Blessed with an abundance of spring onions, then suddenly ending up with empty hands; you can’t help but panic. Certain recipes just don’t taste the same without the pungent taste of spring onions.
Spring onions are the perky bunch of long green grass and white bulbs, often displayed near the salad ingredients. Widely used across Asia, they provide a fresh, delicate, and sweet onion flavor with a crisp bite.
If you find yourself constantly disappointed because your spring onions have wilted, there’s hope yet! When it comes to spring onion substitutes, we’ve got pantry staples, similar onions at the market, and tips for growing them at home, so you’re never without this aromatic shrub.
What Are Spring Onions?
Onions were said to have first been cultivated in Central Asia over 5,000 years ago. The plant’s versatility paved the way to its spread to the rest of Asia, Europe, and eventually to the New World. Spring onions are botanically classified as Allium, which are mainly herbaceous plants occurring in temperate climates.
These long, thin, green and white onions are young plants that have been harvested prematurely. Spring onions are harvested eight weeks after planting to provide bright, fresh flavors. When a plant is harvested at an early stage, the bulbs haven't had the chance to grow nor the deep flavor to develop.
Similar to younger onions like scallions or green onions, spring onions mature further to develop small bulbs at their base. Widely perceived as one of the first vegetables of spring, the term “spring” in these onions refers to planting seedlings in the late fall, and harvesting the onions the following spring, but they can now thrive year-round.
Spring onions have two visible parts - bulbs and leaves. Serving as a hub for the roots, the bulbs can either be red or white, depending on the species. The bulbs are the energy stores of the plans, so they contain sugars and have a sweet & mild flavor. The leaves, on the other hand, have a somewhat herby and grassy flavor. Both parts are edible whether cooked or eaten raw.
Spring onions are sweeter and have a milder bite than regular onions, with a more intense flavor than immature scallions.
When buying spring onions, look out for firm unblemished bulbs with bright green leaves. Avoid wilted leaves, and skip them altogether if they’re slimy. Growing spring onions is easy and they take up very little space in the yard or windowsill. We’re not going to get into the technical side of gardening, but here are some simple tips:
- Choose a sunny part of the garden.
- Weed the soil and rake it fine.
- Sow your seeds thinly.
- When the spring onions are ready, regularly sow them in small batches every couple of weeks.
Similarly, you can regrow market-bought spring onions. Spring onions have a shallow root system and will grow quickly, ready to be snipped off as needed. Follow these easy steps:
- Cut the onions an inch above the roots
- Place in a tall container filled with a few inches of water.
- Change the water daily
- Put it in a well-lit area.
Spring onions contain folate, flavonoids, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and Vitamins A, C, and K that may contribute to overall health.
How to Use Spring Onions
Spring onions are known for their signature mild onion flavor and aroma. They figure prominently in Asian cuisines especially, in Chinese onion pancakes, potstickers, orange chicken, noodles, fried rice, soups, and stews.
The pungent nature of onions often makes people tear up when cutting them, but spring onions don’t have the same effect. To prep them, just wash them,then trim the roots and any wilted leafy parts. Slice the bulb into rounds for cooking, and cut the green tops to the desired shape of your garnish.
They can then be added raw as garnishes, or to freshly-made salads or sandwiches. Additionally, spring onions can be finely chopped and cooked in soups, curries, casseroles, stews, and stir-fries.
They’re common in dips, salad dressings, cream-based sauces, and dipping sauces, and go well with soft cheeses. Asparagus, poultry, mushrooms, potatoes, and leafy greens are just a few of the ingredients that benefit from their flavors. Here are some of our favorite uses for this versatile herb:
- Grilled Spring Onions
- Spring Onion Sabzi (chili optional)
- Soy-Free General Tso's Chicken
- Low Histamine Fried Rice with Spring Onions
- Gluten-Free Pajeon
- Vegetable Laksa
- Dairy-Free Macadamia Pesto
7 Best Substitutes for Spring Onion
Many of the great alternatives here can be used as a direct swap with spring onions. As a rule of thumb, foods from the Allium family can all be used as a 1:1 substitute for spring onions, but if you think you need more, feel free to do so.
Coming from the Allium family, the leek is an edible plant known for its pungent onion flavor. Though they’re quite a bit larger than spring onions, leeks tend to work well as a substitute for spring onions.
Similar to spring onions, leeks’ main edible parts lie above ground. The flavor is similar to most onions, but is significantly crunchier.
The white and pale green parts of the stalk are commonly used in European cuisine as a base for soups, stews, and sauces. The darker green parts can be used as a garnish, as well as baked in quiches, casseroles, and cooked in omelets. In Asian cuisines these can be easily swapped for spring onions in fried rice, noodle dishes, and braises.
To substitute leeks for spring onions, chop them finely and use generously in soups, stews, or as a garnish.
Scallions or Green Onion
Scallions are immature onions that have not yet formed a bulb. They are much younger than spring onions, and have a less crunchy texture and pungent onion flavor.
The entire plant may be eaten raw or used in dishes as an alternative to spring onions. Scallions are perfect for topping tacos, stir-fries, spring rolls, and potstickers.
Red onions have a purple paper-like skin, and deep violet inner covering. They are sweet and slightly spicy compared to other onions. If you have red onions at home, feel free to replace spring onions with red onions in your recipes.
Red onion packs a strong, punchy onion flavor, and bright crispness when used raw in fresh green salads or on burgers, tacos, tabbouleh, or dipping sauces. It also lends a delightful flavor when cooking soups or stews, or roasted in the oven with other vegetables. When cooked, red onions lose some of their stronger flavor and turn sweeter.
Yellow onions are a staple in many households. They’re versatile, with brown skin and white flesh and a stronger aroma & flavor than most onions. This tapers when cooked.
Use yellow onions as a practical swap for spring onions in cooking, but not as a garnish, because the overall effect will be different.
Chives are another plant from the Allium family that can substitute for spring onions in a pinch. They offer a bright green color, and a crisp texture with a less pungent onion flavor. Both the leaf and flower of the herb can be used as a pretty garnish, as well.
Its mild onion flavor especially works as a substitute for spring onion when used in cooking. The delicate flavor of chives does well in salad dressings, sandwiches, compound butter, and creamy sauces.
Shallots are brown-skinned onions with purple-hued flesh. They have a mild and sweet flavor, similar to red onions with a garlic-like pungency.
This type of onion is smaller than regular onions. More importantly, they impart a similar flavor to spring onions. Use them copiously in stews, sauces, and soups; unlike spring onions, shallots aren’t used as garnishes or toppings except in the occasional dipping sauce.
Onion powder is a natural condiment made out of pulverized onion. It allows you to add flavor to dishes that require a smooth texture, or when you don’t have spring onions easily on hand. While the onion flavor that this pantry staple imparts in the dish is subtle, it works as a replacement for spring onion in a pinch.
Naturally, it doesn’t work as a garnish, but is great when used to flavor soups, stews, sauces, and marinades. When using this as a replacement for spring onions, use generously to achieve a similar taste and aroma.