (F), bring them indoors.12 Scallions have a shallow root system so it’s important to keep them watered after planting in the garden.13
You may enjoy a continual harvest by succession planting every three to four weeks. Adding a side dressing of organic fertilizer helps to keep them green and growing throughout the summer. Your crop will also appreciate being kept weed-free. If you’re growing perennial scallions, apply a layer of mulch in the fall and remove it in the spring for an earlier crop.14
Once harvested, you may reroot your scallions indoors, or even use the ones you’ve purchased from the grocery store. Leave a couple of inches of the stem attached to the roots and add them to a couple of inches of water in a glass. Make sure the roots are pointed down and the stems are pointed up. Change the water every two to three days.15
Within seven to 10 days you’ll have another set of green tops. But the plant is not done yet! Keep the scallions in a glass of water near a source of sunlight and you’ll enjoy a couple more harvests from the same plant.
Scallions may be either perennial or biennial.16 Annual plants complete their entire life cycle in a single season. Perennial plants go from seed to seed within one season but do not die at the end of the season.
Sometimes a plant classified as a perennial may be grown as an annual in colder climates when the winter kills them off. However, by definition, a perennial plant may be expected to live at least three years and, in some cases, longer,17 although not all perennials are able to withstand winter temperatures.
Between the category of annual and perennial is a biennial. These plants are shorter-lived than perennials, taking two growing seasons to complete their life cycle.
In the classic sense, the biennial produces only foliage in the first growing season. It is not until the second year it produces a flower and seeds. Parsley, some onions, beets, broccoli and cabbage are common biennial vegetables.18
You’ll find scallions in the grocery store produce section throughout the year, but they are at their peak during the summer and spring.19 Their flavor will be mild when they’re young, so you may start harvesting as soon as the plants reach 6 inches in height and have the width of a pencil.
Harvest the whole plant by pulling it out, roots and all.20 If you have planted a perennial variety, consider thinning only and harvesting in the second year. In the second year, consider dividing the roots and replanting one or more of the divisions for a larger harvest the following year.21
Once you’ve brought the plants inside, store them in the refrigerator, in a jar with about an inch of water. Place a bag over the greens and secure it with a rubber band. This helps to keep the greens from wilting and maintain a fresh flavor.22
Change the water every day or two so it doesn’t get stale. In the refrigerator, scallions may last a little more than a week. If you plan to use them in stews and soups, they may be sliced and frozen. This changes their texture when they’re thawed, which makes them best used in cooked dishes after freezing.
You’ll retain better flavor when the scallions are sliced and not chopped. According to Master Class,23 the best process for slicing scallions is to use the entire length of a sharp blade. Start by laying scallions in a single layer on your chopping board.
Place the tip of the blade against the cutting surface and then steadily pulled the blade across the scallions. Downward pressure on the leaves bruises them, affecting the flavor.
The age and type of the scallion you use will determine the flavor. These vegetables not only add something unique to your dishes, they also provide a variety of health boosting vitamins and minerals to help protect your health, including:24
Vitamin A — This antioxidant helps fight inflammation and damage caused by free radicals. It helps maintain your immune system function, slows the aging process, promotes healthy vision and skin, and improves bone health. Deficiency may lead to night blindness, higher risk of infection and infertility.25
Vitamin C — This water-soluble vitamin acts as a powerful antioxidant, helping to improve heart health, boost immune system function, regulate blood sugar levels and fight viral illnesses. It may also help reduce the risk of the common cold, cancer, osteoarthritis and age-related macular degeneration.26,27
Vitamin K — This helps lower the risk for cardiovascular calcification, heart disease and stroke, and plays an important role in blood clotting.28
Folate — This B vitamin plays an important role in the function of DNA and other genetic materials and may help reduce the risk of neural tube defects in babies, as well as preterm birth, cancer, heart disease and stroke.29
Potassium — This mineral balances electrical and chemical processes in your body, which in turn helps maintain proper muscle contractions, transmit nerve impulses, regulate blood sugar levels and improve blood pressure.30
Iron — Iron plays a role in the formation of hemoglobin, cell growth and differentiation, metabolism, endocrine and brain function, energy production, and immune health.31
Scallions are versatile ingredient you may use when you want to lend a bit of onion flavor without the pungency of regular red or yellow onions. They can be sprinkled over soup, tossed into salads or added to sandwiches.
If you don’t have scallions at home or those in your garden are not yet ready for harvesting, there are several other members of the allium family you may use as a substitute, including:
- Leeks — These vegetables taste stronger and have a tougher texture than scallions so it’s best to use them in cooked dishes.
- Shallots — Ideal for cooked dishes, the flavor may be pungent when used raw.
- Chives — These are often mistaken for scallions and may be used as a substitute. They have a mild flavor as do scallions, but sometimes do better in raw dishes than in cooked.
- Ramps — Also called wild leeks, ramps have a strong onion and garlic flavor combination best for cooked dishes.
Scallion pancakes are a classic Chinese dish that is chewy, crunchy and savory, all at the same time. It may be eaten alone or with a dipping sauce of your choosing. This recipe was adapted from All Recipes.32
- 3 cups coconut flour
- 1 1/4 cups boiling water
- Coconut oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 bunch scallions finely chopped
- Create a dough mixture by mixing the coconut flour and boiling water in a large bowl. Knead the dough mixture until it forms a ball. Cover it and let it rest for 30 to 60 minutes.
- Evenly divide the dough into 16 pieces. Roll each piece into 1/4-inch-thick circles. Brush each circle with oil, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of chopped scallion.
- Take one of the dough circles, roll it up and then coil it into a round dough bundle. Pinch the open ends together to form a disc.
- Using the rolling pin or your hands, flatten the coiled dough bundles into pancakes that are around 1/4-inch thick.
- Heat 2 teaspoons of coconut oil in a large skillet. Fry the pancakes until golden brown, about two minutes on each side. Add more oil between batches, if necessary.