Onions, leeks, and shallots are members of the Allium genus, a lily-affiliated vegetable, and herb family, which also include garlic, scallions, and chives.  Cholesterol-free and fat-free, onions are high in Vitamin C and fiber. They have been associated with anti-microbial and-inflammatory effects, improved cardiovascular health, and reduced cholesterol and blood sugar levels.  

Similar in appearance to scallions, leeks are generally bigger than their slender green-leaved cousins and are valued more for their stalks than their white onion-like bases. A good source of iron, calcium, fiber, and vitamins A and C, leeks also share scallions’ wonderful fat-free and cholesterol-free quality.   Leeks also contain diallyl sulfide, a phytonutrient common to many Allium species that has shown the ability to fight both microbes and cancer in lab tests.  Chinese medicine practitioners use leeks in the treatment of obesity.  

Shallots are similar to onions and garlic but tend to have a sweeter, more nuanced flavor. Shallots are rich in folate, potassium, and vitamins A and C; like onions, they are linked to improved circulation and lowered cholesterol levels. A study conducted at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York found that shallots contained significantly more beneficial phenols and flavonoids than onions (Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry 11/3/04).

  • Spanish red onions are generally less strongly flavored than white or brown, which makes them ideal to use raw in salads.
  • The sharp, pungent smell of onions is due to its sulfur compound allyl propyl disulfide which is touted for its health benefits.
  • Fresh onions should look clean, well-shaped, have no opening at the neck, and feature crispy, and dry outer skins. When purchasing onions, avoid those that show sprouting or have signs of black mold (a kind of fungal attack) as they indicate that the stock is old.
  • Leeks are a mild-flavored member of the onion and lily family and look like giant green onions (scallions). Leeks are popular in soups, stir-fries, and sauces.
  • Small golden onions, shallots are called “the queen of the sauce onions.” They are well known to French cooks for their aroma and flavor, which is closer to garlic than onion.

Why This Matters:

Members of the Allium genius vegetable and herb family, such as onions, leeks and shallots are associated with anti-microbial and-inflammatory effects, improved cardiovascular health, and reduced cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

Fennel is an aromatic member of the carrot family.  The greenish brown to yellowish brown oblong oval seeds smell and taste similar to anise. The seeds and extracted oil are used for scenting soaps and perfumes and for flavoring candies, liqueurs, medicines, and foods, particularly pastries, sweet pickles, and fish.

Other Popular Vegetables in Natural Food Stores

Daikon Radish - The daikon radish is very low in Saturated Fat and Cholesterol.  It is also a good source of Vitamin B6, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, and Phosphorus, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin C, Folate, Potassium, and Copper.  This long white root vegetable is also known as the Japanese radish.  It is slightly hotter than small red radishes and is a popular addition to macrobiotic meals.

Fennel - Fennel originated in the Mediterranean where it has long been used for its health benefits including relief from anemia, indigestion, flatulence, constipation, colic, diarrhea, respiratory disorders, menstrual disorders, and its benefits regarding eye care.   Fennel is widely used around the world in mouth fresheners, toothpaste, desserts, antacids, and in various culinary applications.  A member of the same plant family as anise, fennel has a fist-like bulb and long feathery leaves which taste similar to the faint licorice flavor of anise. The bulb can be eaten raw in salads or cooked. The leaves are usually used as a garnish.