What’s the Difference Between Spring Onion and Green Onion?

Where I come from, there’s only “Spring Onion Dip”.

Likewise, you’d find chopped spring onions and chives on top of your scrambled eggs at an unremarkable cafe in Auckland. But never “green onion”. What’s that?

Related: Recipe for King Trumpet Mushrooms and Scrambled Eggs with a lot of green onions, and certainly very remarkable 😀

The mystery of the green onion

When I moved to the U.S. and started watching the Food Network, I started hearing all about “green onions” on top of baked potatoes, pasta casseroles, and teriyaki chicken. When I watched the famous chefs – like Bobby Flay, and Emeril — grab a bunch of slender, dark green tubes, hollow in the middle like straws, I thought, “Maybe Americans call spring onions, green onions.”

Chopping green onions

And what about those scallions?

Soon, I heard the word “scallion” tossed around to refer to these long, wand-like onions, leafy green on top with grizzly white roots at the bottom.

“Are scallions another word for spring onions?” I wondered.

For the last 12 years in the U.S., I blissfully assumed that spring onions and green onions are the same things.

Finally, the truth

Luckily, two days ago, Matthew and Molly, on the Spilled Milk podcast episode 335 about scallions, finally disabused me of my ignorance for the past decade.

Upon further research, it looks like a bunch (no pun intended) of other publications have made this same mistake, including Wikipedia, Spruce Eats, and *gasp* the BBC Good Food section.

What is the difference among spring onions, green onions, and scallions?

Bon Appetit, the Spilled Milk cohosts, Fine Cooking, and the Kitchn are all in agreement: spring onions are baby onions that have cute mini bulbs at the roots. Spring onions can grow into full-sized onions, the very ones that you picture when you think “onion”. But they are harvested in their baby version before they form a large bulb.

Spring onion with the baby bulb at the roots

On the other hand, green onions remain slender down to the roots when they are full adult size. They never develop into a bulb the way a spring onion can.

Oh, and green onions are the same thing as scallions. Why is there another word for it? To confuse foreigners, of course!

Green onions are a different species of allium compared to spring onions.

Some other opinions characterize spring onions as sweeter (especially if it is the baby sweet onion or red onion) than green onions which have a sharper taste.

Does this mean New Zealanders were using a different type of onion altogether?

Hmm…I would bet that Kiwis are using green onions and simply calling them “spring onions” due to my observation that there’s no mini bulb mushrooming at the roots of the spring onions I cooked with as a kid.

This means I can confidently use green onions in Kiwi recipes that call for spring onions. And likewise, I can substitute scallions and green onions interchangeably in American recipes, but I need to be careful when dealing with spring onions.

Whew, glad I cleared up that confusion. Now, next thing is to figure out the difference between cilantro and coriander.

Recipes with Spring Onions or Green Onions (a.k.a Scallions)

5- Minute Garlic Herb Dip

Spicy Jambalaya with Chicken, Shrimp, and Sausage 

King Trumpet Mushrooms and Scrambled Eggs

Anna looking down chopping vegetables
About Anna Rider

Hi! I'm Anna, a food writer who documents kitchen experiments on GarlicDelight.com with the help of my physicist and taste-testing husband, Alex. I have an insatiable appetite for noodles 🍜 and believe in "improv cooking".

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