By Ryan Dorn,

Often residing in the shadow of their more boisterous cousins, onions and garlic, shallots bring a touch of gourmet elegance to the kitchen. These delicate members of the allium family boast a milder, sweeter flavor than onions, infused with subtle hints of garlic. Whether you're a seasoned chef seeking nuanced flavors or a home gardener looking to expand your culinary horizons, shallots are a worthy addition to your repertoire.

In this blog post, we'll delve into the wonderful world of shallots. We'll uncover the differences between shallots and onions, explore the art of growing shallots from seed, and guide you through the harvesting and curing process. Get ready to discover why these flavorful treasures deserve a prominent spot in your garden!

Bunch of shallots in a bowl.

Shallots vs. Onions: What Sets Them Apart

While both shallots and onions belong to the allium family, they possess distinct characteristics that set them apart:

  • Growth Habit: Shallots grow in clusters, similar to garlic. A single shallot bulb will divide and form a cluster of multiple bulbs nestled together. Onions, on the other hand, generally form a single, large bulb.
  • Flavor Profile: Shallots offer a milder, sweeter flavor compared to the pungency of onions. They have a delicate onion flavor with subtle garlic undertones, making them a versatile ingredient in a variety of dishes.
  • Appearance: Shallots are generally smaller and will often be more oblong in shape than most onion varieties. You'll find them in shades of reddish-brown, gray, or golden, depending on the variety.
Picture showing differences between shallot, onion and garlic.


Culinary Delights: Using Shallots in the Kitchen

Shallots shine in both raw and cooked applications. Their mellow flavor and versatility make them an excellent addition to a wide range of dishes. Here are some ways to enjoy these culinary gems:

  • Raw: Thinly sliced or minced raw shallots add a delicate flavor boost to salads, dressings, and sauces. They are less likely to overpower other ingredients compared to raw onions.
  • Sautéed: Sautéing mellows shallots even further, bringing out their inherent sweetness. Use them as the base for sauces, soups, and stir-fries.
  • Roasted: Roasting shallots concentrates their flavors and creates a caramelized sweetness. They're delicious tossed with other vegetables or enjoyed on their own as a side dish.
  • Pickled: Pickled shallots add a sweet-tart dimension to charcuterie boards, salads, and sandwiches.

Growing Shallots from Seed: A Step-by-Step Guide

Shallot seeds in a hand

While shallot bulbs ("sets") are readily available for planting, growing shallots from seed offers a rewarding and cost-effective experience. Here's a breakdown of the process:

  1. Timing is Everything

    • Indoor Sowing: Start shallot seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before the last spring frost in your region.
    • Direct Sowing: Alternatively, you can sow seeds directly outdoors in early spring once the soil can be worked.
  2. Prepare Your Seedbed

    • Shallots thrive in well-drained, fertile soil with full sun exposure.
    • Amend the soil with compost or well-rotted manure to enhance fertility.
  3. Sowing the Seeds

    • Sow shallot seeds thinly, about ½ inch deep and 1-2 inches apart, in rows spaced 12-18 inches apart.
    • Water gently and keep the seedbed consistently moist but not waterlogged.
  4. Caring for Your Seedlings

    • Germination usually occurs within 10-14 days at 50-60°F.
    • Thin seedlings to a final spacing of 4-6 inches apart when they are a few inches tall. This allows bulbs to develop properly.
    • Keep the area weed-free to reduce competition for resources.
    • Water regularly, especially during dry periods.
  5. Understanding Growth Stages

    • Green Onions: Young shallots can be harvested as green onions for a fresh, mild flavor. Start harvesting about 50-60 days after planting when the tops are 6-8 inches tall.
    Shallot onion greens growing in the vegetable garden.
    • Mature Bulbs: For storing, wait for the shallot tops to start yellowing and falling over. This indicates that the bulbs have reached maturity and usually occurs between days 90-100.
    Shallot bulb ready to be harvested.

Harvesting and Curing Shallots

The key to long-term storage of shallots lies in proper harvesting and curing:

  1. Harvesting Time

    • Once the shallot tops begin to yellow and fall over, it's harvest time! This usually occurs in late summer or early fall.
    • Choose a dry day to harvest. Carefully loosen the soil around the shallot clusters using a garden fork or trowel, taking care not to damage the bulbs. Gently lift the entire cluster out of the ground.
  2. Initial Drying

    • Leave the harvested shallots in the sun for a few days to dry out initially. This helps prepare them for the curing process.
  3. Curing is Key

    • Curing shallots is essential for optimal storage and preventing rot. There are two main curing methods:

      • Hanging: Tie the shallot tops together in small bunches and hang them in a warm, dry, airy location out of direct sunlight.
      • Laying Flat: Spread the shallots in a single layer on trays or screens in a well-ventilated area away from sunlight.
    • Allow the shallots to cure for 1-4 weeks until the outer skins are dry and papery, and the necks are tightly constricted.

Shallots hanging to cure.
  1. Trimming and Storing

    • Once fully cured, trim the roots and tops of the shallots, leaving about an inch of the neck.
    • Store your cured shallots in a cool (32-40°F), dry location with good air circulation. Mesh bags or open baskets are ideal. Properly stored shallots can last for several months.

Popular Shallot Varieties to Grow

Shallots come in several exciting varieties, each with unique characteristics. Here are a few popular choices for your garden:

  • Davidor Shallot
    Currently, the reigning king of the shallot and a new addition to Southern Seeds' lineup, this robust shallot is packed with flavor.Davidor shallot on a table and brown linen cloth.
  • French Red Shallot: An heirloom variety prized for its classic shallot flavor and reddish-brown skin.
  • Dutch Yellow Shallot: Known for its mild, sweet flavor and golden-brown skin. Stores well.
  • Griselle Shallot: A French gray shallot with mild garlic undertones and elongated bulbs. Stores exceptionally well.
  • Ambition Shallot: A hybrid variety offering improved disease resistance and large yields.

Common Shallot Problems and Solutions

As with any garden crop, shallots might face a few challenges. Please visit our detailed pest and disease blogs for in-depth information, but here's the low down for what to watch out for:

  • Pests: Onion thrips and aphids can be occasional pests. Insecticidal soap or neem oil are often effective in organic control.

    Aphids of leaves and stems.


  • Diseases: Downy mildew and white rot can affect shallots, especially in wet conditions. Practice crop rotation, ensure good drainage, and avoid overcrowding plants to minimize disease risks.

  • Bolting: Shallots may prematurely bolt (send up flower stalks) due to stress from cold weather or fluctuating temperatures. Planting at the appropriate time for your region minimizes the risk of bolting. 

Wrapping Things Up!

With their exquisite flavor and easy-going nature, shallots are a fantastic addition to any culinary garden. Whether you're an experienced cook or a curious gardener, I hope this guide has inspired you to embrace these gourmet alliums. Now, it's your turn to discover the joys of growing and savoring this culinary treasure.

I encourage you to experiment with different shallot varieties, explore their culinary possibilities, and embrace the satisfaction of growing your own gourmet ingredients. Happy gardening, happy cooking and remember to reach out if you ever need any help in your garden!

Likewise, don't hesitate to let me know if there's anything else you'd like to explore in the world of gardening or seed cultivation! 🌱 

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