Here’s the typical discussion that comes up when you’re prepping a new recipe that includes chives:
“Chives? Aren’t those like onions? Wait, what are leeks? Are they all the same thing?”
Actually, they’re close. But while they’re all part of the allium family of plants, they’re not the same.
Common onions, or bulb onions, have a large, underground bulb that can be yellow, red, or white. The large bulb is the desired part of the plant for food. Red onions are slightly spicy, while yellow onions are sweet. White onions are usually halfway between the two flavor-wise.
Green onions, or scallions, are basically the smaller, younger version of bulb onions. Their flavor is a bit milder than bulb onions. The green and white parts of a scallion are often separated in recipes as their flavor changes along with the color.
Leeks are a step milder than scallions, and the plants themselves are much larger. They’re usually cooked, as they’re a bit tougher than the greens of a scallion or chive plant.
Finally, chives are the mildest of the bunch in flavor. The hollow, green stems are usually eaten fresh as they’re quite tender. You’ll generally find them chopped as a garnish, but they can play an important role in flavoring baked potatoes, eggs, soups, and more. The chive plant is valued for its purple flowers’ role as a rich nectar source for pollinators like bees as well as its ability to repel pests from garden spaces.
Nutritionally, any of the above are a great option. Universally low in calories, the greens of chives, leeks, and scallions provide meaningful amounts of vitamins C, K, and A. Onion bulbs are more diverse nutritionally, with an array of B vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
These foods are extremely versatile and can fit with many styles of cuisine. Onions themselves can complement practically anything, and an understanding of the different flavors of onions can help you choose which type pairs with a meal you’re preparing. Scallions, leeks, and chives can fit with salads, soups, entrees, side dishes, or appetizers. Or you could combine them all together on a pizza. There’s really no limit to what you can do with these types of foods.
There’s no “right” choice amongst these close relatives. They’re all great nutritionally, so choose the versions you enjoy most and add them to your favorite staple meals!