All About Scallions in Chinese Cooking

Rhonda Parkinson

Scallions, along with fresh ginger and garlic, make up what chef Martin Yan has called "the holy trinity of Chinese cooking." Scallions (called green onions in the United States) are indispensable in Chinese cuisine. Their mild, oniony flavor is used in marinades, poultry stuffing, and in cooked dishes, particularly stir-fries. In Cantonese cooking, scallion is frequently paired with ginger in seafood dishes, and the two aromatics are used in a heated oil dressing served with poached White Cut chicken.

Scallions are even used as a garnish: both scallion brushes and scallion branches are made by slitting sections of scallion to form an attractive fringe.

Taxonomy

Thought to have originated in north-western China, scallion is a member of the Allium family of vegetables that includes onions, garlic, leeks, and shallots. The taxonomic name for scallion is Allium fistulosum (the species name means tubular or hollow). A bunching onion that grows in clumps, scallions are identifiable by their hollow, tube-like dark green leaves and thin white stems that never form into large, rounded bulbs.

From China, Allium fistulosum spread to Japan, Asian and throughout Europe, eventually reaching England in the early 1600s, where it was named "welsh onion" (source: Alan Davidson, The Oxford Companion to Food, p. 560). Today, scallions are cultivated throughout the world.

Scallion or Spring Onions – What is the Difference?

Spring onions are young, immature onions (Allium cepa) that are picked in the spring before they have developed into full-size onions. The main way to tell the difference between spring onions and scallions is to look at the base – spring onions will have a distinctive rounded bulb that, if left in the ground, would grow into a ripe white, red, or yellow onion.

Scallions left unharvested keep their basic shape and grow larger and longer, but will always have little or no bulb.

However, it can all get a little confusing at the supermarket. In some areas certain varieties of onion, such as “White Portugal,” are harvested young and sold as scallions. And scallions and spring onions are both commonly referred to as spring onions in England.

What does this mean for the home cook? Fortunately, while spring onions tend to have a stronger flavor than scallions (but milder than fully grown onions) they can generally be used in place of scallions in Chinese recipes. Just check the stem end for a rounded bulb to determine whether you’re purchasing true scallions or spring onions, and go from there.

Other Names for Scallions

Bunching Onions

Welsh Onion

Green Onions (USA and Canada)

Negi (Japan)

Shallots – parts of Australia

How to Choose and Store Scallions

Scallions are sold in bunches in the produce section of most supermarkets. When choosing scallions, look for ones with firm, uncurled leaves and smooth, unblemished white stems.

Avoid any bunches with wilted leaves and stems that have begun to turn yellow.

To clean and store the scallions, remove the rubber band, rinse thoroughly under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. Wrap the scallions in a slightly damp paper towel and keep in a resealable plastic bag or storage container in the refrigerator.

Using Scallions in Chinese/Asian Recipes

Pork Marinade - Scallions are added to this flavorful marinade which goes nicely with pork.

Beef in Spicy Black Bean Sauce and Chinese Steak With Peppers - in both these recipes scallion is used to flavor the oil before stir-frying

Stir-fry Beef With Onion and Shrimp in Black Bean Sauce - green onion (scallion) is stirred into the dish near the end of cooking

Chinese Noodles in Soup - scallion is added to this nutritious, veggie-loaded soup with Chinese dried mushrooms and fresh spinach leaves

White Cooked Chicken With Scallion Sauce (video)

Mongolian Lamb With Scallions

Ginger-soy Steamed Fish with scallions

Whole Steamed Fish – with scallion, garlic, ginger and salted black beans

Scallion Pancakes – a classic Chinese street snack

Flower Rolls (Flower Buns)

Scallion Brushes - scallion fringes make an attractive garnish

Teriyaki Flavored Simmered Chicken and Negi

Korean Scallion Salad

Korean Scallion Pancake