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Leeks vs. Scallions vs. Chives Vs. Onion – Let’s Know the Differences and Uses

Written by Luisa Davis on . Posted in food

If you want to be at the top of your cooking game, you have to understand the difference between leeks scallions’ chives and onion. After all, the uses and flavors vary from recipe to recipe. It’s not a battle by any means. But here, we are going to pit four cooking mainstays together.

Get ready: it’s Leeks vs. Scallions vs. Chives Vs. Onion.

In short, green onion is just the same as a scallion. Meanwhile, chives are not the same as scallions. The different types of chives, garlic, and garnish chives have different flavors. Leeks are somewhat bland in nature but still useful.

That’s the quick answer. But keep on reading – there’s much to learn here!

Understanding the Flavor and Use of Leeks

Leeks possess a sweet and delicate flavor in comparison to onions. They are meant to be very subtle in recipes, not overpowering other flavors contained in the dish.

You can absolutely buy leeks year-round, but we find that the very best ones are the ones you get from the fall to early spring. This is when leeks are at their peak.

Leeks may remind you of huge scallions when you look at them. They have a bulb at the bottom, as well as a cylinder-shaped stalk. The stalk is one of the layers that merge into green, flat leaves.

Many leeks are about 12 inches long and about one inch wide. The flavor is pleasant and fragrant, reminiscent of shallots, only a bit sweeter.

The bulk of the flavor lies in the bulb and lower parts of the leaves. The flavonoid known as kaempferol is the most pronounced in leeks. They actually are ahead of white onions when it comes to kaempferol!

To use a leek, just cut off the green tops and get rid of the tough outer leaves. Now remove the root by cutting it off and cut the leeks in half, cutting them the long way. Fan them out and rinse under running water, and don’t cut or tear them.

Now, cut them into 2-inch lengths. Hold the cut side up and cut them lengthwise to get thin strips. This is what we call the chiffonade cut. Slice until you get to the green part.

Be sure that you cut these very thin so that you don’t lengthen your cooking time. You should let them rest for 5 min before you cook them.

Leek Substitute Comes in Many Forms

You can use green onions or mild sweet onions instead if you like. You can do a 1:1 substitute by volume or weight.

Shallots are another thing you can use instead of leeks if you like. These have a sweet light garlic flavor to them without the “bite” of regular onions.

And in a real pinch, you can use onion powder instead of leeks in your recipe. It’s always a better idea to use the real thing, but one teaspoon of onion powder will be fine in place of one cup of chopped raw leeks.

If you are cooking for somebody that has an allergy to leeks, you can use celery instead. It won’t give the intended flavor to whatever dish you are making, but it will be a safe and pleasant-tasting alternative.

You can use leeks in several different recipes. Try some of these:

  • Add leeks to an omelet or frittata
  • You can add leeks, finely chopped, to your salad
  • Add leeks to stew or soup broth for more flavor
  • Leeks make a great scallion substitute,

Understanding and Using Scallions

You may hear these referred to as green onions or spring onions. A scallion features a white base that does not have a bulb, plus long, green stalks.

Many people mistake them for chives because they look so similar. You can use the green and white parts in your meals.

Scallions are similar to leeks, onions, and shallots in that they are members of the allium family. They grow in clusters and sprout green, hollow leaves. They feature a sweet, mild flavor compared to fully-grown onions, and are stronger in flavor than chives.

The white part is more flavorful than the green portion. Some cooks and chefs use the green part to substitute for chives.

The best time to buy scallions is during spring and summer when they are at their peak. Like leeks, you can buy them year-round. I find that they are best when it’s spring or summer.

You will find a variety of sizes when it comes to scallions: some are small, some are medium in size, others are very large. The medium-sized scallions taste the best.

When you shop, look for scallions with a firm white base and stiff, brightly colored green ends. If you see scallions that appear wilted, stay away from them.

Very Popular in Chinese and Mexican Foods

Scallions go great in all cuisines but are very popular in Chinese and Mexican foods. You often see them used as a garnish, sprinkled over a dollop of sour cream.

You can put them into salads, also. Purple scallions feature a mild and sweet flavor and taste great as a garnish.

Cutting scallions is not difficult at all. You should select medium and tender scallions. Look for ones that have thin stalks. Make sure they aren’t wilted.

Lay them out on your cutting board in a single layer. Do not stack up the scallions, as you may end up crushing them instead of actually cutting them up.

Now cut 2 inches off the top and the ends. Take a chef’s knife and cut the green ends an eighth of an inch above the root ends. Throw away the tips you cut off as well as the roots.

Line up your scallions and carefully cut them into tiny pieces. Hold the scallions in place and move your knife back and forth to make thin pieces.

Aim for about a quarter-inch to a half-inch wide. You can make them as small as you like. Make sure you do not bear down on the scallions. It will crush the scallions. 

You should use the scallions right away. It will give you the best and most fresh taste. You can sprinkle them onto omelets, into salads, or even into homemade salsa.

Leftover scallions can be put into the fridge for a day using an airtight container. Use them fast — the longer you keep them, the limper they get.

What Are Chives, and How to Use Them?

Chives are thin, and there are two types of chives. You will see the flat-leafed, broad one: this is that classic food garnish, that lovely, mild onion flavor that has a bit of the bite that we expect with onions.

It is appropriately called the garnish chive. The second variety is the garlic chive and features the garlic and onion flavor we all know and love.

Chive stalks are skinny and hollow. They look like tall grass, measuring up to about 1 foot in length. They are about as wide as a number 2 pencil.

These are tolerant and hardy perennials and grow in tight clusters. People who do not garden might mistake them for flowers, as chives sprout pretty lavender blooms.

We often find chives on our baked potatoes, cheddar bacon soup, and even grilled fish. Sometimes we find them in mashed potatoes. Deviled eggs and sauces may feature the use of chives. These are a versatile and exciting garnish.

Chopping up chives is a lot like chopping up scallions. Start by getting your chives together and line them up with one another. You may also want to put a rubber band around them so you can hold them in place more easily.

Lay your bundle down onto the cutting board. Use a rocking motion with your knife to chop up the chives as thin as you can. Be sure that you use a sharp knife when you do this, as a dull knife will end up bruising them.

Adjust the rubber band as you go along, and if you like, you can also use kitchen scissors in place of your knife.

Substitute Chives for Green Onions?

Is this even possible? The answer is yes.

However, the thing to keep in mind is that these have a more delicate flavor than a green onion does. You will not get an equal dose of flavor as you would get when using an onion.

Volume is another consideration. One green onion, after having been cleaned, will give you about 2 tbsp of chopped onions. Chives, on the other hand, don’t come measured as single plants.

They are mostly sold as stalks cut from their bulbs. It will take about six chive plants to get 2 tbsp of this chopped herb. If you would like to use chives in place of green onions, be ready to have plenty of chives available. 

Chives not only make a great garnish, but they are also pretty healthy for you, too. They have plenty of fiber and folate. Two tablespoons of chives give you a healthy dose of Vitamin K.

They have calcium, magnesium, potassium, and copper, plus more great minerals and vitamins. The benefits of eating chives are numerous. They are anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antimicrobial, and all-around good for you.

Onion: Types and Uses

Ah, we saved the best for last!

Onions come in plenty of varieties and flavors. Depending on the dish you make, you might need a specific onion, and for good reason — the flavors will shine through. The main difference here is that these onions do not feature a stalk. Instead, we just use the bulb.

  • Green onions are the smallest onions, and they provide an excellent garnish for omelets, tacos, soups, and of course, baked potatoes. And don’t forget, we sometimes call these scallions!
  • Sweet onions are large and flat compared to yellow onions. They are great for caramelizing, and you will find these used when making onion rings. You will see these under the names Maui, Vidalia or Walla Walla.
  • White onions feature a mild, sweet flavor compared to yellow onions. You will find them used in homemade salsa and other similar foods.
  • Yellow onions are the ones everybody knows. They are great for every purpose you can think of, such as making soups, sautéing them in a stir fry, or slicing them to top your burger off.
  • Shallots are small onions with purple skin, and their bulb is reminiscent of garlic and how it naturally grows into different cloves.
  • Red onions are sometimes called purple onions. They go great in salads and have a very bold flavor. The color of these makes your dish stand out. They taste great as a sandwich topper or mixed into salads.

Knowing How to Chop an Onion is Easy

This is about how to cut regular onion; for info on how to cut green onion, see above. Begin by getting your cutting board and chef’s knife ready.

First, begin by cutting the top of the onion. After that, slice it in half.

Next, remove the paper-thin layers and discard them.

Now, take one half of the onion and put it down flat onto your cutting board. Hold onto the root end and cut in a vertical direction, being careful not to slice through completely. (Be VERY careful as you do this).

Now chop it horizontally. Rotate your onion and slice it vertically but leave the root end intact. Throw out the root end and repeat this process with the other half of the onion.

Use the correct type of onion in your recipes so that you get maximum flavor. Each onion tastes excellent in its own way, but they are definitely different! Use whatever the recipe calls for to enjoy the dish as the author intended.

Conclusion

Leeks vs. Scallions vs. Chives Vs. Onion may seem complicated at first, but there’s no need to despair.

Bookmark this article so you always know where to turn when you need to understand and appreciate these great additions. What dishes will you make first with each of these different veggies?

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Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis is a frelance writer and foodie based in Portland, California. Though raised on her mother's homestyle Italian cooking, she has spent most of the last five years traveling and immersing herself in other countries' cuisines. Her work have been published in various publications, both online and offline.

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