Do You Cook With Shallots: Here’s Why You Should

June 08, 2016

Don't underestimate the health benefits of the small shallot.

Don't underestimate the health benefits of the small shallot. Gram for gram, shallots have more antioxidant activity than the strongest yellow onions and contain six times more antioxidant phenols than the mildest Vidalias, according to researchers at Cornell University. Shallots are especially prized in France and Asia, where they are used in sauces, dressings, butters, and to garnish. Shallots are mild enough to eat raw but robust enough to stand up to other flavors when cooked. In French cuisine, they are minced into vinaigrettes and baked whole in tarts. In Southeast Asian cooking, crispy, fried shallots top everything from soup to fish. 

Shallots like onions, garlic and chives are Alliums, a family of about 700 species. While some cooks use shallots and onions interchangeably, shallots are a separate species with a taste all their own. They also grow differently - shallots form ‘offsets,’ little clusters of bulbs, while onions form a single bulb. There are actually two common distinct species of shallots – the Allium cepa, which is the red-skinned shallot that is most common in the US and the French Grey Shallot, Allium oschaninii.

Shallots, like onions contain the powerful antioxidant quercetin, a type of flavonoid that helps delay or slow the oxidative damage to cells and tissue of the body. Studies have indicated that quercetin helps to eliminate free radicals in the body, to protect against atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease, to regenerate vitamin E, and more. Major dietary sources of quercetin include apple, tea, and onion and shallots. Research from Wageningen Agricultural University, in the Netherlands, showed that the absorption of quercetin from shallots and onions is twice that from tea and more than three times that from apples.

Interestingly, the quercetin content is highest in the dry skin and decreases from the outer to inner rings.

Shallots are a great source of vitamin A, great for the immune system and skin and eye health; vitamin C, necessary for top immunity and bone and collagen formation; B6 necessary for carbohydrate metabolism and brain health; and folate critical for reproductive, brain and cardiovascular health, as well as potassium for blood pressure and manganese for bone health, skin integrity and blood sugar control.