“They’re onions,” he said. “No, they’re garlic,” she said.
Actually, they are both right and they are both wrong. Shallots, onions, and garlic are all in the same family, but none of them are the same. Shallots taste like onions, but also a little like garlic; their distinct flavor is somewhere in between, with qualities of both. And while shallots may look more like onions, under the skin the bulbs are divided into cloves, like garlic.
Types of Shallots
Chefs like French-Italian shallots (also called French Red), which they can use either dry or green. Popular varieties include Pikant, Ambition, Ed’s Red, and Picasso.
Photo courtesy of AndrewDavison at Flickr.com.
Planting and Caring for Shallots
You can start shallots from sets, from transplanted seedlings, or from direct-sown seeds. Many gardeners have the best success with sets, especially in cold climates. Like garlic, shallots sets (or cloves) are typically planted two-to-four weeks before the date for the first fall frost. In climates where the ground does not freeze you can also plant shallots from mid-February to mid-March. Plant sets six-to-eight inches apart with the root scar down. Unlike flower bulbs that you plant deep under the soil, shallot bulbs or sets are planted with their tops just below the surface of the soil.
Another way to grow shallots is to interplant them with spring greens. After you harvest the early greens the shallots will have plenty of room to grow.
Shallots like well-drained soil that is high in organic matter. Too much moisture in the soil will cause the shallots to rot. It’s best not to mulch around shallots. If you have to mulch to control weeds, be sure to remove the mulch after the bulbs swell so the sun can ripen the bulbs.
Shallot Pests and Diseases
Shallots are vulnerable to bacterial and fungal diseases as well as thrips and maggots. One way to minimize damage is to avoid planting where shallots, onions, or garlic have been grown in recent years.
You can harvest the green tops and use them like scallions or chives. Bulbs are mature when they are about one-quarter inch in diameter and the leaves turn yellow and dry. Keep a supply of healthy bulbs to plant for next season and you’ll never have to buy another shallot again.
Common Questions and Answers About How to Grow Shallots
Are shallots a cross between onions and garlic?
Though very similar to both onions and garlic, and a member of the same allium family, shallots are a separate vegetable with a flavor profile that is richer, sweeter, and more potent than either onions or garlic. Shallots are often described as a cross between onions and garlic and it’s no surprise that they can be used as a substitute for either vegetable in recipes. Though shallots, onions, and garlic share many similarities, they differ from each other in several ways as well. For example, shallots contain a more concentrated source of protein, fibers, and micronutrients.
Are shallots annual or perennial?
Shallots are a perennial plant which can be planted whole in the fall or winter and subdivided in the following spring.
Are shallots supposed to be soft?
No, shallots should be firm and heavy for their size. When harvesting, discard shallots that are light or dry, or soft. Soft spots on shallots are a sign of decay and any shallots with soft areas on their exterior should be pulled and tossed into the trash or compost bin.
Can I eat raw shallots?
Shallots can be eaten raw, or cooked in a variety of ways. Shallots work especially well when eaten raw, such as in dressings or fresh salads. Raw shallots are mild but flavorful, as well as highly nutritious. Raw shallots are packed full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and organosulfur compounds, which is why they have a long list of health benefits.
Can I grow shallots in pots?
Shallots are well suited to container gardening. They thrive in full-sun and dry soil conditions when grown in pots instead of outdoor beds. Whether you plan to keep your shallot containers indoors or outdoors, place the containers in a location that gets at least six hours of sunlight each day, and space them out six inches apart within each pot. If your shallot container is wide enough to grow rows of plants, space them 10 inches apart. Provide water when the soil is dry to a depth of 1 inch, pouring slowly over the soil surface until it begins to flow out of the drainage holes, then stop. Shallots generally need about 1 inch of water each week, but they may need daily watering in hot, dry conditions. Feed shallots by fertilizing from early spring until the bulbs begin to swell. Every week, apply a liquid 24-8-16 fertilizer product and dilute it at a rate of 1/2 teaspoon per 2 gallons of water. If using a different fertilizer product, dilute it at twice the manufacturer’s recommended rate. Save small shallots for next year’s crop.
Can you eat shallot leaves?
Every part of the shallot plant is edible. The long green leaves can be used like you would use spring onions. Shallot leaves and flowers both have a good texture for raw salads, and a nice, earthy, slightly sweet and subtle flavor.
Can you eat the green tops of shallots?
Yes, the long green top leaves can be used like you would spring onions. Shallot tops are usually harvested within 30 days and are commonly used raw in salads, or cooked in soups, stews, and stir-fries.
Can you eat the whole shallot?
All parts of the shallot are edible raw. The long green leaves are used like spring onions. Leaves and flowers can be tossed raw into salads. Shallot bulbs can be used in place of any onion. The bulbs are believed to be milder than large onions, but this seems to only be true when they are cooked, as raw shallots are anything but mild in flavor.
Can you freeze cooked shallots?
Yes you can. If you need to extend the shelf life of your cooked shallots, just freeze them airtight containers or in heavy duty freezer bags. For the highest quality shallots, try to use them within 10 to 12 months, but they will keep even longer in the freezer.
Can you freeze raw shallots?
Yes, raw shallots can be frozen, and they don’t need to be blanched first before tossing them into the freezer either. Before freezing, peel and slice your shallots, then place them into an airtight container or a freezer bag and put them in the freezer. As long as they are properly stored, raw shallots will keep indefinitely in the freezer, but for the best possible flavor and texture, they should be used within 10 to 12 months.
Can you plant shallots in the spring?
Yes. For maximum shallot production, shallots should be started twice per year, except for in especially cold climate areas. Shallots should be planted in the early spring for a late summer crop, or in late fall for an early summer harvest. In areas with especially harsh winters, avoid planting in fall.
Do shallots flower?
Yes, shallots can bolt like any other onion plant. Shallots tend to flower when exposed to especially cold and wet springs. If your shallots start flowering, you have two choices. Either remove the flower, which will allow the bulb more time to form and grow larger, or allow it to flower and collect the seeds. Shallot seeds are quite rare, and growing them might produce some interesting results, such as giant shallots, or multi-colored shallots. If you don’t want to bother with the seeds, then just snip off the flower so that the plant can focus on bulb production instead. However, if you let one shallot plant flower, you are only really sacrificing one shallot to do so.
Do shallots multiply?
Yes, shallots are closely related to multiplier onions, and will multiply to give you bountiful harvests. Plant individual cloves into beds that have been prepared and amended during the fall. The cloves will root in the winter and will multiply into a cluster in the late spring or early summer.
Do shallots taste like garlic?
Shallots have a sweet and mild flavor, with a hint of garlic. Shallots don’t have the sharp bite that yellow or white onions have, but are otherwise very similar to onions in flavor and texture, yet richer, sweeter, and more potent. Shallots can be substituted for onions or garlic in any dish, but use half the amount of shallots that you would onions when substituting for onions, and equal amounts of shallots for garlic substitutions.
Do you cook shallots?
Like onions and garlic, shallots can be enjoyed raw or cooked using a variety of different methods. Shallots can be used raw in salads or dressings, where their flavor will be more pronounced and pungent. Shallots can also be cooked, usually by frying or roasting, and doing so makes them milder and sweeter than they are when consumed raw. Shallots can also be pickled. Their versatility makes them easy to use for a variety of different purposes as well as easy to incorporate into many different recipes.
Do you need to dry shallots?
Shallots can be put to use immediately after harvesting. However, if you intend to store your shallots, they will need to be cured in order to extend their shelf-life before being put into storage. Harvest mature shallots in the late summer once the tops turn yellow and start to dry out. After harvesting, cure your shallots by letting them sit out in a warm, dry location for one to two weeks. After curing, cut off the dry leaves and place the bulbs in a mesh bag. Store your shallots in a cool, dry location, ideally between 32 to 40 degrees F and 60 to 70 percent relative humidity. When properly cured and stored, shallots will typically stay good for six months or longer.
Do you peel shallots before planting?
Yes, you will want to peel off the papery outer skin covering the shallot bulbs and separate each bulb into individual cloves before planting.
Do you split shallots before planting?
Yes, before planting shallots, you will want to separate each bulb into individual cloves and peel off the papery outer layer of skin.
How deep should you plant shallots?
When planting shallots, space each planting hole a minimum of 4- to 6-inches apart in rows that are spaced 12-inches apart. Make sure bulbs are planted root-end down and pointed-end up. Plant your shallot bulbs just deep enough so that the tops are still visible. Water thoroughly after planting.
How do you cure shallots for storage?
After harvesting, prepare your shallots for storage by allowing them to cure for one to two weeks. To cure shallots, just set them out in a warm, dry location. Once they are cured, store them in a mesh bag in a cool, dry location, where they should keep for at least six months.
How do you fertilize shallots?
Shallots need a lot of nitrogen. Feed plants with a supplemental serving of liquid fish emulsion or other fertilizer about 3 weeks after planting and continue to fertilize every three to four weeks. Stop feeding once the necks start feeling soft, or around 4 weeks before harvesting. If you use a dry granular fertilizer, water it in well.
How do you grow shallots in water?
Place shallot point side up in a cup of water using three to five toothpicks to balance the shallot at the top of the cup. Pour water to the base of the shallot. Place in a sunny location, such as a windowsill. Replace water daily.
How do you harvest and cure shallots?
Once your shallots are ready for harvest, dig them up, and brush the soil off of them by hand. Avoid the urge to wash the shallots, as your main objective after harvesting them is to allow them to dry, or cure. To cure shallots, simply set them out in a warm, dry location for one to two weeks. After they have cured, store them in mesh bags or in baskets with good air circulation, preferably in a cool, dry, dark location. Alternatively, you can refrigerate your cured shallots to extend their shelf life a bit, or for long term storage, you can freeze them. There is no need to blanch before freezing, though blanching will help with peeling and it is not going to harm the final product, however, it is not necessary. Just peel them, chop them, and put them in freezer bags or airtight containers and they are ready for the freezer.
What do shallots look like when growing?
Shallots have green tops that grow to about eight inches tall in a clump with narrow green leaves and roots that look like small onions. Shallots grow in clusters, with concentric rings and textured, copper-colored skin.
What is a shallot bulb?
A shallot is a type of onion which looks like a small, more elongated onion with copper, reddish, or gray skin. Shallots can be substituted for onions or garlic in recipes, though due to its pungent aroma, only use about half as much shallot as you would onion in recipes.
What is the difference between an onion and a shallot?
A shallot is a type of onion. Shallots are typically smaller and more elongated, with copper, reddish, or grayish skin. Shallots are more pungent than onions, so when substituting shallots for onions in a recipe, you should only use half as much shallot as is called for in onions. Shallots have the typical onion flavor with just a hint of garlic when raw, but when cooked, they become milder and sweeter, with the hint of garlic still in place.
What month do you plant shallots?
Shallots can be planted in late autumn for an early summer crop or in the early spring for a late summer harvest. In areas where winters are extreme, fall planting should be avoided, as fall and spring plantings in these regions will create a double harvest.
Why are my shallots rotting?
Onion neck rot is a disease that appears on onions and shallots that is caused by the fungus Botrytis allii. Plants that are infected by the fungus usually seem perfectly healthy while the crop is growing. Symptoms are not usually visible on the bulbs until they have been in store for several weeks.
Why are my shallots so small?
Shallots can be small if they are not watered enough or if the soil is not rich enough. Small shallots could also be the result of growing a variety that is not well suited to your climate. Also, shallots grown from bulbils will be smaller, and shallots that are allowed to flower will also be smaller than normal.
Why do chefs use shallots instead of onions?
The flavor of shallots is mild and sweet with just a hint of garlic. Chefs seem to love using shallots because they don’t have the tangy bite that onions do. Shallots also have a specific quality that really sets them apart from the rest of the onion family when cooked which chefs appreciate, tenderness. When cooked, shallots just melt. Shallots are easily diced fine or minced due to their smaller size and thinner layers and break down quickly when cooked becoming a velvety part of any sauce or dish.
Melting is a fantastic quality and chefs use shallots to highlight that quality. Melting shallots boosts texture, creating a wonderful mouthfeel plus a sublime onion flavor when cooked. They are one of the better “roasting” onions as well.
Want to learn more about growing shallots?
Commercial shallots are grown mostly in Europe, but that doesn’t mean you can’t grow them in your home garden. Learn more about growing shallots at these websites:
Home Gardening Series: Shallots PDF from Arkansas Cooperative Extension
Shallots and Scallions from University of Vermont Extension