The difference between spring onions and shallots

Neil Perry's stir-fried lamb with spring onions.
Neil Perry's stir-fried lamb with spring onions.  Photo: William Meppem

I have been confused for many years about shallots. I read recipes requiring shallots and the image depicts spring onions. P. Exford

We are a federation of former colonies settled at different times by different generations of immigrants. Put a Sydneysider and a Melburnian in a room a say the word "football". One will think rugby, the other Australian rules. Say "potato scallop" and one will think of a slice of battered and deep-fried potato and the other will be confused, probably still obsessing over the recent sacking of their footy coach. Shallots and spring onions are members of the allium genus of the Amaryllidaceae or lily family. According to the website of Onions Australia, the peak body of alliums in this great nation, spring onions are Allium fistulosum. Fistulosum means "hollow" and refers to the long, green hollow leaves, which finish with a long, fine white bulb. Both the white bulb and the green leaf are used in cooking. True shallots (Allium cepa, var. aggregatum) are a variety of onions grown for their bulbs only and look like small pointed brown or purple onions. In NSW, however, Allium fistulosum, or spring onions, are marketed as both eschallots and shallots.

Do you have a recipe for jerusalem artichokes that doesn't cause flatulence? R. Wright

I share your pain. Within hours of eating jerusalem artichokes I produce as much foul wind as a politician running for the senate. Dreadful. The older I get, the more I succumb to the fermentation of the long chain starch molecules that are part of the fructan family of naturally occurring polysaccharides. They remain undigested until they reach the gut, where bacteria ferment them, creating gas leading to bloating and flatulence. I bumped into Alla Wolf-Tasker recently and she swears cooking jerusalem artichokes with tomatoes prevents the problem. Pickling jerusalem artichokes can pre-ferment the inulin and I have seen pickled jerusalem artichokes on restaurant menus recently. There is a school of thought that insists that if you introduce these nutty tubers to the diet a little at the time, the gut bugs will get used to the influx of inulin. But apart from these suggestions, I don't have a foolproof fart-free JA recipe.


Last week we discussed how to dress a salad as they do in restaurants. Reader L. Hornby replied saying, "For years I have made a simple salad of mixed green leaves, sometimes with some baby cos, diced avocado and finely sliced green shallots [spring onions] tossed together with a grated hard-boiled egg on the top. I never dress the salad as some people don't like salad dressing and, as you say, the leaves go limp. I place the homemade dressing on the table in a glass cruet ... and allow people to use it as required."

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