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Tips About Onions, Shallots, Leeks and Scallions

“When, Hippocrates said, ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,’ he was probably giving a toast with a goblet of red wine during a meal that was redolent with onions and garlic. Garlic onions, shallots, scallions, chives and leeks — the allium family — have been celebrated throughout history as savory vegetables, essential condiments and life-saving medicine,” said Jo Robinson in her book Eating on the Wild Side.

So let’s dive in and take a look at a few members of this popular and useful family!

OnionsPurple Onions

Size of Onions

The smaller the onion, the more nutrition is packed inside. Two small onions give you more phytonutrients than one larger one. This is true of any variety. Food chemists have discovered that this is because smaller onions contain less water, so the phytonutrients are more concentrated.

Sweet vs. Strong Flavor

According to Jo Robinson (Eating on the Wild Side) a 2004 test tube study determined that extracts of strongly flavored onions destroyed 95 percent of human cancer cells. Extracts of sweet onions killed only 10%. They were also shown to be less effective at thinning the blood making them not as effective in preventing heart attacks and strokes.hamburger

Obviously if you are creating a dish containing raw onion, you wouldn’t want to choose a very pungent variety as it would mask most of the other flavors. That would be a reason to choose a mild, sweet variety (as in adding a raw onion to a hamburger on a bun).

Interesting Tips About Onions

  • Because there is a high concentration of nutrients in the skin, it makes the skins the most valuable part of the onion. Normally it would be difficult to use the skin, however, you can add them to soup stocks or wrap them in cheesecloth or net bags and add to soup or stews.
  • Store onions on a refrigerator shelf and not the crisper drawer (which is too humid). They can also be stored in a paper bag in a garage or unheated room in the house.

Cooking Onions

The most beneficial nutrient in the onion is quercetin which has antiviral, antibacterial and anticancer properties. Studies have shown that baking, sautéing, roasting or frying them increases the quercetin properties. Boiling reduces the quercetin, but if you boil in a soup or stew and use all the juices, you will reap all the nutritional benefit.


Shallots are becoming more widely used in the U.S. and can be found in most large supermarkets. They are the superstars of nutrition. Ounce for ounce they have six times more phytonutrients than onions. The only other plant that will destroy cancer cells is garlic.

Interesting Tips About Shallots

  • This is an excellent vegetable to grow in a home garden. They take up a small space and are easy to grow. If you want to experiment with a shallot that has a milder flavor (less oniony), try growing the French Grey shallot which are rare and not easy to find. They are smaller and don’t store as well. If you live in a Mediterranean climate, plant on the winter solstice and harvest on the summer solstice.
  • After purchase or harvest, store them on a refrigerator shelf and not the crisper drawer (which is too humid). They can also be stored in a paper bag in a garage or unheated room in the house and will last about a month.


Tall and mild-flavored, they have one slender bulb at end of a long stalk. They look like very large scallions. Even though they have a mild flavor, they are still rich in phytonutrients.

Interesting Tips About Leeks

The nutrients are concentrated in the green part of the plant which is usually discarded.

  • Use greens in stir-fry or other sautéed dishes.
  • When using the whole leek, cut them in slices and sauté before adding the white part. When shopping for leeks, if using the whole plant, look for smaller sizes since the green part will be more tender.
  • Leeks lose nutritional value after just a few days in the refrigerator. Cook them as soon as you buy or harvest them.

What Do I Do with Them?

Aside from leek and potato soup, they can be used in stews, pot roasts and many other soups. Add them to frittatas, omelets or poultry stuffing.

Here is a recipe that is quick and easy and can be made in large quantities to be frozen in pint-size containers.

Sautéed Leeks with Mustard and Cumin

Prep: 10-15 minutes

Cook: 10 minutesleek sauté

Yield: 2 cups


2 medium leeks

¼ c extra virgin olive oil

1 t cumin seeds

2 T prepared mustard

1 t honey

Trim the bulb ends of the leeks to remove their tiny rootlets. Trim the tops of the leaves, leaving three inches of dark green above the white. Cut the leeks into quarters lengthwise, then rinse well to remove any dirt. Beginning at the root end, slice the white part of the leeks crosswise into ¼-inch slice, then slice the green portion into narrower slices.

Combine the oil, cumin seeds, and green portions of the leeks in a medium frying pan. Sauté over medium-low heat for two minutes, then add the white portions of the leeks and cook for another eight minutes. Stir frequently. Add the mustard and honey and sauté over low heat for another two minutes. Serve hot, cold, or at room temperature.

Recipe courtesy of Jo Robinson, Eating on the Wild Side.

Onion Chiveschive flowers

Chives have a mild onion taste and are useful as a garnish for soups and baked potatoes with sour cream. They are also used in omelets and quiches as well as the French fines herbes. To make this, combine equal portions of minced fresh onion chive, tarragon, parsley and chervil.

Interesting Tips About Chives

When you purchase chives, use them right away. It’s also possible to buy them as living plants in some supermarkets.

When you harvest, cut them back to about four inches and they will grow back quickly.

The closer you plant them to your kitchen, the more often you will use them.


They are also known as green onions, spring onions and salad onions. They look like mini-leeks. They have slim bulbs dark green leaves and a tassel of roots.

New studies show that scallions have 140 times more phytonutrients than white onions. The green portions are even more concentrated that the bulbs. In a 2002 study, men who consumed a third of an ounce of scallions per day had a 50 percent lower risk of prostate cancer than those who did not eat scallions.

Interesting Tips About Scallions

Scallions can be used instead of onions in most dishes. By adding to cooked dishes at the last minute, they add a nice crunch.

Whether purchased or harvested, use them right away. To store, place in a plastic bag and prick with toothpicks.

Further Reading

Jo Robinson’s Eating on the Wild Side has a section at the end of the chapter on Alliums that has recommended varieties for purchase in the market, or information for gardeners on which are the preferred varieties to plant.

This is a fabulous book to add to your collection.

Submitted by Gwen O’Neill.

Gwen O’Neill has been a gardener for over 40 years and has always been a passionate cook. Her own health challenges led her to experiencing a variety of healing modalities. After finding that her health improved with eating more whole food and improving her nutrition using a real, whole food based supplement called Juice Plus, she committed to sharing this experience with others. The aeroponic Tower Garden by Juice Plus makes it easy to grow produce right outside your kitchen door.

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Juice Plus real food!





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