Though once a rarity in the United States, the shallot has become more popular in the last few decades in both home kitchens and commercial food settings. There are many types of this onion-like vegetable cultivated around the world, but the most common variety available in America is known as the French red shallot. Both fresh and dried shallots are a welcome addition to salad dressings, soups, stews, and ready meals, yet they are also surprisingly packed with nutritional value that provides many different health benefits.
Shallots vs Onions: What’s the Difference?
Just by looking at them, it would be understandable to think a shallot is simply a smaller, slightly deformed onion, and that’s actually not far from the truth. Once considered a separate species (Allium ascalonicum), the shallot is now recognized as a cultivar of the common onion (Allium cepa var. aggregatum). Their origin is unclear, but they are believed to have come from Southeast Asia and eventually made their way to India and the Mediterranean region through trade and gradual changes in agricultural production.
One of the biggest differences between shallots and onions is that onions grow in single bulbs whereas shallots grow in cloves like garlic; this has even led some to erroneously believe that shallots are a hybrid of onions and garlic. Another significant difference—and the main reason shallots have become a popular replacement ingredient for onions in many types of cuisine—is the flavor. Onions are known for having a pungent, sulfuric flavor that usually needs to be cooked or combined with other ingredients to mask the intensity. Shallots, on the other hand, have a sweeter and milder flavor that bring an onion-y zest without the heat.
What Are the Health Benefits of Shallots?
Like onions, leeks, and garlic, shallots are also high in a variety of nutrients that the body needs on a daily basis to grow and function normally. A 3.5 ounce serving of shallots, for instance, contains 3 grams of fiber (out of about 17 grams of total carbohydrates), 2.5 grams of protein, and about 7% of the recommended daily value of iron. Additionally, shallots have numerous vitamins and minerals: magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, potassium, zinc, folate, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, and vitamin B (riboflavin, niacin, thiamin). Surprisingly, shallots are also better sources of flavanols and polyphenolic compounds than both garlic and onions. The nutrients contained in shallots are also associated with a number of important health benefits:
- Antioxidants: During the course of normal cell metabolism, sometimes unstable molecules called free radicals are created in the body. Over time, a buildup of free radicals can cause oxidative stress, a state of imbalance that can damage the DNA and proteins of cells. To counter this, the body needs antioxidants, which are compounds that inhibit oxidation. Shallots contain several antioxidants, including allicin, quercetin, and kaempferol.
- Cardiovascular health: In addition to the antioxidant activity that can help prevent damage to the cardiovascular system, the allicin in shallots has been shown to relax the walls of blood vessels and thereby lower blood pressure. There is also some evidence that allicin reduces LDL cholesterol through enzyme action in the liver.
- Blood sugar: Phytochemical compounds in shallots may have anti-diabetic properties by improving insulin responses and helping control blood sugar levels. This may also have a positive impact on diabetes-related obesity.
- Allergy symptoms: For people with seasonal allergies, symptoms like a runny nose, swelling, itchiness, and watery eyes are generally caused by the release of histamine in the body. The quercetin content in shallots may function as a natural antihistamine and inhibit the release of histamine; this is why the flavonoid quercetin is actually a common ingredient in many allergy medications and supplements.
- Cancer prevention: The same antioxidants that prevent free radical cell damage can also prevent the kinds of mutations that lead to cancer. More research is needed, but some studies on the anti-growth activity on cancer cells have seen promising results thus far.
- Brain health: A form of vitamin B6 found in shallots is called pyridoxine, and it has been associated with stimulating the release of GABA, a neurotransmitter involved in reducing neuron excitability in the brain. This can potentially both reduce stress levels and improve brain function.
- Immune system: The vitamin C content in shallots has antioxidant properties, but it is also supportive of various aspects of immune system health, including the elimination of potentially harmful microbes.
- Digestion: With 3.2 grams of fiber per serving size shallots are also a good source of dietary fiber. This kind of soluble fiber is helpful in promoting regular bowel movements and may also contribute to lowering LDL cholesterol levels.
- Hair and skin: Vitamin C is also known to contribute to the production of collagen, an important component of healthy skin and hair. Selenium is another component in shallots that contribute to healthy skin and hair while also thought to protect cells from the aging process.
- Weight loss: While it wouldn’t be recommended to go on an all-shallots diet, the fiber content, impact on blood sugar, and relative nutritional content vs calorie count make shallots a great addition to any diet or weight loss plan.
Shallots, a Valuable Ingredient in Many Recipes
Shallots offer a milder flavor when compared to onions, and that is one of the main reasons they have become so popular in recent years. At Silva, we pride ourselves on providing a wide range of high quality dehydrated ingredients so that you can deliver a delicious product to your customers. We use only the best sources for raw shallots before processing them in our state-of-the-art production facility and cutting them to whatever size you require. To learn more about working with Silva and our good-for-you promise, please contact us today.