Although green onions (scallions) and chives look remarkably similar with their long green stalks and both belong to the allium family along with other onions, leeks and garlics; there are differences between the two. The main difference between green onions and chives is that green onions are a vegetable and chives are a herb.
In this article I take a detailed look at green onions and chives to see exactly what the differences are as well as discuss some of the best ways to use them in recipe and just whether you can use one in place of the other when cooking.
All About Green Onions (Scallions)
The green onion is a vegetable, which means that any part of it (leaves, stems or roots) can be eaten as food. Green onions have a lighter flavor than other types of onion (such as yellow or red) and the bulb on the green onion is small because they are harvested young.
Green onions have green hollow stalks or tops with a white bulb or stem and are usually sold with the roots still attached. The green tops grow above ground, the white bulbs and roots are below ground.
Green onions are grown in the northern hemisphere, where the peak season for them is spring and summer, although they are available year round. Green onions are harvested by being gently pulled from the ground and when freshly harvested, they usually have a stronger onion smell to them which is also earthy and bright with some hints of garlic.
Green onions are usually sold in bunches at the grocery store or farmers market. When you buy green onions, look for those that are light green with undamaged and firm tops. The green tops will darken as green onions mature, so this means the darker the tops, the tougher and stronger flavored they will be.
Are They Actually Green Onions, Scallions or Spring Onions?
Green onions and scallions (or ‘bunching onions’) are often considered to be, and treated as, the same and although some people may distinguish between green onions and ‘true’ scallions, generally, although there are slight flavor differences, they can be treated as the same when bought for eating raw or cooking with.
Some green onions have the small white bulb at the root as they have been harvested young from bulb-forming onions, while others may not have a bulb as they have been harvested from varieties which do not form bulbs (such as White Spear and Evergreen Hardy White varieties from Allium fistulosum species). Those harvested from A. fistulosum are often considered to be the true scallions.
Green onions can also be harvested as very young regular onions (such as Allium cepa) before the bulb has had chance to form. This means that like a scallion, the white stem does not bulge.
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Spring onions are scallions that are planted in late summer and left to grow over winter so that they can be harvested in spring. Compared to regular green onions, spring onions can have a stronger flavor, although when cooked, they do tend to sweeten and lose some of the bite.
If you are using spring onions instead of scallions in a recipe, then use less because of their stronger flavor. Like green onions, spring onions usually have white bulbs, but you may also see them with yellow or purple bulbs.
Some countries may also refer to green onions and scallions as spring onions and even worse, some recipes may ask for shallots, but by shallots it means green onions, so can be worth a second check of the recipe before you start.
The name scallion comes from Askolonion which is the Greek name for Ashqelon, an ancient Palestinian port which was originally thought to be the home of the onion. Later it was found that onions were from central Asia, but the name continued to be used. It is thought that green onions have been cultivated for over 2,000 years.
How Should Green Onions Be Stored?
Green onions are best stored in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator and be careful to avoid placing them where they can be crushed as this will cause them to wilt faster.
Before placing them in the refrigerator, you can wrap a damp paper towel around the roots and place them into an part-open Ziplock bag. If you have enough space to stand them up, then you can also place them – root down - in around an inch of water in a jar in the refrigerator with a bag loosely fasted over the tops. The water in the jar should be changed every few days.
Green onions will keep for as long as four weeks in the refrigerator.
You can also wash, dry and slice green onions and freeze them, but they can only be used to add to cooked dishes after they have been frozen as the texture changes too much.
The Best Ways to Use Green Onions
When preparing green onions, you need to wash them well and dry them before slicing off the roots and lightly trimming the tops. Green onions are always best sliced rather than chopped as the pressure from chopping can bruise them.
Some recipes may ask for the bulb and the leaves (green and white parts) to be separated. This is so the white part can infuse the dish and is also mellowed by the cooking, while the greens can then be used as a fresh and raw garnish.
Green onions are ideal raw in salads and sandwiches and can also be cooked into soups, salsas, pasta, seafood and potato dishes. Green onions are the main variety of onion used in Japanese and Chinese dishes; typically added to noodles, hot pots, stir fries, tofu and rice dishes. It is always best to add green onions to a pan in the last few minutes before cooking is complete.
They are also delicious when steamed, roasted or grilled; try topping steaks and other meats with grilled green onions. They also pair well if lightly sautéed in olive oil with salt and pepper and collard greens, snow peas, swiss chards or other greens.
Green onions are also a favorite in Mexican dishes, often paired with beans, fish, cheese and rice. A popular way to serve them is by grilling them with oil and salt until lightly charred and then sprinkling them with lime juice (cebollitas).
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If you do not have green onions to hand for a dish, then you can use some regular onion, but you will only need to use a little and chop it finely.
All About Chives
Chives are a herb and although a member of the allium family, they are a completely different species – Allium schoenoprasum. When chives are left to flower, they have purple flowers are also edible, just pull the petals off and add to the dish for a mild chive flavor and splash of color.
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Onion chives are the most common variety of chive, although garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) are used in Chinese and Asian cooking. These garlic chives are much more potent than ‘regular’ chives.
Chives have long, thin and hollow green blades – similar in size to grass blades - with a delicate onion flavor and hints of garlic and are best bought fresh in spring and summer.
What Should You Look for When Buying Chives?
When you buy fresh chives, look for those with plump and uniform green stems without brown spots.
Fresh chives will keep for around five days or so in the refrigerator wrapped in a damp paper towel. When you come to use chives, wash them well and cut them with scissors rather than a knife to prevent them from bruising.
As well as being available fresh, chives are also available dried and powdered. You can dry fresh chives in a dehydrator yourself, or just place a bundle of chives into a brown paper bag with some ventilation holes and hang them in a cool dry place until dry and brittle to the touch. The dried chives can then be placed in a storage jar or other airtight container.
The Best Ways to Use Chives
Chives have a more potent flavor than green onions and will add some onion flavor to dishes. They are often used to top cream cheese, omelets, baked potatoes, deviled eggs and more.
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Chives are a popular herb in French haute cuisine.
To get the best flavor and aroma from chives lightly sauté them in a little butter or oil before adding to your recipe, otherwise, just add chives at the end of cooking. Avoid overcooking chives as they will lose their flavor.
You can use fresh chives instead of green onions to garnish a dish but even though they are more potent than green onions, the difference in size means that you will need to use more – up to six times the quantity of green onions.
What Are the Nutritional Differences Between Green Onions and Chives?
Green onions are low calorie, containing around 32 calories per 100 grams. In 100 grams there is 7.3 grams of carbs and 2.6 grams of fiber. The protein and fat content is low and green onions – especially the tops – are ideal for keto diets.
Green onions are a good source of vitamin K, with 100 grams contains 173% of our recommended daily intake (RDI) and they also contain a smaller amount of vitamin C and folate.
Chives contain fewer carbs and sugar than green onions along with more protein. They are also a much better source of vitamins A and C, although slightly less vitamin K than green onions. It is worth remembering though, that you would need to consume a lot more chives by weight to achieve a similar nutritional profile of green onions.
I hope that you have found this article on the differences between green onions and chives useful, and perhaps even more useful, differences between green onions, scallions and spring onions!
I also hope that you have enjoyed reading about some of the many ways to enjoy them, as well as how to store them and prepare them to keep them at their best.Do feel free to share your thoughts on green onions and chives in the comments below and you are also welcome to share this article with your family and friends.