When You Should Consider Substituting Onion With Shallots

Shallots smell like onions, and kind of look like onions, but can you actually use them in place of onions? Of course, while we always try to have a few onions handy, sometimes the twists and turns of life get in the way — and your stock of onions gets depleted. Especially for a staple item that you probably always expect to be somewhere in your kitchen, it can be easy to let it slip your mind, only for you to realize that there are no onions as you start making some pasta sauce. Not too many other ingredients really replicate the taste that onions have. This isn't just a matter of subbing out thyme for oregano — not having onions is an issue. That's when your mind will naturally start drifting towards that leftover shallot in your cupboard.

With shallots though, you generally have the opposite problem. Despite the fact they are standard grocery store fare, they just aren't as common in recipes. (And even when they are, there are a number of substitutes for them.) You're not stocking up on them because you use shallots multiple times a week, so you might realize too late that you actually need a shallot when you weren't expecting it. It also means that when you do buy one, it can sit in storage for a while — you made that dressing, and now those leftover shallots have got nothing to do. But can these two problems be the solution to each other? Can those shallots find some use by taking the place of onions?

Shallots are milder than onions

The similarities between shallots and onions have probably got you wondering how related they actually are. Shallots are not just tiny onions, but they are from the same allium family as onions and are related to other pungent bulbs like garlic and green onions. Shallots have a similar enough taste to onions that they can be substituted for them, but there will be a few differences. Shallots don't have the same sharp bite that onions do. They still have some of that acidity that gives onions their kick, but it's milder and balanced out by a slight sweetness as well. You should also know that despite their smaller size, you'll need the same amount of shallots as you did onions in the recipe, so you may need two or three shallots to replace one small onion.

If you do find yourself cooking with onions and need to sub in shallots, their milder taste means they work better with recipes that call for white onions, or dishes where the onion flavor is a less important background player. If you need the punch of red or yellow onions, shallots can do in a pinch, but they won't get you the same results. Of course, unless you have a leak lying around, there aren't really any better options, so dive in and use that shallot. The worst case scenario is your dish ends up being a little bland, the best case is you won't notice the difference at all.