Shallots 101: The Facts, Plus Surprising Applications for Cooking and Health

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French cuisine is revered as one of the most sophisticated cooking styles in the world. French chefs blend unique flavors to make dishes that are subtle and somehow simultaneously complex. So who wouldn’t want to know their secrets? Well, one unexpected trick of the trade is to use shallots. A staple in the kitchens of many French chefs, the shallot has a delicate flavor capable of converting the most adamant onion-hater. Also, shallots are routinely used to season vinaigrettes, sauces, and vegetables instead of salt. With a rich vitamin profile, what a superior salt swap these bulbs provide!

Identification

A member of the onion family, shallots are relatively small—about 2 inches long. They are oblong in shape, and their papery skin ranges in color from soft lavender to rich copper. Two main types of shallots include the more common “false” shallot, and less common “true” shallot. False shallots are a more recent variety developed by the Dutch and planted by seed. The true shallot is native to France. It never flowers, but instead, the bulbs of the shallot must be replanted each year. French chefs and farmers insist there is a great difference in flavor and quality, though to the average person they can be used interchangeably.

Sometimes shallots are sold as loose bulb clusters like garlic; other times, they’re packed in a net bag.

Dried shallots can also be found in the spice section of a store; they resemble onion flakes.

Taste

Shallots have a more delicate flavor and aroma than their cousin, the white onion. If you dislike onions, you may still like shallots. They are not nearly as sharp as onions when raw or cooked, yet they still add a savory component to enhance meals such as seafood and eggs.

French chefs tend to prefer the most subtle flavor of the true shallot and use this variety in their cooking.

Availability

Shallots are widely available in most supermarkets and specialty stores. You can also purchase dried shallots—often grown, dried, and chopped in France—from spice stores.

Season

Shallots are typically planted in the fall to be harvested the following summer and fall. However, you can typically find them in grocery stores year round

Selection

Choose firm and heavy shallots. Their skins should be papery, shiny, and a little loose. A cluster of large shallot bulbs should be tight together, not spreading at the base.

Avoid shallots that are shriveled or have moldy tips, as this indicates they are overripe. Also avoid shallots that have already begun to sprout—they will have a bitter taste.

Organic Benefits

When deciding whether to purchase organic or non-organic produce, it’s helpful to know which fruits and vegetables are most affected by pesticides. Pesticides are toxins used to kill insects, invasive plants, and fungi during the growth of produce, and are potentially dangerous to people. National and international agencies agree that prolonged exposure to specific pesticides through food consumption is a potential health risk. Additionally, some studies indicate that organic fruits and vegetables have a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals than conventionally raised produce.

Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an environmental health advocacy and research organization in the United States. From cosmetics to produce, water to cleaning products, EWG provides insight regarding the impact of pesticides, manufacturing practices, and product ingredients on our health and environment. EWG produces a consumer guide ranking 48 fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue. The higher the rank, the lower the residue. In this ranking, the 12 most affected fruits and vegetables belong to the “Dirty Dozen,” and the 15 least affected are part of the “Clean Fifteen”. These lists help identify the produce that is most—and least—dramatically affected by pesticides. 

Although shallots do not appear on any EWG produce list, onions are listed on the EWG’s “Clean Fifteen” list, meaning that the conventionally grown version is generally considered safe.

Storage

Store shallots in a mesh bag or loose in a cool, dark place for up to one month. Once sliced, keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two days.

Preparation

Remove the papery exterior, then cut off the root and the tip. Sliver, dice, or mince shallots as desired to eat either raw or cooked.

Nutrition Summary

Vitamin A

A fat-soluble nutrient, vitamin A is involved in the development of rhodopsin, a molecule in the eye that promotes healthy vision. Vitamin A is also responsible for promoting the immune system, cell growth, skin health, and the formation of the heart and lungs as well as other bodily organs.

Vitamin C

This immune-system-building vitamin offers a host of benefits. Vitamin C is an important nutrient necessary for collagen production, and is essential for maintaining the integrity and function of skin and bone tissue. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant, fighting free radicals and protecting the heart, kidneys, and lungs from disease. This essential nutrient, often found in large amounts in citrus fruits and raw vegetables, may play a role in reducing systolic blood pressure and heart disease risk.

B6 (Pyridoxine)

Amino acids and lipids are the main nutrients metabolized by vitamin B6, helping to promote proper energy levels throughout the body. It is also an important aspect of the formation of hemoglobin and neurotransmitters, protecting both the cardiovascular system and brain.

Manganese

The majority of the manganese in the body is stored in the bones and organ tissue, mainly the liver and kidneys. Manganese is responsible for production and maintenance of sex hormones, blood-sugar regulation, brain and nerve function, calcium regulation and absorption, and carbohydrate metabolism.

Potassium

Alongside sodium and chloride, potassium is an electrolyte essential for conducting electrical reactions in the body. Potassium aids proper muscle function, digestive health, and skeletal contractions.

Health Benefits & Medical Claims

Most recipes don’t require a large amount of shallots; however, they still provide a small boost in essential vitamins and minerals. The vitamins A and C in shallots improve immune, cardiovascular, eye and skin health, and the iron, copper, and potassium help to improve circulation by increasing production of red blood cells.

Also, their savory, earthy flavor can act as a substitute for salt in certain meals. Garnish a dish with shallots instead of salt to decrease your sodium intake. This is a particularly useful trick for those who suffer from high blood pressure and heart disease.

Little Known Facts
  1. Shallots are believed to have originated in Ascalon, an ancient city in Palestine, but their name comes from the French word eschaloigne, and they are a popular ingredient in French cuisine.
  2. In America, a shallot is considered to be a small brown bulb of onion; but in Australia, the word shallot is used to reference the small green onion known to Americans as a scallion.
  3. Shallots are part of the Alliaceae family: the same genus as garlic, leeks, and onions.
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Yoffie Life disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.