The gray shallot is a separate species that still grows wild in the Middle East.
The pink shallot originated as a sub-species of onion, which, like the onion, originated in Asia, the Mediterranean basin, and the Middle East.
It was considered a sacred plant by the Ancient Persians and Egyptians. Its name probably came from the word Ashkelon, former city of the Philistines (currently in Israel).
Shallots arrived in France during the reign of Charlemagne and began to be grown in gardens in the 12th century. It was introduced to the fields of Brittany and the Loire Valley in the 17th century. These regions are still the leading producers of shallots in France. It later spread throughout Europe.
It was taken to the Americas by European settlers. It is particularly prized in Louisiana, where a variety is grown that has large green leaves. Great use is made of it in Cajun cuisine.
The shallot has pride of place in French gastronomy, and is exported to a large number of countries. The United States placed a 100% tax on it (together with foie gras, Roquefort cheese, and mustard) in 1999, leading to a collapse in imports. Things went back to normal 10 years later.
In Europe, shallots are produced either by planting the offsets (traditional French shallots), which are later harvested manually, or by planting seeds that grow into bulbs, which are harvested mechanically. These varieties are actually hybrids.
Traditional French shallots are more flavorsome and finer, and withstand cooking better than sown shallots.
A good shallot must be firm, without a green germ: if it is soft, it will ferment and rot quickly. Its skin should be smooth, intact, and shiny.
The older the shallot, the more piquant it is and the longer it takes to cook.
Fresh shallots produced in France have a maximum diameter of 55 mm.
Those grown from offsets are labeled échalotes traditionnelles. They are generally sold in red nets.
Whole, chopped, and diced shallots are available frozen or deep frozen: these are imported and are sown shallots.
Dried shallots are sold in slices or flakes.
Shallots cannot cope with humidity as this makes them go moldy.
They should be stored in a dry place without too much piling.
Shallots have a high carbohydrate content, which is why they brown so well and quickly.
Like garlic, they contain a sulfur compound, allicine, which stimulates the circulation.
They are high in selenium and in flavonoids, which are protective antioxidants.
They also have antibacterial properties.
Shallots are grown all around the world.
There are two main categories of shallots in France:
. gray shallot: this type has a relatively stiff, lightly colored tunic with white flesh. It has a marked flavor. It is only grown in the south and east of France, and is quite rare.
There is only one variety: Griselle.
. the pink shallot, also known as the Jersey or Brittany shallot, has a larger bulb, coppery flesh and tunic with a color varying depending on the variety and a flavor that is less strong than that of the gray shallot. It is mainly grown in Brittany and the Loire Valley.
Three different types of shallots are distinguished in this category, each with different varieties:
. elongated shallot: the bulb is elongated; the tunic is coppery yellow; and the flesh is somewhat colored. It has a very marked fragrance and a fine flavor. Jermor (pinkish white flesh), Longor (purplish pink flesh), Pesandor (very purple flesh), Vigarmor (firm pink flesh), Ploumor (purplish pink flesh).
. oval: the bulb is more rounded; the tunic is coppery pink or red; and it has a sweet flavor. This is the most widely grown type in France. Arvro, Delvad, and Mikor, with pinkish white flesh.
. round: mainly grown in the east of France, this type is more uncommon. It has a lightly colored tunic with almost white flesh. Rondeline and Bretor.
The banana shallot, also known as the Cuisse de poulet shallot and often mistaken for the common shallot, is the result of a cross between the shallot and the onion. Much larger than the elongated shallot, it has a finer flavor than that of an onion. It is distinguished from the common shallot by its bulb, which is single instead of part of a cluster.
Tropical shallots are produced in Indonesia (world's leading producer), Haiti, Africa (Ivory Coast, Mali, Guinea, Congo), Guadeloupe, Réunion, and China.
Pink shallots are available all year round, their main season being November through February. After their harvest (July), they are left in the field in piles, then stored in cool rooms and released onto the market gradually as required.
Gray shallots are available July through December.
Half-dried shallots are found in June and July, together with fresh shallots that are sold in bunches with their leaves.