All about alliums … our guide
Their fab flavour is the basis for many great meals, in fact they are such a fundamental part of so many recipes that cooking without them would be difficult. Universally popular, it's impossible to think of a cuisine that doesn’t include them. So what exactly are alliums and why are they such a big deal in cooking?
Alliums are flowering plants that include culinary classics onion, garlic and leek. The name Allium is the Latin word for garlic, but there’s literally hundreds of species that are part of the Allium family. Members of the allium family are easy to recognize. They share the same basic "body type": thin grass like leaves that all emerge from one point on a thickened stem or bulb, and fleshy roots emerging from a small area on the bottom of the plant. From leeks to chives, the form is similar.
Alliums are known for their pungent odour and taste which evolved to deter hungry animals and insects. This characteristic taste and smell comes from sulphur compounds in the plant. Although they have a rich flavour, they blend seamlessly into dishes and have the added benefit of packing a great nutritional punch, as well as health benefits including lowering cholesterol and triglycerides, cardiovascular protection, lowering blood pressure and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Some of the best known and used alliums are:
Leeks – With their sweet, delicate flavour leeks are great in risottos and soups.
Garlic – A staple of cuisines around the globe, garlic has a mellow sweetness when cooked and is made up of small cloves that surround a stem.
Onions – Originating in Asia, onions are another favourite ingredient around the world. The most popular variety is the brown onion whose strong raw flavour softens when cooked to become sweet and earthy.
Spring Onions – A great addition to salads, spring onions are salad onions that are picked before the bulb has swollen.
Shallots – Some people think that shallots are young onions due to their appearance and size, but they are not. They are a traditional favourite in French cookery and have a fragrant, mild flavour.