What is a shallot?
The shallot, a part of the Allium family, is a type of onion originating from Central and Southeast Asia. It is a close relative to garlic, scallions, leeks, chives, and Chinese onion. It is used widely in many Asian diets, and thanks to its flavour, aroma, and medicinal properties, it has been popularised all around the world. It has become a staple in Iranian, Chinese, Indian, French, and Mediterranean dishes.
Even though it is a type of onion, the structure of shallot is more similar to garlic. The bulb of a shallot has several cloves that are organised in clusters. It can vary in colour, from golden brown to grey to rose red, usually with a white flesh that is slightly tinted with magenta or green. It has a very delicate, meaty, onion-like flavour.1
Shallots provide a wealth of health benefits, including lowering blood sugar levels, improving your heart health, immunity, and digestion. It is also said to be a great ally when it comes to fighting cancer.
Health benefits of shallots
Lowering blood sugar levels
Shallots have been confirmed to bring numerous advantages when it comes to managing blood sugar levels. Shallots are more efficient than garlic in lowering blood sugar. This ability is mainly accredited to the presence of phenolic and sulphur compounds.2
Shallots may prove helpful to include in your diet if you are suffering from diabetes. In a study using diabetic rats, Persian shallot greatly improved diabetic markers. For example, it increased the production of glucokinase (GCK), a protein that helps break down sugars in the liver and pancreas.3
At the same time, shallots increase your insulin levels and improve the metabolism of glucose, helping to transform it into energy. Researchers compared shallots and garlic, showing that shallot was better than its cousin when it came to improving glucose tolerance and reducing resistance to insulin.2,4
Improving heart health
Shallots have great potential when it comes to improving your heart health.
Shallots are full of antioxidants, such as flavonoids and sulphur compounds. These antioxidants help reduce oxidative stress and prevent the oxidation of cholesterol in the bloodstream. Oxidised cholesterol is more likely to build up in the arteries and form plaques, which can lead to atherosclerosis and increase the risk of heart disease.5
The sulphur compounds in shallots may help to regulate blood pressure. Certain sulphur compounds found in shallots have been shown to have vasodilatory effects, meaning they can help relax and widen blood vessels, leading to improved blood flow and potentially lowering blood pressure.3
Some compounds present in shallots, such as organosulphur compounds, have been found to exhibit antiplatelet and antithrombotic properties. These properties may help prevent excessive blood clotting, reducing the risk of thrombosis which can cause heart attacks or strokes.3
Shallot, as a part of the Allium family, can be a great ally when it comes to tackling cancer. It has a wealth of chemical components that may prevent cancer cells from spreading through human tissue, or may even destroy cancer cells altogether.
Those compounds include allicin, which has been reported to target cancer cells efficiently, not only keeping the healthy cells intact but also destroying cancer cells and reducing their spread further.6
There have been reports indicating that shallots help maintain healthy cell shape and division, stopping the formation of cancer cells, which could be helpful for possible cancer treatment.7
Shallots contain various bioactive compounds that can interact with enzymes involved in carcinogenesis, the process by which normal cells transform into cancer cells. Some studies suggest that these compounds may help to modulate enzymes and inhibit their activity, potentially reducing the risk of cancer development.3
Boosting the immune system
Shallots are an excellent source of vitamin C, which is widely known for its role in supporting the human immune system. Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, cannot be made by the human body, hence it is essential to incorporate vitamin C-rich foods into your diet.8 Vitamin C helps your body produce white blood cells, which are the main fighters of infections and illnesses.9
Shallots have strong antioxidant properties. Like other vegetables from the Allium family, shallots are rich in flavonoids and sulphur compounds. Those are classified as antioxidants, which are extremely helpful compounds that fight unwanted inflammation and decrease cell damage within the human body.3
Shallots have also demonstrated the ability to fight against harmful bacteria, viruses, and parasites.2,3
It has been reported that shallot extract can be used as a part of a herbal anti-cough mixture. For centuries, shallots have been used for medicinal purposes, which today is supported by clinical studies. The cough syrup, which included shallots as well as a variety of other herbs, was used on patients with acute cough and greatly decreased both the frequency and severity of coughing and the production of mucus.3,2
Shallots contain lots of dietary fibre, including prebiotic fibres, such as inulin. Prebiotics are non-digestible fibres that serve as food for beneficial gut bacteria. A thriving environment for healthy-gut bacteria is associated with better digestion, improved nutrient absorption, and overall digestive health.3
Moreover, shallots’ prebiotic properties help in the production of short-chain fatty acids, for example, butyrate. These provide energy to the cells of the large intestine, which improves digestion and absorption of nutrients.10
The dietary fibre content in shallots can aid in preventing or relieving constipation. Fibre adds bulk to the stool, promotes regular bowel movements, and helps soften the stool, making it easier to pass. By supporting regularity, shallots can contribute to a healthy digestive system.8
Other health benefits of shallots
Other health benefits of shallot may include:3
- Improving brain health – with a wealth of B vitamins, shallots provide support for normal cognitive functioning
- Improving skin and hair condition – shallots aid the production of collagen, a protein that is essential for maintaining healthy skin and hair
- Improving bone health – consumption of shallots has been linked to improved bone density in menopausal women11
Shallots are relatively low in calories (72 kcal per 100 grams of fresh produce) and high in water (80g per 100g), which makes them very diet-friendly. They are a rich source of folate, fibre, manganese, and vitamins B6 and C.
Per 100 grams of raw, uncooked, unsalted shallot there is, on average:
- Energy: 301 kJ (72 kcal)
- Carbs – 16.8g; including sugars – 7.9g
- Fibre – 3.2g
- Fat – less than 1g
- Protein – 2.5g
- Vitamins (with Daily Reference Intake in % for healthy adults)
- Thiamine (Vitamin B1) – 5%
- Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) – 2%
- Niacin (Vitamin B3) – 1%
- Pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5) – 6%
- Vitamin B6 – 27%
- Folate (Vitamin B9) – 9%
- Vitamin C – 10%
- Vitamin E – 0%
- Vitamin K – 1%
- Minerals (with Daily Reference Intake in % for healthy adults)
- Calcium – 4%
- Iron – 9%
- Magnesium – 6%
- Manganese –14%
- Phosphorus – 9%
- Potassium – 7%
- Zinc – 4%
Culinary uses of shallot
Shallots provide a very versatile and flavourful touch to many dishes. Common culinary uses of shallots include:
- Soups and stews – as shallots have a milder and sweeter taste compared to onions, it makes them a popular choice for adding depth and complexity to dishes
- Sautéing and stir-frying – with its mild, oniony flavour, and quick-cooking nature, it is an excellent choice for sautéing and stir-frying
- Salad dressings – finely chopped or minced shallots are often used in salad dressings, vinaigrettes, and marinades
- Garnishes – thinly sliced shallots can be fried until crispy to create a delicious and visually appealing garnish for various dishes, such as soups, and salads, or even as a topping for steaks
- Pickling – pickled shallots can provide a tangy and slightly sweet twist to sandwiches, burgers, or cheese boards
- Sauces and gravies – shallots are commonly used in the preparation of sauces and gravies, such as béarnaise or bordelaise, adding a subtle, savoury taste
- Roasting and braising – roasted shallots become tender and sweet, adding a rich and caramelized note to the overall dish
Remember that shallots can be substituted with onions in most recipes, but the flavour profile will be slightly different. When a recipe calls for cooked shallot, it is safe to substitute it with an onion. However, in their raw form, their flavour profiles are quite different, making the swap a bit more challenging, as onion packs more punch in comparison to the milder-tasting shallot.
Side effects and other concerns
Shallots are generally safe for human consumption and do not typically cause significant side effects in most individuals. However, like other members of the Allium family, shallots can cause mild digestive discomfort or allergic reactions in some people.2,3
Here are some potential side effects:
- Digestive discomfort– when eating shallots in large amounts, you may experience bloating, gas, stomach pain, or diarrhoea
- Allergic reactions – despite being rare, you can experience an allergic reaction after consuming a shallot, especially if you have an allergy to garlic or onion. Typical symptoms of an allergic reaction include:
- Swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat
- Difficulty breathing
If you experience any of these symptoms after consuming shallots, seek immediate medical attention.
- Interaction with medications – like other Allium vegetables, shallots contain compounds that can interfere with the effectiveness of certain medications. They can stop the activity of chemicals responsible for breaking down certain drugs, potentially leading to increased levels of the medication in the body. It is important to be careful when ingesting shallots, especially when taking blood thinners
- Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) - some people might suffer from GORD, which is characterised by very strong acid reflux. Eating shallots in large quantities might exacerbate the symptoms, due to their high sulphur content12
Shallots, a close cousin of onions and garlic, bring a range of health benefits to your table. Hailing from Central and Southeast Asia, these flavorful bulbs have gained popularity worldwide for their unique taste and medicinal properties. Shallots offer diverse advantages, including improved heart health, lower blood sugar levels, strengthened immunity, cancer-fighting properties, and enhanced digestion.
Studies demonstrate that shallots effectively lower blood sugar levels, making them a valuable addition to the diets of individuals with diabetes. Packed with antioxidants, they combat oxidative stress and prevent cholesterol oxidation, supporting heart health. Shallots' compounds inhibit cancer cell growth and fortify the immune system against pathogens as well. Moreover, their prebiotic fibre content fosters a healthy gut, aiding digestion.
Shallots are a rich source of vital vitamins and minerals, such as immune-boosting vitamin C, dietary fibre, manganese, and vitamin B6. With low-calorie content and high water content, they are diet-friendly and can be enjoyed in various culinary creations, from soups and stir-fries to dressings and pickles.
While shallots are generally safe, excessive consumption may cause digestive discomfort or allergic reactions in some individuals. They can also interact with certain medications and may exacerbate symptoms of certain gut diseases.
- Sun W, Shahrajabian MH, Cheng Q. The insight and survey on medicinal properties and nutritive components of Shallot. JMPR [Internet]. 2019 Nov 30 [cited 2023 Jun 2];13(18):452–7. Available from: https://academicjournals.org/journal/JMPR/article-abstract/9A590A162267
- Moradi Y, Moradi-Sardareh H, Ghasemi H, Mohamadi N, Moradi MN, Hosseini-Zijoud SM, editors. Medicinal properties of persian shallot. EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY.
- Moldovan C, Frumuzachi O, Babotă M, Barros L, Mocan A, Carradori S, et al. Therapeutic uses and pharmacological properties of shallot (Allium ascalonicum): a systematic review. Front Nutr. 2022;9:903686. Available from: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2022.903686/full
- Jalal R, Bagheri SM, Moghimi A, Rasuli MB. Hypoglycemic effect of aqueous shallot and garlic extracts in rats with fructose-induced insulin resistance. Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition. 2007;41(3):218–23. Available from: http://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/jcbn/41/3/41_3_218/_article
- Tocmo R, Lin Y, Huang D. Effect of processing conditions on the organosulfides of shallot (Allium cepa L. Aggregatum group). J Agric Food Chem. 2014 Jun 11;62(23):5296–304. Available from: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/jf500739n
- Hosseini FS, Falahati-Pour SK, Hajizadeh MR, Khoshdel A, Mirzaei MR, Ahmadirad H, et al. Persian shallot, Allium hirtifolium Boiss, induced apoptosis in human hepatocellular carcinoma cells. Cytotechnology. 2017 Aug;69(4):551–63. Available from: http://link.springer.com/10.1007/s10616-017-0093-4
- Nicastro HL, Ross SA, Milner JA. Garlic and onions: their cancer prevention properties. Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2015 Mar;8(3):181–9. Available from: https://aacrjournals.org/cancerpreventionresearch/article/8/3/181/113463/Garlic-and-Onions-Their-Cancer-Prevention
- Padayatty S, Levine M. Vitamin C: the known and the unknown and Goldilocks. Oral Dis. 2016 Sep;22(6):463–93. Available from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/odi.12446
- Lykkesfeldt J, Michels AJ, Frei B. Vitamin c. Adv Nutr. 2014 Jan 1;5(1):16–8. Available from: https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S2161831322011681
- Iacovou M, Tan V, Muir JG, Gibson PR. The low fodmap diet and its application in east and southeast asia. J Neurogastroenterol Motil [Internet]. 2015 Oct [cited 2023 Jun 2];21(4):459–70. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4622128/
- Matheson EM, Mainous AG, Carnemolla MA. The association between onion consumption and bone density in perimenopausal and postmenopausal non-Hispanic white women 50 years and older. Menopause. 2009;16(4):756–9. Available from: https://journals.lww.com/00042192-200916040-00025
- Clarrett DM, Hachem C. Gastroesophageal reflux disease(Gerd). Mo Med. 2018;115(3):214–8.