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Scallions


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Green onions look like baby leeks in that the bottoms are white and the tops are green, however, they usually come to a bit more of a bulb at the bottom. They are often referred to as scallions.

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I just found a reference to them in Fuschia Dunlop's 'Sichuan Cookery'. She says that they are similar in appearance and flavour to European Spring Onions, but never develop onion bulbs. They are used as baby green onions (xiao cong) as a garnish, and as older onions (da cong) which are used in marinades and all kinds of cooked dishes. So both may appear in the same dish and that's what got me confused. I spent some time in China and I would ask what the veg was and I would sometimes get the reply of 'Spring Onion' or sometimes 'Scallion'. Indeed, the Scallion did confuse me as they looked to me similar to leek. Thanks for the replies.

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Scallions can be green onions, but then they're not:

www.foodsubs.com/Onionsgreen.html

The best you can do is adopt the local vernacular, consult your local nurseryman for true identification (if you don't want to use the web), and shop accordingly.

So we finish the eighteenth and he's gonna stiff me. And I say, "Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know." And he says, "Oh, uh, there won't be any money. But when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness."

So I got that goin' for me, which is nice.

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The three terms cited here do tend to be used interchangeably in my experience too, with the variations between usage mentioned by others depending on where you are and the context. "Bunching onions" is also used in many places especially to refer to the non-bulbing types. I myself use "scallion" and "green onion" somewhat interchangeably too, although I tend to think of "Spring onion" as the definitely bulbous types especially available in spring (what else) as the immature growths of "normal" common onion-onions, typically Allium cepa.

It might be useful to gather some tid-bits here.

What one should look for if one specifically wants the non-bulbing type is Allium fistulosum a.k.a. "Welsh Onion". (Google images here), also "negi" as they are known in Japan; these approach small leek size (and even larger - see images for "大蔥" below) as they are allowed to grow on, although they are not "leeks" as are known in the USA or the UK. (Also, "Cebolinha" in Portuguese, so I gather) To the O.P. - are these what you mean when you say they remind you of leeks? Those would be what are also "leeks" in the US and in Europe, too...and different from scallions or green onions or spring onions. A. fistulosum is also commonly grown elsewhere in East Asia; Chinese suppliers (like this one; or this American-owned holding company growing in Kunming, Yunnan offers these) also provide beautiful straight non-bulbing extensively white-bottomed (from high mounding) "scallions" too, besides what is grown in Japan. These are different from Allium chinense (images) which are also grown in E/SE Asia.

Joy Larkcom's book "Oriental Vegetables" has a section on "Oriental bunching onion" which addresses many of these issues and also identifies the species usual in China ("蔥"; Yale: chung1 in Cantonese) as Allium fistulosum.

BTW what the O.P. reports as "xiao cong" and "da cong" from Dunlop's book presumably must be "小蔥" (Yale Cantonese: siu2 chung1) and "大蔥" (Yale Cantonese: daai6 chung1) respectively. Note the difference in sizes (from the images) due to havesting when immature and when fully mature!

On the other hand, Shiu-ying Hu in "Food Plants of China" assigns "小蔥" as Allium ledebourianum (pg 313) but does not describe its cultivation, only that it is found in alpine meadows and that it is bulbous. The images from a web search for this species also seem not to correspond with what would be cultivated and used extensively in the cuisine? He does assign "大蔥" to Allium fistulosum (pg 312) and describes it as expected for the non-juvenile examples of it seen in the other images for this. The MMPND database at the U. of Melbourne does not list "小蔥" as a Chinese term for Allium ledebourianum but lists "大蔥" as a Chinese term for Allium fistulosum and also that it would be simply known as "蔥". Heh.

There are hybrids between Allium cepa and Allium fistulosum, and these can furnish the straight-sided non-bulbing scallions too, an example being Green Banner (Example here) or Baja Verde (example here) which possibly might be slightly more bulbous? The wikipedia article (FWIW) says that most scallions/green onions/"salad onions"/bunching onions grown in the West tend to be Allium cepa var. cepa. I wonder if the hybrids are really more widely grown commercially than that statement suggests.

In my local Chinese grocery (in Indiana, with US-based veggie suppliers) I've found almost-wholly-straight-sided "scallions" as well as slightly bulbous ones, at different times, with the slightly bulbous ones predominating by far. This would seem to tend to agree with Allium cepa var. cepa being the type that is mainly grown around here. This company offers A. cepa seeds with an accompanying photo of straight-sided non-bulbing scallions (hmm) although the detailed info talks about growing them on to full-sized onion-onions... One distinguishing characteristic with the young plants of both species (both used as scallions/ green onions/etc) seems to be that A. fistulosum leaves would be hollow and circular in cross-section, whereas A. cepa leaves would be "flattened" on one side - again, in keeping with what I observe in the supplies of "scallions" in my local grocery (or Western groceries). I once found a grower at a local Winter Farmer's Market who offered slender, definitely entirely non-bulbing stuff which he identified as "true French scallions" (so he said) and not "chives" but I never saw him offer it again and in fact I haven't even gone back to that market this winter.

Edited by huiray (log)
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Yes huiray. The link you posted to the photo of leeks is what I meant when thinking of leeks. I can't tell you the names of what Dunlop was talking about it Cantonese. When I observed chefs in China using what was called 'Scallion' they looked quite big for a Spring Onion and also darker in colour. I have grown Spring Onions here in the UK in the past and they're always picked at a fairly young aged and almost pencil shaped so I don't know what would happen to them if I left them to grow for longer. It looks like I'll be taking care of the garden this year due to my father's health and I've a packet of Spring Onion seeds ready for planting. The variety is 'Shimonita'. It does say on the packet: Unique double use; Produces sweet tasty 'bulbs'; Use stems in stir fry's; Use for cooking or in salads. I may leave a few to see what happens to them. Thank you for your comprehensive reply and to everybody else too. I've learnt quite a lot here.

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That's it huiray. Was going to plant today but it's pouring down with rain. :-( May in fact sow a few indoors in-case this weather continues a long time. This is another piece of the Chinese culinary jig-saw I feel I've put together. Thanks.

PS But I think I will also look for a variety which develops a longer stem.

Edited by Ader1 (log)
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I routinely plant the root ends of purchased green onions in my home garden.....cut about 1/2" to 1/4" above the rootlets, allow to dry for a day, then stick the little nubs into the ground. They will readily regrow green tops, which you can cut as desired. If you leave the base intact and just harvest the tops, you have an endless supply at your convenience. My oldest plants are 3-4 years old.

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Then there are these babies.

荞头 qiáo tóu or Chinese Bulbous Onions. I don't know if they are available outside China, but they lie somewhere between scallions* and true shallots.

They resemble scallions but show a pronounced tendency to forming bulbs. In fact, they may well go on to do so. They are noted for their curved stems, though.The taste is more like shallots.

There are a few aliums which only seem to be available in mainland China and are possibly unknown to people who have never been to China.

*also known as green onions, spring onions, salad onions, table onions, green shallots, onion sticks, long onions, baby onions, precious onions, yard onions, gibbons, or syboes (Mr Wikipedia)

Edited by liuzhou (log)

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Can anyone here read Korean? There are similar things sold at my local Super H Mart, but the description in English is not helpful. From what I understand of negi, they're basically the same but I'm not sure. If someone can read Korean, I can take a picture next time I'm there of the sign

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Can anyone here read Korean? There are similar things sold at my local Super H Mart, but the description in English is not helpful. From what I understand of negi, they're basically the same but I'm not sure. If someone can read Korean, I can take a picture next time I'm there of the sign

Well, "negi" is the Japanese term for Allium fistulosum, which I mentioned in my post above (1st paragraph after "tid-bits"). Take a look at the images I linked to - do those in your H-mart look like them? Koreans often use the Japanese term for the same stuff they sell as the Japanese. Don't forget they grow and eat many things the Japanese and Chinese do, as I'm sure you know. :-)

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Then there are these babies.

荞头 qiáo tóu or Chinese Bulbous Onions. I don't know if they are available outside China, but they lie somewhere between scallions* and true shallots.

They resemble scallions but show a pronounced tendency to forming bulbs. In fact, they may well go on to do so. They are noted for their curved stems, though.The taste is more like shallots.

There are a few aliums which only seem to be available in mainland China and are possibly unknown to people who have never been to China.

*also known as green onions, spring onions, salad onions, table onions, green shallots, onion sticks, long onions, baby onions, precious onions, yard onions, gibbons, or syboes (Mr Wikipedia)

They seem to look like Allium chinense? Are they also known as "藠头"? Hmm, Baidu (Google translation) says "荞头" are "Allium chinenes" (sic) (G. Don) which might be a misspelling for "Allium chinense"... a search on the web shows both terms apparently referring to the same thing, but which is properly A. chinense. There is a separate Baidu entry for "藠头" but which does not identify it by the Latin binomial name. There appear to be Chinese companies that offer "Allium chinenes" for sale (and export?) (one example). The web images for "荞头" do look just like the images for "藠头" and in looking around I also saw this article that describes the two as being synonymous; but are they separate plants in your understanding? Interestingly, the MMPND entry for Allium chinense gives "茭头" (but not "荞头") as one of the Chinese names; while the Baidu entry for "茭头" identifies it as "Allium chinenes G. Don" too, as with "荞头", and gives "藠头" as one of the synonyms for it but not "荞头". I am genuinely curious about the matter and would appreciate comments!

If they are A. chinense, then they are also grown in Japan & SE Asia; and Korea, I imagine. Or at least one (or more) cultivars/varieties of it. (The Baidu article on "荞头" I referred to above does say that it is also cultivated in Japan, N & S Korea, Russia and other countries) I mentioned their cultivation in E/SE Asia in my post above. In Japan they are known as rakkyo. These are also the Japanese "pickled scallions" I pick up at my local Chinese grocery and which I used in making "Yee Sang". :-) In SE Asia I remember eating them (or something very similar!) while growing up but infrequently. Typically they were stir-fried with various stuff; including some preps containing chillies or sambal belachan IIRC. I vaguely remember their taste as somewhat like what you describe. Here's a Malaysian blog about these shallots/scallions; and a post from a blogger who visited her friend's father in Hunan and had a meal that included "藠头".

Also in the USA, but not widely I think. See this and this as two examples. I don't consciously remember seeing them in my local grocery, but might have seen them in Chicago...

Edited by huiray (log)
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Young leeks, or what? They're like no leeks I've seen - they can be eaten raw, and they're structured differently than the standard fat leek.

If it's not clear, these are no fatter than a slightly large marker (like a sharpie)

Edited by Hassouni (log)
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It's a Korean H-Mart. In the USA DC area, I suppose, unless Hassouni clarifies it was in London or Beirut. There are 3 in MD in the northern suburbs of DC and 3 in VA across the Potomac not too far from DC. They are more likely to sell Japanese products rather than Chinese products when not selling Korean products. I'd say they are negi.

See these links (you'll need to scroll down to see the pics and chit-chat in many of them):

http://www.photoree.com/photos/permalink/735795-44124420092@N01

http://www.honolulumagazine.com/Honolulu-Magazine/September-2004/Savoring-the-negi/

http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/Dictionary/N/Negi-6471.aspx

http://umamitopia.com/blog/article_182.html

http://misoandyuzu.blogspot.com/2012/04/grilled-chicken-with-japanese-leek-salt.html

http://madehealthier.com/2009/01/09/nijiya-market-in-hawaii/

http://pomaitest.wordpress.com/2010/04/20/more-ono-grindz-at-kcc-farmers-market/

http://tastyislandhawaii.com/2012/05/26/plate-lunch-prices-then-and-now/

http://www.alibaba.com/product-free/113419355/green_onion_EDO_SENJYU_NEGI_japanese.html

etc etc.

Nevertheless, if it is a negi, then it would still be Allium fistulosum - but the cultivar/variety that was developed/grown to become what is called "negi". I talked about them also in my post above. Chinese leeks of the sort being referred to here - if they have flat leaves (and not like the [partly collapsed] tubular leaves seen in Hassouni's pic) like what Fuchsia Dunlop says then they are not Allium fistulosum - but a variety (or subspecies? or cultivar?) of Allium ampeloprasum 'Leek Group' instead? (The common leek, Western type, would be Allium ampeloprasum var. porrum, a subspecies)

Why not find a manager and ask him or her?

Edited by huiray (log)
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This was the Super H-Mart in Fairfax, VA. Stuff is so often mislabelled there that I'm not sure a manager would be of much help, unless he knows the Japanese names for stuff. Based on the links you provided, it sure does look like the "negi" that's used all the time in Japanese cooking

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Green garlic (青蒜 in most parts of China; 蒜苗 in others, though confusingly, 蒜苗 refers to garlic scapes in other areas) also can look similar to green onion.

I think as others have pointed out, there are multiple varieties of plants in the allium family that are sold as green onions / scallions, and I don't think it's usually super easy to be 100% sure if what you're getting unless you grow it yourself.

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