Onions and Shallots

Types of Onions and Shallots

There is much confusion in relation to onions due to different names being used for the same type of onions in different cultures and states. Onions types can be divided into storage onions and fresh onions. Of the storage onions the most common types are brown, red, white and eschallots. Eschallots are also called shallots in Victoria and some European countries. Brown onions are the most versatile and having the longest storage life. White onions are more pungent than brown onions. Red onions have a milder flavour and can be used raw. Pickling onions are a brown immature onion. Of the fresh onions what are called shallots in NSW are a straight stemmed plant that comes in bunches. They are called Eschallots in Victoria and some European countries. Shallots have a mild flavour and can be used raw or briefly sautéed. The white part has the more oniony flavour but the entire plant can be used. What are called spring onions in Australia are small white bulbs with a green stem. They are known as green onions in the US. They can be used raw or cooked whole or chopped.

Selection and Storage

Choose onions that are dry with no soft spots or markings. Storage onions should be firm all over. Store storage onions loose in a cool dark place. To store other types of onions remove unneeded tops and store wrapped in the crisper section of the refrigerator. Onions are good with potatoes, tomatoes, garlic, wine and roasted meats.


Brown and white onions of different maturities are available all year. Red onions are available most of the year except for summer when they are often imported. Spring onions and shallots are available all year round. Australian Eschallots are available autumn-winter.


For storage onions remove skin and chop or use whole. Onions can cause tears because of the reaction of enzymes to the air as they are sliced or chopped. To reduce tears use a sharp knife, chop near an open window or exhaust or try chilling the onions. Onions are good with tomatoes, meats, fish, garlic, spinach and potatoes.

Nutrition Information

Onions are a source of phytochemicals that may promote healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels. They are also a source of vitamin C, fibre, vitamin B6, folate and manganese.

White Onions

A pungent dry onion with papery skin. Used primarily in cooking rather than raw. A number of varieties are available but not sold by type.


All year round.

Brown Onions

Brown skinned with white flesh. While a number of different varieties are sold in Australia they are not distinguished by variety. The sweeter varieties are less pungeant. They are the staple onion to use in cooking and a  more affordable  alternative to white onions.


All year round with flavour changes throughout the year depending on whether they are new season or not.

Spring Onions

Also called green onions in American cooking and scallions in some Australian states. These are immature onions which are sold when the top is green and the bulb small. Both the bulb and the top can be used. They have a mild flavour and are good in Asian cooking, raw in dishes and in salads.


All year round.



In NSW and the ACT shallots refer to an immature onion picked before the bulb has started to form. Sold in bunches they have white bottoms extending up to green tops. Confusingly what are called shallots in NSW are called spring onions in some other states. And what are called eschallots in NSW are called shallots in some other states. They are a really a more immature form of what is called a spring onion in NSW. The whole of the shallot can be used but many recipes specify for the bottom section only. Shallots are used in Asian cooking and are good raw including in salads.


All year round.



Called shallots in many Australian states as well as French shallots. They are a small onion which grows in clusters with a papery golden/brown skin. Milder than onions they are used in French and Asian cooking. They are an important ingredient in many French sauces.


Available most of the year. When Australian Eschallots are not available imported are sold. Golden and pinky/grey Eschallots are both available depending on the time of year.

Red Onion

A medium sized onion with red/purple skin. Flesh is white with red rings. Also known as salad and Spanish onions. Red onions are generally a  mild, sweet onion but certain varieties can be more pungent at certain times of the year. Good raw in salads and salsas as well as cooked. To take away some of the pungency when using in a salad marinate in the salad dressing including salt for 15 minutes to an hour or so.


All year round.