Shallots are a small, elongated type of onion with a taste that’s often described as a subtle mix between a traditional onion and garlic.
They grow in clusters, contain less water, and have thinner peels than traditional onions but can make your eyes water just the same.
Still, you may wonder how these onions differ from other varieties and how to best use them in cooking.
This article reviews the benefits and uses of shallots, as well as how to substitute for shallots in recipes.
Shallots (Allium ascalonicum L.) belong to the Allium family, alongside leeks, chives, scallions, garlic, and other onion varieties, like Vidalia, white, yellow, and sweet onions.
Though they appear similar to red onions on the outside, they look very different on the inside. When you peel a shallot, you find that they have 3–6 cloves or bulbs — like garlic — instead of rings like other onions (1).
Nutritionally, they have quite a bit to offer, with 3.5 ounces (100 grams or about 10 tablespoons) of chopped shallots providing (2):
Compared with common onions, shallots are a more concentrated source of protein, fiber, and micronutrients, including calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, folate, B vitamins, and vitamins A and C (2).
What’s more, shallots and other vegetables in the Allium family are packed with powerful antioxidants and organosulfur compounds — all of which are responsible for many of their health benefits (3, 4, 5, 6).
One of these powerful compounds is allicin. It’s formed when shallots are crushed or cut, which releases their antioxidants (7).
Shallots are a mild and highly nutritious variety of onion. They’re full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and organosulfur compounds, all of which are responsible for many of their health benefits.
Antioxidants are compounds that help protect your cells from becoming damaged by substances called free radicals.
Too many free radicals can cause oxidative stress in your body, which can lead to inflammation, as well as chronic conditions like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes (8, 9, 10).
Shallots are rich in compounds with antioxidant activity, such as quercetin, kaempferol, and allicin.
One study analyzing the antioxidant activity of 11 popular varieties of onion found that shallots contained the highest amounts (11).
Another study compared the antioxidant strength of six Allium vegetables, noting that shallots had the second-highest strength after chives (12).
During an allergic reaction, cells in your body release histamine, which triggers symptoms like tissue swelling, watery eyes, and itchiness.
Shallots are high in quercetin, a plant flavonoid that may help reduce and manage eye and nose symptoms related to seasonal allergies (13).
Quercetin may act as a natural antihistamine by preventing the release of histamine and lessening the severity of inflammatory and respiratory reactions like allergic asthma, bronchitis, and seasonal allergies (14, 15).
In fact, it’s a primary ingredient in many seasonal allergy medications and supplements used to manage mild allergy symptoms that affect the eyes and nose (6).
A large body of research shows that the organosulfur compounds in Allium vegetables like shallots have antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties (5).
As such, Alliums have long been used in traditional medicine to help treat colds, fevers, and coughs, as well as the flu (16).
One 4-week study in 16 adults with seasonal allergies observed that taking 200 mcg/mL of shallot extract daily reduced symptoms in 62.5% of participants, compared with 37.5% in the control group (13).
Another study in 60 people found that applying a 0.5% shallot extract solution hourly to new cold sores significantly reduced their duration (17).
Cold sores resolved within 6 hours for 30% of those given shallot extract and 24 hours for the rest of the shallot group, compared with 48–72 hours for the placebo group (17).
What’s more, a single, 15-second mouth rinse with shallot extract and water has been shown to be more effective than chlorhexidine, a medical disinfectant, at inhibiting bacteria in the mouth for up to 24 hours (5).
Research indicates that the organosulfur compounds and antioxidants in shallots may benefit heart health and blood circulation in several ways, potentially lowering your risk of heart disease (18, 19, 20).
Shallots contain high amounts of thiosulfinates, a type of organosulfur compound that may prevent the formation of dangerous blood clots (21).
Allicin, another organosulfur compound in shallots, has been shown to reduce the stiffness of blood vessels by releasing nitric oxide, improving circulation and lowering blood pressure. It may also improve total cholesterol (22).
Furthermore, one study comparing 11 members of the Allium family found that shallots and garlic had the greatest clot-preventing activity, which was attributed to their quercetin and allicin contents (23).
Shallots may also help reduce levels of harmful fats that can build up in your blood system and potentially increase your risk of heart disease.
One study noted that women with type 2 diabetes who ate shallots with yogurt experienced a reduction in total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and triglycerides, compared with women who ate yogurt by itself (24).
Another study determined that supplementing with allicin daily lowered high cholesterol and triglyceride levels in rats, protecting against atherosclerosis — the buildup of plaque in arteries that can lead to heart disease (25).
Shallots are high in antioxidants and may improve blood sugar levels, circulation, seasonal allergies, and heart and bone health. They may also help fight germs and promote weight maintenance.
If you don’t have shallots on hand, the best substitute is a common onion plus a pinch of minced or dried garlic. Just keep in mind that shallots and traditional onions offer different flavors.
This substitution works best when the recipe calls for cooked shallots, as raw onion and raw shallot don’t taste the same.
On the other hand, if you’re substituting shallots in place of one whole onion, it’s generally recommended to use three shallots for every onion called for in a recipe. Again, shallots don’t offer the same bite as common onions.
Sometimes it can be confusing to know how much of a shallot to use in a recipe. If a recipe calls for one shallot, you can usually assume it means all of the cloves in a single shallot — not just one shallot clove.
Shallots have a mild flavor that can make an excellent addition to a variety of dishes, such as soups, salads, and dressings. In many recipes, shallots can be replaced with common onions mixed with garlic.
They’re rich in plant compounds with high antioxidant activity, which helps reduce inflammation and prevent oxidative stress that can lead to disease.
Moreover, the compounds in shallots have been well studied for their potential health benefits, such as supporting heart health, improving blood sugar control, and lowering your risk of obesity and diseases like cancer and type 2 diabetes.
To incorporate the mild flavor of shallots into your diet, simply use them in any recipe that calls for traditional onions.
Keep in mind that some of the studies reviewed used concentrated shallot extract, making it difficult to determine exactly how many whole shallots you would need to consume to achieve the same benefits.
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