The Difference Between Green Onions, Scallions, Spring Onions, Garlic Scapes, Leeks, and Ramps

Get to know these seasonal onions and aromatics. 

Various green onions
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It's easy to see the difference between a yellow onion and a red one, or a shallot and a pearl onion. But when it comes to the varieties of fresh green onions that are available in the spring, all the white tips and long green leaves can be confusing. So how do you figure out what to choose at the grocery or farmers market? Here's a simple guide.

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Scallions and Green Onions

These are the same thing, so keep an eye out for how they are labeled in your region. Scallions are white at the bottom with frilly roots, and then green from the middle to the tops. The entire thing is edible; the white part packs more of an oniony heat while the green part leans into more of a milder chive flavor. They work well both raw and cooked.

Spring onions
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Spring Onions

These early onions might look like scallions, but they will have a small to medium bulb at the base of the white part. If you let them continue to grow, they will become full sized bulb onions. This aspect makes them a bright, fresh alternative to an aged onion, especially for raw applications like in salads, on sandwiches, or for pickling.

Green garlic
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Garlic Scapes

Garlic scapes are tender young garlic shoots that pop up in the spring with long stems that curl, and a tight bud at the top. They grow from the hardneck garlic bulbs in the ground that won't be ready for harvest until fall. Scapes have a mellow garlic flavor, and can be eaten raw or cooked. Use them to make pesto, or in stir-fries or pasta dishes.


Green Garlic

immature sprouts look a lot like scallions but are actually baby garlic. They tend to be somewhat skinnier than scallions, but your nose will know. They have a fresh garlic scent, so if you aren't sure, just give them a good sniff. These are great to use in dishes where you want milder garlic flavor, or in raw applications like salads or dressings. If you tend towards mild gastric distress with garlic bulbs, try green garlic instead; many people find the young fresh version easier to tolerate.

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Leeks are alliums that are at their finest when cooked. They have the mildest flavor of all the family, and as such, the perfect choice when subtlety and delicacy are called for. Use leeks in soups, stews, quiches or frittatas, or poach them or braise them in stock and cream for a terrific side dish. Unlike the rest of these alliums with green leaves, the dark green upper leaves are too tough and fibrous to eat; you use just the white and pale green parts. That said, you can use the greens for stock. Be forewarned, leeks grow in sandy soil that gets in between each layer. Proper cleaning is paramount, or you will have recipes full of grit. To clean leeks, cut them in half lengthwise and run them under cool water, letting the water get in between each layer. You can also slice leeks and soak them in a bowl of cold water; the sand will sink to the bottom of the bowl.

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Almost an onion/garlic hybrid, these sought-after wild onions can be found in wooded areas and farmers' markets in mid-to-late spring; foraging for them is a favorite season activity for chefs and food lovers. Ramps are pinkish white at the bottom, with a small bulb. Many foragers don't harvest the bulbs, so the plant can grow back the following year, so you might just find the wide green leaves at the market. Ramps are often pickled, and also popular simply sautéed and scrambled with eggs. The bulbs tend to have slightly more onion flavor, while the leaves lean a bit more garlicky. Eat ramps raw or cooked. They can have an intense flavor, so go easy on including them in salads or as garnishes until you get a sense of how much you enjoy their flavor. The bulbs make great pickles or vinegar, and the tops are terrific added to a sauté or creamed dish like creamed spinach or sautéed kale for a fragrant punch.

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