Chives have always grown spontaneously all over Europe, North America, and China, where they were known and used thousands of years ago, also for their medicinal properties.
These were praised by Marco Polo when he returned from his first journey to Asia.
Chives and scallions were long mistaken for each other in France, and often given the same name, as well as the name of cive. In medieval France, they were called appétits because they were famed for stimulating the appetite. They were planted in monasteries by order of Charlemagne at the end of the 8th century.
Chives were taken to North America by the first settlers, but native Americans had been picking and eating the plants that grew wild for thousands of years.
Chives, scallions, and garlic chives should always be very fresh; in other words, their stalks should be green and firm (except for the yellow garlic chives).
Chives: fresh in small bunches held with a rubber band, but also chopped and frozen, dried, or freeze-dried.
Scallions: fresh in bunches of three, four, or five (depending on the supplier), also chopped and frozen.
Garlic chives: fresh in trays with several stalks, but also chopped and frozen, or dried (chopped or in granules).
Chives: these are included among the soft herbs known as fines herbes. They are mainly used raw and chopped in salads and as crudités. They are an integral part of the cervelle de canut. They can be a last-minute addition to vegetable dishes, sauces, and omelets, among others.
Scallions: The stalk tips are too tough and are removed. The remainder, stalk and bulb, are chopped and added to vegetable casseroles, meats, fish, seafood, etc. It can substitute for onion or shallots. Pan-fried whole, they make a good garnish.
Garlic chives: these can take the place of chives when a more heightened flavor is desired. They are obviously a very popular ingredient in Asian cooking. Their flowers are also used as a condiment.
Fresh chives, scallions, and garlic chives can be kept in the refrigerator for 2–3 days wrapped in paper towel or a damp cloth.
Like all the members of the allium family, chives, scallions, and garlic chives are high in antioxidants (vitamin C, flavonoids, etc.), minerals, and in B group vitamins.
The botanical name of this plant is Allium schoenoprasum. It produces fine, hollow, and fleshy stalks some 15–30 cm long (depending on how they are picked), adorned with small pretty pink flowers in spring.
Chives have a delicate fragrance reminiscent of shallot or onion.
They are harvested April through November, but they are grown in greenhouses throughout the year.
The French name for this plant is ciboulette, although it is also known as civette. Until the 19th century it was also known as cive and queue d'appétit. It is called cipollina in Italy and cebollino in Spain.
The botanical name of this plant is Allium fistulosum. Its stalks, much thicker than those of chives, are also hollow, fleshy, and very long (40–50 cm). Its root forms a very elongated bulb that can be mistaken for the base of the stalks.
Its fragrance is also like that of onion, but it is much finer and more delicate.
Many varieties of scallions exist (which does not make things easy): red scallion, the most common; white scallion; ciboule vivace (or Saint-Jacques); ciboule jaune de la Drôme; cive du Poitou; cive rouge and cive jaune (Antilles), Cebollín (Cuba).
Scallions are harvested May through October, but they are also grown in greenhouses.
The name given to them in the southwest of France (and in Ducasse dishes) is cébette.
Depending on the region in France, they are known as cive, oignon d'Espagne, chiboule, or ail fistuleux. They are called échalote, échalote verte, and oignon verte in Quebec. The scallion is also known as the Welsh onion in English, cebolleta in Spanish, and cipolletta in Italian.
The scallion is sometimes mistaken for a small white onion sold with its leaves.
- Garlic chives or Chinese chives
The botanical name of this plant is Allium tuberosum. Its green leaves grow to a length of 30–70 cm, resembling those of the scallion, but flatter. Like scallions, garlic chives have a very elongated and thin bulb from which the stalks grow. But they can also be picked without the bulb, or with their flowers, which are white.
The difference is in the flavor: it is very close to that of garlic. The marked flavor of garlic chives clearly distinguishes this variety from the chives known in the West.
It is also the reason for its name.
It is called jiu cai in Mandarin and gau tsoi in Cantonese, and is also known as Chinese leek in English. Its Spanish name is cive chino.
There is also a yellow version (the leaves are covered until they ripen).