For more than five millennia humans have enjoyed the pungent flavors of alliums, better known as the garlic and onion family. Alliums are more specifically a genus that includes onions, garlic, leeks, chives, and shallots. Garlic and its relatives are some of the most popular flavorings and important vegetables in the world. They can be found in almost every major cuisine and culture both historic and present.
While fresh onions have been cultivated since roughly 3,500 B.C., dehydrated alliums as we know them today became popular in the mid 1930s. The Spice House offers many varieties of these alliums and we’ll touch upon each one below.
Most cooks will argue that fresh alliums are superior to dried—including some of our spice merchants—however the convenience of using dried products is unmatched.
Dried garlic and onion allow you to instantly add their strong flavors without the chore of chopping, slicing, or mincing. This saves many cooks' fingers from smelling like alliums and eyes from crying. An added benefit to dehydrated powders is that they can be used in dry spice rubs. On average it takes 8 pounds of fresh onions or garlic to yield one pound of dehydrated powder, so the flavors are much more concentrated.
Minced or chopped dried varieties are sometimes referred to as instant garlic or onion. To use these you can rehydrate them with hot water for 15 minutes, discard the water, and use them like you would fresh in stews, soups, and sauces. If you’re braising a dish or using a slow cooker, you can add the minced or chopped dried alliums right to the pot and let them rehydrate slowly.
Allium is the latin word for garlic, and the Romans were no stranger to it. Rome fed their laborers garlic bulbs and prescribed it to their soldiers for strength and courage. Romans introduced garlic to the British isles where the modern English word comes from. Garlic is derived from the Anglo-Saxon words “gar” for spear, and “leac” for plant. This is due to the spear-shaped flower stem that emerges from the plant before blooming.
Garlic’s sharp flavor is the backbone of so many of our favorite recipes, particularly within Chinese, Italian, Indian, French, and Latin American cookery.
The roasted variety of granulated garlic has a unique flavor that you cannot find elsewhere. Garlic is first dehydrated and then toasted in an oven, delivering a deliciously mellow and nutty flavor that’s hard to recreate with fresh products. We also offer Toasted Onion Powder.
When substituting fresh garlic for dehydrated garlic powder, ¼ teaspoon is equivalent to one small clove.
The onions we know today are virtually non-existent in the wild. The ancestor of Allium cepa is well-believed to come from central Asia over five thousand years ago. Not only are onions delicious, they’re a perfect food. They are easy to grow, can be stored for long periods of time, and they come with their own convenient wrapper.
Onions were one of the first crops brought to the new world by settlers. Both Christopher Columbus and the first pilgrims of Massachusetts’ planted onions as one of their primarily crops. It is worth noting that many wild alliums already existed in the new world and had their place in American Indian culture before European contact. The word Chicago is even believed to mean onion. “Chicago” is a French adaptation of the Miami-Illinois word “shikaakwa,” the name given to a local allium species (Allium tricoccum) which grew in abundance on the banks of the Chicago River.
Today, America’s best onions are grown in California’s Imperial and San Joaquin valleys—where the sandy, loamy soil and long growing season produce almost all of the nation’s onions and garlic.
When substituting dried onion for fresh, ½ a teaspoon of dehydrated onion powder is equal to ¼ cup of chopped fresh onion.
Like our granulated garlic, dried onion powder makes a great spice rub, roasted vegetable seasoning, or marinade ingredient. Toasted granulated onion delivers a deeper and nuttier flavor that works especially well in a meatloaf or homemade burger seasoning.
It is hard to have a baked potato or deviled egg without a heavy pinch of chives. Chives are native to the temperate parts of eastern Europe, including the British Isles. The entire plant is edible, but the green, tubular scapes are what's used in cooking.
Chives have a delicate onion flavor with light vegetable taste as its leaves contain more chlorophyll than bulbs do. Chives also tend to taste closer to garlic compared to a green onion or scallion. Since the flavor of chive is more delicate, it is best to use them towards the end of a recipe, particularly soups and stews. The beautiful green color and shape of chives also makes for an impressive garnish. One popular way to use our freeze dried chives is to whisk them right into scrambled eggs for an inspired country omelette.
Scallions and Green Onions
Allium fistulosum & Allium cepa
There are several species and varieties of allium that are referred to as scallions. Generally speaking a scallion or green onion is any tender allium where both the green parts and underground stem are used. The underground stem is not bulbous and they tend to grow in bunches.
Our scallions are freeze-dried and quite close to an equal substitution to fresh in regards to volume. They make an excellent addition to brothy soups or as a simple garnish for a bowl of chili or homemade ramen noodles.
Green onion flakes are harvested from the tops of the scallion. Like chives, they have a more vegetal flavor and can be used like an herb. Try adding them to dumpling dough next time you make chicken and dumpling soup.
Allium cepa var. ascalonicum
Shallots are widely believed to be a specific cultivar or varietal of Allium cepa, however some botanists specify them as Allium ascalonicum. Their flavor is right in between garlic and onion, making them perfect for salad dressings and marinades. The french love shallots and you simply cannot make bearnaise sauce without them. You’ll also find them called for in many Indian recipes and southeast Asian curry pastes.
Our shallots are freeze dried like our scallions, making them light and easy to crush. You can crush them into a powder for a savory addition to spice rubs or rehydrate them in water for instant diced shallots to add to your favorite soups, creamy casseroles, and vegetable dips.
If you have questions about alliums or have a favorite garlicky recipe you’d like to share, email us at email@example.com or write us a comment below.
Article by Geoff Marshall, Staff Writer