A vegetable in the onion or Allium family, shallots are a close relative of onions, garlic, chives, and leeks. They are native to western and central Asia and thought to have been bred from onions rather than growing wild.
Today, they are a staple in French and Southeast Asian cuisine, usually used as a substitute for onions in sauces and sautés. Gourmet chefs prize shallots for their “elegant” flavor, which is milder and more subtle than onions.
Shallots are also grown for use as scallions or green onions, cutting the long tubular leaves above ground before bulbs form.
Types & Varieties
Shallot bulbs are more similar to garlic cloves than onions, as they are composed of multiple small, loose bulbs, hence being referred to a “multiplier” onion.
The plant’s long, hollow leaves can grow up to 25 inches. Shallot bulbs range in size from under an inch to 1.5 inches in length, and can be several different colors—red, white, or grey—depending on the variety.
Grey or Griselle shallots, sometimes called banana shallots, are popular and considered the most sophisticated, with French chefs deeming them the only “true shallots.” They are milder than onions when cooked, yet still pungent when raw.
The Welsh shallot, grown for year-round supply, has weaker bulbs. Red or Asian shallots are the most common type grown and found in most supermarkets.
Among shallot varieties are both heirlooms and hybrids, including Ambition, Atlas, Bayou Pearl, Bonheur, Conservator, Creation, Delta Giant, Dutch Yellow, Frog’s Leg, Louisiana Evergreen, Louisiana Pearl, Picador, Pikant, Prisma, Saffron, and Summergreen.
In the United States, shallots are not a major commercial crop. Most are exported from Europe to North America, especially from growers in France, though most shipments are processed and not in bulk or fresh form.
The shallots that are grown in America come mainly from the South, especially the southern parts of Louisiana. Shallots are generally available year-round, since they keep well for months, but are freshest during the harvest season.
Shallots are a perennial and can be treated similarly to onions. Rather than being grown from a seed, they are usually planted using bulb segments. They are planted a few inches deep, with tips pointed upwards near ground level.
Shallots should be planted at least a foot apart with 5 to 6 inches between rows. Soil should be well-drained yet moist, somewhat acidic, and rich in organic matter.
Full sun, with long hours of daylight, is optimal for growth. The longer the sun exposure, the more bulbs will develop. Partial shade can be tolerated, though it may inhibit bulb size and delay the growing process.
Bulbs may grow above the ground; if so, they should not be covered with soil as it may hinder bulb division. As the shallot has shallow roots, care must be taken to avoid damage. Weeds should be culled often as they will soak up valuable moisture and nutrients. Grass can often be confused with shallot seedlings, which presents a challenge for growers.
In warmer climates, shallots are usually planted in fall for a late spring harvest, while in colder regions they do better planted in early spring for a summer harvest. Shallots prefer moderate weather (55 to 75°F), although they can survive colder temperatures.
If the plants are being raised as scallions, the leaves can be cut after 30 to 60 days, when they are more than 5 inches tall. For shallot bulbs, they can take up to 100 days to mature.
When ready, the tops will dry, and lean to the side. Harvest is labor-intensive to gather, clean, and pack shallots in bunches in cartons or crates. After harvesting, bulbs should be cured in a warm, dry place for a week or two before storage.
Pests & Diseases
While shallots are a hardy crop, they do suffer from some of the same pests and diseases as onions.
One of the more serious is allium white rot, a destructive fungal infection that causes roots to decay and loosen in the soil. In mild cases, a fluffy whitish or grey mold can be seen around roots, dotted with small black growths.
In more advanced cases, bulbs will rot completely. There is currently no chemical treatment for this disease, and seriously infected plants should be removed and burned. The fungus can remain in the soil long after plants are dug up, so avoid planting alliums in the infected area for at least eight years. Other diseases of concern are bacterial soft rot, downy mildew, pink root, and purple blotch.
The onion root maggot is a frequent shallot pest. The tiny fly infests plants, feeding on roots and bulbs, which makes plants more susceptible to bacteria and can eventually kill them. Crop rotation helps keep the insects at bay, as does completely removing culled bulbs from thinning plants. Thrips are another pest to watch out for, as they also infest and feed on shallots.
Storage & Packaging
After curing, shallots should be stored in a cool, dry place. They need to be kept at 32 to 40°F and 60 to 70% relative humidity. If temperatures or humidity rise, shallots will sprout and spoil quicker.
To avoid excess moisture and diseases, shallots require good air circulation. They are often stored in large mesh bags or slotted crates. When stored properly, shallots can keep for up to 6 months and sometimes longer.
References: Clemson Cooperative Extension, Louisiana State University Ag Center, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Oregon State University, University of Arkansas, University of Florida/IFAS Extension, Virginia State University Cooperative Extension.
GRADES & GOOD ARRIVAL
There are two grades for bunched shallots, U.S. No. 1 and U.S. No. 2.
For U.S. No. 1, shallots must have similar varietal characteristics and be fairly well formed, firm, young and tender, well-trimmed, fairly clean, and free from damage and decay. The tops must be fresh, of good green color, and free from damage caused by broken or bruised leaves.
For U.S. No. 2, shallots must be not badly misshapen and fairly firm, fairly young and tender, fairly well-trimmed, fairly clean, and free from decay and serious damage. The tops shall be of fairly good green color and free from serious damage caused by broken or bruised leaves.
|U.S. Grade Standards||Days Since Shipment||% of Defects Allowed||Optimum Transit Temp. (°F)|
There are no good arrival guidelines for this commodity specific to Canada; U.S. guidelines apply to shipments unless otherwise agreed by contract.
References: DRC, PACA, USDA.