Although yellow, red, or white onions are harvested later in the season for their bulbs, which are often used in seasoning and eaten as a root vegetable, the plant itself is also edible. It is more common to eat the onion plant when they’re harvested early, before the bulb has matured. They can be helpful for seasoning vegetable-based dishes, and are especially popular in creating flavorful vegan and vegetarian dishes – something you can learn more about in this Udemy course. These plants can be called either “green” onions or scallions, and although both of those terms can be used for the same plant, they’re not always quite the same thing.
There are a few different types of plant that can be called either scallions or green onions. In some areas, onions are grown as scallions in places where shorter growing days and seasons slow down their development. In others, they’re simply picked early. They can be planted, grown and harvested at many points of the year.
What’s a Scallion?
Scallions are a very immature plant. The white root hasn’t matured into a bulb yet, so the flavor is still quite a bit milder than other types of onions. They’re sometimes used as an herb instead of chives, and may also be used in salads or most often as a garnish. Typically they’re used raw.
What’s a Green Onion?
Green onions are a little bit more mature, with their flavor being somewhere between that of scallions and onion bulbs. Since this is more of a developmental stage than a separate plant, they don’t stay green onions very long. They’re also often used as a garnish, and can be used raw or cooked. They’re called spring onions in many places.
Green onions have a developing bulb, where the white base has started to curve, and the plant is rounder than less mature scallions. Scallions are still straight and have a less even shape. Green onions also have a stronger smell and flavor.
Finding and Storing Good Ingredients
Both scallions and green onions, like most produce, should be bought fresh. Make sure they’re firm and crisp rather than wilted, and don’t use them if they appear overly limp or have gone too soft. Watch also for tears and yellowing. Store them in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator, wrapped in a damp paper towel. They should still be crunchy as long as they’re raw.
The usage for both tends to be similar, though scallions are more commonly substituted for lighter herbs like chives in potato or egg dishes. Green onions are harder to use in this way, since they’re a little too strong in some dishes. Both scallions and green onions are often used raw as a garnish or in salads, or can be steamed or sautéed as part of a vegetable or noodle dish. They can both also be used in soups and sauces. It’s often a good idea to use them in place of mature onion bulbs—especially raw onions—to get an onion flavor without being too saturating, the way onion bulbs can sometimes be. This course on healthy cooking will help give you some ideas for cooking with them.
As a garnish, they’re both more likely to be used as a complement to spicy foods, although they go well in lighter dishes, such as fish with citrus sauces. Unlike scallions, green onions can be used as a main ingredient for a salad or side dish. Less often, they can be used as a crudité along with other raw vegetables; scallions are generally better for this, since the flavor of green onions may be a bit heavy.
In International Cuisines
In Mexican or Catalan cooking, they can be grilled and spiced with salt and lime juice before being added to cheese and rice, or eaten by themselves with sauce.
Scallions and green onions are both commonly used in some Asian dishes, particularly in sauces, where the bottom root part will be removed before cooking. They’re used in a Vietnamese rice pudding dish and are a key ingredient in a fermented onion dish served for Tet, the Vietnamese new year. Indians use raw green onions in some chutneys and also eat them as an appetizer. In the Phillippines, they’re ground to use in a condiment called palapa. They can also be used in a wide variety of stir fries and noodle dishes. This Thai cooking course can show you how to use green onions in these types of dishes.
Although a strict definition of either scallions or green onions can be tough to pin down, the differences in maturity and flavor can lend themselves to somewhat different uses. Comparing them in the store will help you decide which one is better for what you plan to use them for. Read these beginning cooking tips if you want to brush up, and try this course on seasonal fall recipes for more good ways to use fresh produce in your cooking.