Are Scallions and Green Onions the Same Thing?
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Whether they’re topping your take-out or mixed into a bowl of miso soup, you’ve probably seen these little onion-flavored green rounds before. But the spring staples, most often called scallions, are sold under multiple aliases. Sometimes sold as green onions or spring onions, scallions are a meal enhancer that brings some serious flavor to almost anything. We break down everything you need to know about the vegetable so the next time you stop by your grocery store or local farmers’ market, you’ll be a seasoned pro when it comes to identifying the difference between scallions, green onions, and spring onions.
The difference between scallions, green onions, and spring onions
The bottom line is, green onions and scallions are exactly the same, says Juliet Glass, director of communications at FRESHFARM, a non-profit that operates producer-only farmers’ markets in the Mid-Atlantic region. Spring onions, on the other hand, are slightly different, but “similar enough” to use them interchangeably if necessary, she says.
Scallions are long, thin, have a straight shaft, and don’t have a large bulb at the bottom, explains Lawrence Tse, farm manager at Dig. They have dark green tops that fade into a white base. Scallions typically have a very mild flavor similar to onions but without the bite of an onion, he adds. Lee Jones, a farmer behind The Chef’s Garden compares the flavor of scallions to that of Spanish onions. Additionally, the longer scallions stay in the ground, the more intense their flavor will get, sometimes providing a slightly spicy kick, adds Debra Moser, co-founder of Central Farm Markets in Washington D.C.
In comparison, a spring onion looks very similar, but their white bottoms tend to have a larger bulb, Glass says. The flavor tends to be a touch sweeter than a green onion or scallion, adds Moser. Further, Tse adds that spring onions are actually onion plants that are picked before they become an onion, so the base is much wider and you can often see the beginnings of a bulb. Onions are often picked in the summer for storing, so a spring onion is simply picked in the spring before it’s fully developed, he explains.
All of these are examples of immature onions, adds Catherine Perez, M.S., R.D., registered dietitian and owner of Plant-Based R.D. blog. This just means that these younger onions (green or spring) tend to have a milder, even sweeter, flavor than mature onions, so keep that difference in mind when you’re meal-prepping.
Scallion and green onion nutrition
Scallions are part of the allium family, meaning they fall into the same grouping as vegetables like ramps, onions, garlic, and shallots. “Allium vegetables contain antioxidants that have been shown to help immune health and prevent inflammation and various diseases like cancer and heart disease,” says Jessica Levinson M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N., culinary nutrition and communications dietitian based in New York. Some studies have even considered allium vegetables for the possible future of cancer treatment, notes Jackie Newgent, R.D.N., C.D.N., New York City-based culinary nutritionist and author of The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook.
Levinson adds that just a half cup of chopped scallions contains 5% of the recommended daily allowance of fiber and 10% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C.
Scallions also contain high amounts of vitamin K, vitamin C, and folate, adds Jennifer Agha-Khan, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., a contributor to Culina Health. “Just one large scallion has nearly 50% of the recommended amount of vitamin K per day,” she says.
How do you buy green onions and scallions?
You’ll most likely find these green beauties from late winter into spring because they’re a cool-weather crop, Glass says. But depending on where you live and what the weather is like, you may find them again in the fall or even year-round.
Scallions are almost always sold in bunches at both the supermarket and farmers’ market, Jones says. Check that the greens are nice and firm and deep green, without any yellowing, Tse suggests. He adds it’s best to pick a bunch that still has the roots intact for ultimate freshness.
Once you bring them home, Jones suggests popping them in the crisper drawer with a damp towel to hold in moisture. He adds you could also stand them up in a jar with some water in or out of the fridge for about a week. Just be sure to put a bag loosely over the top.
How do you use green onions and scallions?
Though you can eat all parts of the scallion raw, you may want to consider separating them into their green and white parts, suggests Newgent. Because the white ends are stronger tasting than the green ends, she adds that most recipes will adhere to this guideline: “sauté the white part and finish a dish with the green part.”
Most people will use the bottom white and then a few inches of the lighter green of the onion when cooking, says Glass. She adds that she’ll often save the darker greens and roots in the freezer and use them for veggie stock.
You also don’t have to give these vegetables too much of a scrub when cooking. Glass says most supermarkets and farmers’ markets will give them a thorough clean, so a quick rinse should do the trick once you’re ready to prepare. Tse adds that most scallions grow upright, so they don’t get as much dirt in between the layers as a leek would. If you find they’re a little wilted or soft, you can peel the outer layer and discard them.
Here are some of our experts’ favorite ways to use scallions in their cooking:
Chopped in a salad. Glass says you can add them lightly cooked or raw to salads or tuna salads for a light onion flavor and freshness.
Top off your dishes. Anytime you want a finishing touch to your plate, a sprinkle of freshly chopped scallions makes for a great topper. Newgent suggests thinly slicing the green portion—ideally on the diagonal for interest—and sprinkle onto nearly any savory dish, like dips, creamy salads, soups, and egg dishes. She says that they are sure to “add a colorful and flavorful finish on top of worldly foods, including pan-Asian, Mexican and Middle Eastern dishes.”
Fry into a pancake. What’s better than a delicious scallion pancake as an appetizer? Tse says this is one of his favorite uses for scallions, or you can mix it up with Levinson’s zucchini pancakes.
Toss into a stir fry. Right at the end of cooking a stir fry, Glass likes to add in some fresh scallions. The fresh, grassy flavor gets lost if they’re overcooked, so she likes to sprinkle them in right before a dish is done. Perez adds that the white ends are especially great to use cooked in oil to infuse that onion flavor into your meal or used to infuse flavor into marinades.
Boil into stock. Save the dark green tops and bottom roots in your freezer for the next time you make a stock, Glass suggests.
Swap them for onions. If you find onions are too strong for you, Tse says scallions are a great replacement in dishes. You can use the whites as you would any other onion for a milder flavor.
Purée into sauces. If you’re making an herby sauce, Levinson likes to blend the scallions into the mix, like her in her herby lime marinade.
Sear them on a grill. This one is specific to spring onions: Both Newgent and Perez suggest the next time you’re having a BBQ, toss them onto the grill to pair with your meal!
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