Like onions, scallions, shallots, leeks, and garlic, chives are part of the allium family. They differ from these other allium crops in that they are perennials and less pungent, says Steve Reiners, professor and horticulture section chair of Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Home cooks use fresh chives as a garnish like other herbs such as parsley or basil to add a finishing touch of savory flavor. Get to know three popular varieties of chives—common chives, garlic chives, and Siberian chives—before cooking with them.
As the name implies, these are the most common types of chives and the easiest to find packaged in your grocery store. Look for ones that are bright green and plump; they should also show no visible signs of wilting. Common chives grow in clumps of small, slender bulbs that produce very thin, blue-green leaves, ranging in height from 10-15 inches. Their edible, flavorful flowers can be found in white, pink, purple, or red, depending on variety.
These chives, which have a mild, slightly onion-y flavor, are best used fresh, but they can also be frozen in airtight plastic bags, says Reiners. They are often used as a garnish, particularly in French cuisine, and are an ingredient used in fines herbs (a mix of chives, tarragon, chervil, and parsley). Chives should only be cooked briefly and served immediately after cooking due to their delicacy, otherwise the flavor will be lost; this is why they're most often used as a garnish. We love using common chives to garnish latkes, omelets, chili, this epic Dutch Baby with Ham and Chives, our Cucumber-Herb Salad, or this Winter Caprese Salad.
Before they're picked and packaged to be sold, garlic chives—also known as Chinese chives—typically grow taller than common chives and have flatter leaves and white blossoms. They're aptly name because of their more potent garlic flavor. Unlike common onion chives, they are not hollow. They can be used just like common chives and provide even more savory flavor when used as a garnish on mashed or baked potatoes, or mixed into a fragrant herb salad dressing or dip.
This lesser-known variety of chives, sometimes referred to as blue chives due to their blue-green foliage, is another Asian species native to central and Northeastern Asian counties including Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia, and China. Siberian chives grow up to two feet tall, making them significantly larger than common or garlic chives. When used in cooking, you'll find that their flavor is, however, quite similar to common chives. You may find Siberian chives at a farmers' market, gourmet food store, or local herb farms.