There are spring onions, and then there are green onions--and what about scallions? Are those the same as green onions? Leeks and chives fall in here somewhere, too. What's the difference and how should you know when to use which? Here's our handy cheat sheet for figuring out the differences!
Spring onions are noted for the small bulbs at their base. Some spring onions are white and look similar to green onions, but others are a deep, beautiful red color at the bulb. Spring onions can be used similarly to regular onions, but the flavor is slightly sweeter and milder. The green tops can be used in addition to the bulb--they're perfect for cutting into inch-long pieces and roasting in the oven, or you can cook the whole spring onion on the grill. They get their name from the fact that they are harvested in the spring.
Chives, a cousin of the scallion, vary the most from the onions included here since they are considered an herb. Chives and scallions can be used for similar purposes, such as the topping for a dish, but their flavors are distinctly different. Chives are significantly milder than scallions and should be coooked only briefly (if at all) to avoid a loss of flavor. An exciting perk of chives is that they grow beautiful purple flowers that are edible! You can buy these at farmers markets, or grown them yourself in the garden. Make sure to plunge the flowers underwater a couple times before using (they can be fairly dirty), and then separate the flowers into florets that you can sprinkle on top of your dish.
Leeks are recognizeable by the 'V' that their dark green tops tend to make, and by their cylindrical base--which is very different from the bulbs of onions. The white and lighter green parts of leeks are most commonly used, while the dark green tops are typically discarded because of their tougher texture. Raw leeks have a harsh, strong flavor, but once cooked become soft with a sweet, oniony flavor. They have many layers once cut open--make sure to clean any dirt out between the layers before cooking. We highly recomment sauteeing sliced leeks in butter! Perfect for salads, quiches, sauces, you name it.
Green Onions, AKA Scallions
Spoiler alert: green onions and scallions are the same thing! Green onions have a cylindrical base, similar to leeks, but are much smaller and thinner than leeks. The cylindrical base helps differentiate them from spring onions, which are basically a more mature version of green onions. Spring onions are rather mild and can be eated raw or cooked. The dark green tops are disposed of by some, but are tender and can be eaten with the rest of the green onion. Fun party trick: try slicing your green onions at the diagonal. Hold the knife diagonally to the bottom root as you slice rather than parallel to it, as you might normally do. The result is a beautiful garnish!