Green onion: what are the differences with an onion?

The green onion is an aromatic plant that, sometimes, is incorrectly called “scallion”. Its flavor is between that of onion and chives. The white part of the green onion is used like the onion, while the green part is generally considered an herb.

Characteristics of green onion

  • Low in calories;
  • Antioxidant power;
  • Content of sulfur compounds;
  • Good source of dietary fiber;
  • Strong aromatic power.

Nutritional and caloric values ​​of green onion

The green onion contains several vitamins and minerals, each in small quantities, without however corresponding to a source. However, it should be noted that green onion is a good source of dietary fiber which promotes intestinal transit and satiety and which has a positive impact on the digestive tract.

In addition, green onion is very low in calories and very aromatic at the same time. It is therefore an ally of choice in the context of a healthy and slimming diet to provide taste without adding caloric and/or sodium-rich ingredients (sauces, fats, etc.).

What is a “portion” of green onion worth?

weight/volumePer 100g
Calories30
Proteins2,57 g
Carbohydrates2,1 g
Lipids0,52 g
Dietary fiber3,2 g

The benefits of green onion

The green onion belongs to the Alliaceae family, recognized mainly for its protective effects against certain cancers. So far, green onion has not been specifically studied in humans. However, it is possible to believe that it has properties similar to those of other members of its family, such as garlic, chives, shallots, onions, and leeks.

Antioxidant power

Green onion contains phytochemicals including flavonoids (mainly kaempferol). Flavonoids are powerful antioxidants that help neutralize free radicals, byproducts of the body’s oxidation reactions that bind to and damage other molecules. 

Numerous studies have shown that a substantial intake of antioxidants provided by fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer.

Sulfur compounds

Several observational studies have shown that increased consumption of vegetables belonging to the allium family could have a protective effect against certain cancers, mainly those of the digestive system. Indeed, the consumption of alliums could reduce the development of cancer in the stomach, esophagus, and intestine.

Another study showed that heavy consumers of alliums (more than 10 g/day, or more than 25 ml) had 50% less prostate cancer than light consumers (less than 2 g/day, or less than 5ml). 

In fact, alliums would prevent the growth of cancer cells and protect cells against damage caused by carcinogens. Their anti-cancer properties seem to be linked to their sulfur compound content, which also gives them their characteristic taste.

Nutritionist’s word

To take full advantage of the health benefits of green onion, it is recommended to eat its stems raw or to incorporate them into preparations at the end of cooking. Indeed, certain antioxidant substances and sulfur compounds tend to be altered by exposure to heat.

How to choose the right green onions?

The green onion, also commonly called spring onion, belongs to the large Alliaceae family in the same way as the other varieties of onion. It would originate from Asia, China precisely, where it is still widely consumed today. In France, it is found on the stalls, particularly between the months of June and October.

green onion id card

  • Family: Alliaceae;
  • Origin: China;
  • Season: June to October;
  • Color: white and green;
  • Flavor: characteristic and slightly sweet.

Choosing the right green onion

The green onion is available all year round, but the local product is present in the markets from June to October. Its tubular leaves should be green and crisp, and its bulb firm.

For optimal preservation

Refrigerator: the green onion can be kept for four or five days, in an open or micro-perforated bag. However, it would seem that, in northern Asia, it is possible to keep it for a few months. The leaves turn yellow, but the small bulb retains all its flavor;

Freezer: it can be frozen after having blanched it for a few minutes.

How to prepare green onion

In the case of the Allium x proliferum species, the leaves and the underground bulb are of course eaten, but especially the bulbils that grow at the end of the stem. They are often pickled in vinegar. There are many other ways to enjoy its unique taste and enhance it in the kitchen.

A few ideas for easily incorporating green onions into the kitchen

  • Greek cottage cheese (sheep if possible) is prepared by draining the cheese for a few hours, then adding fresh cream, crushed garlic with salt, fenugreek seeds, pepper, cumin, olive oil, and a dash of lime. At the very end, add a good amount of chopped green onion. Serve with tomatoes, olives, slices of sweet onion, and a drizzle of olive oil;
  • Incorporate green onion into all marinades intended for foods cooked on the grill;
  • The entire plant, with its bulb, goes wonderfully with white meats;
  • Brown frog legs in a skillet and when ready, sprinkle them with a good amount of chopped green onion, previously soaked in lemon juice to extract the flavor. Add a little cream, and salt, let the sauce thicken, and serve;
  • Add to stuffings. Try the mushrooms stuffed with garlic and green onion, and baked with butter;
  • Use green onion liberally in omelets and salads;
  • In addition to being decorative, the flowers are eaten. Detach the florets from the head and add them to a salad or any other dish after cooking.

Traveling in the kitchen thanks to the chives

  • The green onion is typical of Caribbean cuisine. It is used in a multitude of dishes, often by adding it to cooking wine or by cooking it for a few minutes in boiling water before adding it as a garnish to meat or fish. A stew of fish, drizzled with a sauce made up of crushed garlic, chopped green onion, lemon juice, pepper, and oil, will do wonders. As for the red cive, whose leaves and stems are strongly aromatic, it contributes to the flavor of West Indian blood sausage, a dish made from pork blood, bread crumbs, chili, and milk;
  • In China, Korea, and Japan, green onion is everywhere. It is often eaten whole, with its bulbs, or in sections, in strips, in slices, in soups, noodle dishes, stews, etc.;
  • In China, thinly sliced ​​fish or meat fondues are cooked in a broth made of water, chopped green onion, and cabbage;
  • In Korea, we make Putchou tchon, a kind of pancake whose dough is made of flour, water, eggs, salt, sugar, raw mashed zucchini, and whole green onion. They are served with a sauce made from lemon and soy sauce;
  • In Japan, pieces of chicken breast are put in a food processor with ginger and green onion. With the dough obtained, we shape balls the size of a small walnut that we thread on skewers and cook on the grill. You can also cut the green onion into sections that you put on skewers with pieces of chicken. Bake after dipping the skewers in a marinade made with sake, soy sauce, sugar, and ginger slices;
  • At Easter, in Poitou, it is traditional to serve kids on a bed of cooked green onions;
  • In Vendée, we make a soup made up of a bunch of green onions and stale bread, which will cook for fifteen minutes in boiling salted water. At the end of cooking, add fresh cream, salt, and pepper;
  • In Italy, meat or fish carpaccios go very well with a few sprigs of chopped green onion.

Contraindications and allergies to green onion

There are very few contraindications to the consumption of green onion nor any particularly well-known allergy. The main risk is the appearance of digestive symptoms generally occurring a few hours after the meal in sensitive subjects. Cooking green onion can already alleviate this unpleasant phenomenon.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

In subjects affected by irritable bowel syndrome or intestinal hypersensitivity, the consumption of green onion can lead to the occurrence of unpleasant digestive symptoms: bloating, feeling of heaviness, transit disorders, etc. 

These phenomena can be reduced by consuming cooked green onions, in small quantities and combined with other foods. It is advisable to respect the individual digestive tolerance and to avoid the consumption of Alliaceae when the symptoms become too unpleasant.

History and anecdotes

What is called a “shallot” in Quebec is actually a green onion. This confusion probably comes from the Anglo-Saxon influence, the English term shallot designating, in addition to the true shallot, the green onion. (See our sheet on the shallot).

A little history

Everything indicates that the green onion of the species Allium fistulosum comes from northern China and that it was probably domesticated at the turn of our era. On the other hand, we do not know where exactly the species Allium x proliferum comes from, nor where it was domesticated.

As it is a natural hybrid between Allium cepa and Allium fistulosum, it can be assumed that it comes from the region where these two species grew side by side, namely northwest China. But, its place of origin could be multiple.

It was probably the Romans, great lovers of all kinds of alliums, who spread the cultivation of green onions in the West, but little more is known about this vegetable which is considered to be minor in agriculture.

Organic gardening

The nodding onion (Allium cornuum) is native to North America. Its small flowers are suspended at the end of long and thin stems, which gives it the appearance of nodding its head. The Amerindians prepared it raw, grilled over the fire, or steamed in pits. It often accompanied salmon, duck, seal, or black lichen.

Absent from cash crops, the “walking” onion (Allium x proliferum) is grown in family gardens. It has the particularity of forming bulblets or onions at the top of a sterile flower stalk. As the season progresses, its stem softens, then bends towards the ground under the weight of the bulbils which will take root, giving rise to other plants. 

Thus, the flower bed or the row moves, advancing a few centimeters each year, hence the English name of walking onion that has been given to this species.

Today there are many varieties belonging to the species Allium fistulosum. As this species is perennial, its young stems can be harvested year after year, especially in spring, because contrary to what happens in tropical countries, in our latitudes and climates, the plant goes to seed at the beginning of summer. , and its stems then become leathery and fibrous.

To counter the problem, part of the harvest will be treated as if it were annual, that is to say, successive sowings will be made each year from late spring until mid-July. Or, even, we will make one or two sowings, very tight, by spreading out the transplants. 

This will not prevent maintaining a bed of perennial green onions that will multiply each year, giving both plants to divide and seeds (harvest the seeds and use them for summer sowing). Note that modern varieties crossed in Japan are not cold tolerant and should therefore be grown exclusively as annuals.

In Japan and China, long-stemmed varieties are transplanted twice in an effort to save space and give plants strength. Butter these to increase the proportion of white.

For summer and fall production, seeds of any of the many varieties of Allium cepa (common onion) can also be sown in early summer. 

Onions sown at this time of year will not have time to form bulbs and can therefore act as a green onion. However, their flavor is not comparable to that of real green onion.

Finally, the bulbils of the perennial species Allium x proliferum will be planted in spring or autumn, or the plants already established will be divided. These various planting programs make it possible to have green stems and leaves throughout the season, as well as, as a bonus, bullets, and flowers in summer. Grow at least one red-tunic variety to add color to the salad.

The year before the crop, sow oats as green manure, this crop being beneficial to the green onion. The four-year rotation should include any member of the allium family (garlic, shallot, chives, onion, leek, etc.).

Image Credit: Photo by Christopher Previte on Unsplash

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