To many of us, spring means so much more than stashing away our cold-weather clothes and sprucing up our humble abodes. Spring marks the beginning of an abundant produce season. If you’re lucky to live within striking distance of a farmer’s market the bounty of fresh vegetables is enough to have you considering veganism, or at least starting a pickling company.
There’s a certain subset of onions, long and slender that ombre from a white root up to long green stems that are usually sold in bunches and especially abundant in spring. Ramps, leeks, young onions. There seems to be no shortage of variants but maybe you’ve been confused about which is which, what to do with them, and other distinguishing characteristics. In this piece we’ll explore the difference between green onions, chives, and scallions.
As you might imagine, all are part of the same allium family, which includes any type of onion or garlic. Most are flowering plants with edible roots, cultivated and harvested in the Northern Hemisphere’s cooler climates, save for a few, and are used in cooking for their distinct and intense flavors as various health benefits.
The Bottom Line
Grocery stores label long, skinny, green-topped onions with white bottoms as either scallions or green onions. But they are almost always the exact same plant, says Kat Barlow, a customer service technician for Territorial Seed Company in Oregon. Chives, on the other hand, are “typically considered an herb since the plant stays pretty tiny yet has a strong, pungent flavor that is good as a seasoning in smaller quantities.”
So, What Are Scallions and Green Onions?
Specifically, green onions/scallions are the genus and species Allium fistulosum, and are also known as Japanese bunching onions or Welsh onions, says Dale W. McNeal, a professor emeritus of biology at the University of the Pacific in Northern California. According to Barlow, this species “stays small and does not form big bulbs”; she adds that the regular cooking onion (Allium cepa) may also occasionally be sold as a green onion or spring onion if it’s harvested early, before the bulb fully forms. The immature cepa has a stronger flavor than the fistulosum. Used raw, green onions/scallions add a bit of texture, color, and a milder taste to your cooking than regular onions, as in this guacamole recipe. They are also delicious grilled whole bringing out the vegetable’s delicate sweetness.
What Are Chives?
“Chives are a completely different species, Allium schoenoprasum,” McNeal says. Thin, more delicate chives add oniony flavor (with a tiny hint of garlic) without having to put big chunks in your dish, like in these soft-scrambled-egg and prosciutto bundles. Common chives are also good raw as a garnish over things like deviled eggs.
The genus Allium includes garlic, shallots, and leeks as well—the latter of which might also be confused with scallions when they are picked very young. The Latin name for the leek is Allium ampeloprasum var. porrum. Leeks are firmer and denser than scallions, with a milder flavor. Recipes usually call for the light green and white portion of the stalk (but we like to save the green tops and throw them in the pot when making stock). Leeks are best in cooked preparations, like our Savory Onion and Leek Tart or Carrot, Leek, and Parsley Mash.
Besides serving chives and scallions raw in salads, grilled over steaks or cooked into your favorite soup, they can be prepared a number of other ways. Pickled green onions are a hit in bloody marys or tacos, while dried chives can be found in almost any spice section and are popular atop baked potatoes, alongside sour cream and butter.
Scallion Pancake with Egg and Pork Floss
A perfect pillowy scallion pancake with just the right balance of oil and onion flavor is a true thing of beauty. This recipe takes scallion pancake from classic Dim Sum supporting character to the star, filled with egg and pork floss (a fluffy dried pork product). Get our Scallion Pancake with Egg and Pork Floss recipe.
Fully Loaded Twice-Baked Potatoes
Green onions (sliced green and white parts) are merely the coup de grace for this comforting, delicious, and bacon-scattered twice-baked potato recipe. Serve it as a side to some tasty protein, or by itself, as the center of a light meal or lunch. Get our Fully Loaded Twice-Baked Potatoes recipe.
Thai Green Curry Chicken
Thai green curry paste combines with lime juice and zest, Asian fish sauce, and a bit of brown sugar to create a braising liquid with lots of personality. Add red bell peppers, green beans, and coconut milk, and you end up with a luscious one-pot meal that needs only steamed rice to complete it.. Get our Thai Green Curry Chicken recipe.
Korean Scallion Salad
Most Korean restaurants serve this green onion salad, known as pajori, as a side dish (or banchan), but the dish’s balance of sweet and spice makes it a great accompaniment to numerous other grilled foods.. Get our Korean Scallion Salad recipe.
Egg, Cheese, and Chive Tartlets
A mixture of sharp white cheddar, crème fraîche, chives, and optional crisply fried pancetta bakes in easygoing frozen puff-pastry shells. Top the warm tarts with a fried egg and a few more chives. Get our Egg, Cheese, and Chive Tartlets recipe.
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