Spring Onions, Green Onions and Scallions

Spring onions2
Spring onions
Spring onions

Young onions offer a range of taste from mild and smooth to pungent and biting. You can eat raw young onions whole with a dipping sauce or chopped in a green salad or potato salad or pasta salad. Raw green onions chopped make a colorful topping for sauces or baked potatoes.

Onions cooked become mild and even sweet. Young onions require less cooking than mature onions since they are not very pungent to begin with. Just a couple of minutes of sautéing will mellow a young onion that has gained any bite. You’ll find cooked young onions mild enough to serve at breakfast.

So what do you call young onions? Spring onions, green onions, or scallions? Here we go!

Depending upon the maturity of the onion and where you live, you will pick up a bunch of young onions and say, “I’ll take these….”

Are they spring onions, green onions, or scallions?

Here are the differences:

Scallions. Scallions are the youngest or least mature of onions with very thin white bases no wider than their long, straight green stalks. Scallions offer no hint at the development of a bulb-like base. Pulled from the ground a scallion resembles a large chive. Scallions are very mild flavored. Both the white base and the green stalk of the scallion are easily eaten raw. You can slice or chop scallions and add them raw to green salads. You can also serve them on the raw vegetable tray or sprinkle them raw as a topping for sauces.

Scallions can be cooked whole or chopped, but they will require no more than a couple of minutes of cooking. (Sauté or pan steam them on low heat in butter or water.) Scallions can be used as a substitute for chives in many recipes. Scallions are sometimes called green onions or bunching onions, but for onion lovers and growers there is a difference. A green onion or bunching onion has gained the hint of a bulb with maturity; a scallion has not.

Green onions. Green onions have long, green, delicate stalks and small, very, very slender, white bulbs. The bulb of a green onion is slightly defined. Green onions come out of the ground early in their lives, usually in spring. They are mild tasting having not been alive long enough to gain much pungency. Green onions can be used sliced or chopped raw in green salads or creamy salads like potato salad, pasta salads, or atop baked potatoes.

Green onions are sometimes called bunching onions. When onion seeds are planted densely they grow so close or bunched together that the bulbs have little chance of fully maturing and rounding out. Green onions are green onions in the United States; in England and Australia the green onion is also called a spring onion. Green onions are sometimes also called scallions. (But, now, you know there is a difference even if ever so slight.)

Spring onions. Spring onions have slightly rounded bulbs that are more defined and just a bit larger than the more slender green onions. Spring onions are the most pungent tasting of young onions with a bit more bite than green onions. Remember, most onions gain their sharp taste as they mature. Spring onions can be used raw or cooked. Because raw spring onions are pungent, taste to make sure their flavor does not overpower more delicate flavors. You can slice raw spring onions thinly onto green salads.

Cooked spring onions—usually sautéed—will be more delicately flavored as a result of the cooking process and are a good combination with other spring and summer vegetables. The spring onion is distinctly different than a green onion to many growers and onion lovers in the United States. In England and Australia, a spring onion and a green onion are most often considered the same bird.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.


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  1. Taste is your best guide for harvesting scallions. Most people prefer scallions mild since they are added raw to salads, spreads, and sauces, or added in the last few minutes of cooking to stir-fries, soups, sauces, sautes, and stews. You be the judge if your scallions are tasty mild. I suggest that you pull a scallion or two from your crop and give them a bite. A scallion ready for harvest will have a white root end the same diameter as the green stem or leaves directly above; the scallion never develops a bulb. While onions can be left in the ground until their leaves begin to brown and fall over–a sign of a tasty bulb onion, that’s not the case with the scallion. Scallions are a bit like green onions; they are harvested while the leaves are still erect, green and succulent.

  2. If you want to eat the onions green–just trim the grassy tops a quarter or half inch on a cut-and-come-again basis, but don’t trim more than 1/3 of the leafy top to allow the plant to grow on. Add the green onions to salads or potatoes as a seasoning. You can use the small bulbs as salad onions at their present size or you can allow the plants to grow to maturity, flower, and set seed. Collect the seed to sow a new crop next year.
    Onion seed can produce scallions, large bulbs, sets, or bolting plants–it just depends on the time of year. Planting onion seed in spring you can sow 5 seeds per inch. When they begin to grow you can make your use and harvest choice: to produce large keepers, thin the plants to 3 inches apart. For green onions or little boiling onions, thin the plants to 1/2 to 1 inch apart–then let them grow up to the desired size and harvest. Allow some of the plants to flower and go to seed to collect seed.
    Onions sets are produced by sowing onion seed very thickly. Sets started from seed are often used the next year to quick start a new crop. Seeds sown close together and not thinned will produce stunted plants and very small bulbs. These small bulbs are lifted, placed in a paper bag in a cool, dry place and then set out to grow into mature bulbs the following year.
    Check the variety of onion you are growing. If you have a green onion variety–also known as scallions, spring onions, or bunching onions–these will never reach large keeper size.

  3. Thank you so much for clarifying the difference among the 3 different type of onions of this family. one question that still plagues me – with the spring onion, if for example, i’m preparing a stir-fry, do i cook both the green shoots and the white bulb? Thank you!

  4. Hi Matt: If you stri-fry the spring onion–bulb and green shoot together, you may find the cooking a bit uneven. The bulb will take slightly longer to cook than the thin tissued shoot. You might try slicing the bulb and shoot lengthwise if you want to cook them together as one. If you separate the bulb and shoot; add the bulb to the stir fry several seconds ahead of the shoot. For a stronger flavor add the spring onion near the end of the stir fry; cook a bit longer for a milder flavor.

  5. What is a table onion? As you know, onions are used as a seasoning in almost all cuisines, usually in cooking. In many cuisines and cultures, onions also are appreciated as a vegetable and brought directly to the table–becoming table onions. Table onions commonly arrive at the table uncooked–sliced and added raw to salads and sandwiches and on their own as a vegetable or side dish. Onions vary in flavor from sweet to strong. Very sweet varieties include Vidalia, Granex, Walla Walla, and Maui; these are common table onions. Some of these are sweet enough to eat out of hand like an apple. Other table onions include green onions and spring onions–which sometimes are eaten raw as appetizers.

  6. When you shop for onion varieties to grow as scallions, you are looking for an onion variety or cultivar that has a long white shank; not all onions will fit this bill, but several onions have been bred for this tasty characteristic. (Scallions are cultivars of the bulbing onion Allium cepa.) Onions commonly grown as scallions are ‘White Lisbon’, also called ‘Southport White’, and another is ‘Crystal Wax’. The cultivar ‘Beltsville Bunching’ is not a true scallion cultivar (it is a cross) but is often grown as a scallion. And there are several other cultivars commonly grown as scallions: ‘Kincho Bunching’, ‘Tokyo Long White’, ‘Ishikura’, ‘Evergreen White Nabuka’, ‘White Sweet Spanish’, ‘Long White Summer Bunching’, ‘White Spear’, ‘Evergreen Hardy’, and ‘Deep Purple.’

  7. I would like all info on vegetable gardening for onions, potatoes, collards, eggplant, red cayenne peppers, butter peas, beans (both snap and butter beans), peas, corn zipper peas, purple hull peas, silverqueen corn, okra, potatoes, squash, okra and I thnk this has been the best sight I have seen yet. Thank you so much. Sue Parker

  8. You have quite a large garden growing Sue! Sounds like fun. You should find information on nearly all of the crops you have listed in the Category listings: just click on the crop you are interested in. And I will be writing about additional crops soon. Thanks for reading!

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  10. I have what I think may be green onions growing in the garden. (They were left by the lady that lived here before) they have a purple bushy ball flower on them. Are these in fact green onions or something else?

  11. The purple globe flower you describe sounds like the flower of the genus Allium. Allium is a large genus of mostly onion-scented plants including the common onion, the leek, garlic, chives, and shallot–and a host of perennial ornamental flowers. Leaves grow from the base of the plant (basal) and are typically hollow but sometimes flat in the ornamental species. To get an exact identification of your plant take it to a nearby garden center or to the cooperative extension. If the previous garden owner had a vegetable garden growing where you found your Allium, it may well be one of the edible Alliums. Best to double check with a local expert.

  12. You wrote “In England and Australia, a spring onion and a green onion are most often considered the same bird.” Not just in England, but in the UK in general.

    It’s also worth mentioning that in the UK, nobody says “scallion” or “green onion”. They are just called spring onions.

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