Spring Onions: More than a green garnish

by  Dr Rupy Aujla27 Apr 2023

Spring onions are another flavour of spring that is overlooked as a green garnish! Yet, they are little gems of freshness that can make any meal feel like a treat. They are the perfect vegetable for busy cooks, adding depth to soups, stews, salads, and more.

In a Nutshell 

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History Snippets

The Onion Odyssey: Onions are native to central Asia and are among the oldest cultivated plants in the world. (Nicastro et al. 2015)

A Mixed History: The origin of spring onions is not clear-cut as it can refer to different types of Allium plants. It is said that farmers would harvest immature onion plants during the season between the end of winter crops and the start of new ones to cope with food shortages.

The Secret of Ancient Gladiators: Onions were used by athletes in ancient Greece for purifying their blood and rubbed down by Roman gladiators to firm up their muscles.

A Prescription from Hippocrates: Onions have a long history of medicinal use dating back thousands of years. The Greek physician Hippocrates used them to treat wounds and pneumonia. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, green onions are considered warming foods that can help combat the cold and dampness of the winter seasons.

Research Digest

Allium Vegetables & Cancer Prevention: Spring onions are one of your Allium vegetables. Multiple observational studies suggest protective effects against cancers, particularly of the digestive tract. (Wan et al. 2019)

Onions & Heart Health: Small human trials found that onions improved participants’ markers of cardiovascular health, including total cholesterol and arterial blood pressure. (Kim et al. 2013; Ebrahimi‐Mamaghani et al. 2014)

How much? Evidence suggests that at least 20g of Allium vegetables per day was linked to beneficial effects.

In practice: 8 spring onions or 80g counts as one of your daily veggie portions. Diversify with all the other allium veggies out there, like garlic, onions, leeks, wild garlic and chives.

But remember the nuance: More high-quality studies on larger sample sizes are needed. The tricky part is that these veggies are often part of mixed dishes in different amounts, and self-reported intakes may be unreliable.

So… What secrets are hidden inside the humble spring onion?

Quick Food Science

Spring onions contain a complex set of interesting compounds, especially:

  • Sulphur compounds like allicin that give them their distinct flavour
  • Flavonoids like quercetin and kaempferol, which have anti-oxidant and free radical scavenging properties.
  • Chlorophyll which is responsible for the green colour
  • Dietary fibre, vitamins & minerals like Vitamin C, B and potassium (Chakraborty et al. 2022)

What’s the deal with these compounds?

In lab studies, they show various biological activities that may contribute to many health functions, such as reducing oxidative stress, antimicrobial and immunomodulatory properties.

Spring onions vs common onions: Different varieties of onions (red, violet, white, green) contain different profiles of phenolic compounds. So mixing up the types of onions you eat can vary the types of compounds you get.

What does it mean for you? Remember to add some Allium vegetables to your meals and try spring onion this season. Get creative in the kitchen! Recipe inspiration at the end…

Earth to Plate

Scallions, Green, Welsh or Spring Onions? It gets confusing! The term spring onion is often used interchangeably to describe how the onion is used, rather than the species. It can include young onion plants (Allium Cepa) and mature bunching onions, aka Welsh onions or Allium Fistulosum. How to tell them apart? Young onion plants have rounded bulbs, while Welsh onions are straight and slender. Overall, they are all members of the Allium family and have a similar taste and appearance, so experiment with what you can get!

The Life of an Onion: Check out this cool 1943 British Council film showing the onion life cycle.

Growing Spring Onions At Home: Cut off the white part of the onion with the roots attached and place it in a small glass of water on your windowsill. You’ll get a constant supply of fresh, flavourful spring onions for your cooking! More tips here.

Shopping: Smaller bulbs usually indicate a sweeter taste, while larger bulbs can be more pungent as they become stronger in flavour with age and increasing size. Choose locally grown if you can.

Tasty Tips

Spring onions have a fresh, sweet, and subtly pungent flavour that is delicious raw or cooked.

Around the World
My favourite non-recipe ways of enjoying spring onions!
  • Paired with perfect partners like ginger, fresh thyme or asparagus
  • Chopped and mixed in freshly cooked grains
  • With eggs in an omelette, fried rice or frittata
  • In a spring onion-infused oil 
My favourite recipes

Dive Deeper

Human studies: Wan et al. 2019Kim et al. 2013 – Ebrahimi‐Mamaghani et al. 2014Zhou et al., 2011

History, compounds & biological activities: Galavi et al. 2021Chakraborty et al. 2022El-Hadidy et al. 2014

by Dr Rupy Aujla


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