Among the flavours of onions, spring onions, shallots, leeks, and chives there is one that they share. Is there a name for it?

5 Answers 5


Conversationally, "oniony". Everyone will understand that, and tend to say it naturally.

In a more serious cooking context, you could also get away with "allium flavor", though likely not in everyday conversation. There are a lot of alliums, including onions, garlic, scallions, shallots, leeks, and chives, so if you refer to the whole group, you're pretty obviously referring to the overarching common flavor. For example, On Food and Cooking has subsections called "The Flavors and Sting of Raw Alliums" and "The Flavors of Cooked Alliums".

  • Thanks. I've added leeks. I knew there was a common one I was forgetting. Personally I think garlic tastes oniony too, but I'm not sure that everyone agrees.
    – user60495
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 22:09
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    I tend to associate the word allium more specifically with garlic (perhaps due to the linguist in me: it is latin for garlic, and many european languages have words for garlic that derive from it), and would only as an afterthought consider that you might mean the common traits shared also with onion. Also note that in taxonomic usage, while all of these plants are in the genus Allium, there are also distinct subgenuses, one of which is also called Allium (and contains garlics and leeks) while onions are generally in the others (for cultivated onions, mostly in Cepa).
    – Jules
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 4:28
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    @Jules Well, as true as that all may be, I've definitely heard "allium" used plenty to describe all the edible alliums, not just garlic. For example, On Food and Cooking has subsections called "The Flavors and Sting of Raw Alliums" and "The Flavors of Cooked Alliums".
    – Cascabel
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 4:57
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    +1 for oniony. Although the information for allium (neat!) is what it actually is, "oniony" is just so much more widespread.
    – Anoplexian
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 14:10
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    Hey folks, I know "oniony" is how we usually say this, that's why I put it in the answer. You don't need to comment to let me know it's true.
    – Cascabel
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 19:25

"Alliaceous" is the adjective to describe the group of plants, in a botanical sense. I use it to describe the flavour as well, but it's worth noting that a lot of people would not know what that means straight up. That might be similar for "allium" in general though.

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    99% of people in the world would have no idea what you're talking about though
    – GdD
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 8:20
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    @GdD definitely, but IMO this word is quite gorgeous. Just make sure it can be guessed from the context what it means... Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 10:10
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    "Allium" might not be extremely widely known, but it's a much more common word than "alliaceous". It's not even obvious to me that somebody familiar with "allium" would figure out the link from "alliaceous" to "allium". Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 10:37
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    🎜 Alliaceous, gentille alliaceous. Alliaceous, je te plumarai 🎜 Couldn't resist.
    – FuzzyChef
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 22:04
  • @DavidRicherby my awareness of the two words was simultaneous, so I'm really not able to judge that at all. Apparently I've missed my peak time by about 100 years :P Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 5:55

Onions and similar items contain thiosulfinates and thiosulfonates, which is the cause of the distinct smell and flavor. This is actually released only after their cell walls are damaged in some way. See this link and this study for more details.

  • 20
    While your technical explanation is correct on a certain level, I am not sure it solves the linguistic problem. If the OP went to a cook and declared "The soup is not quite good yet, I think you need to ramp up the thiosulfinate flavor a bit", it is unlikely to result in efficient communication.
    – rumtscho
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 22:52
  • @rumtscho -- Agreed. I can remove the answer, although I am uncertain any single word is a perfect fit. Or, I could add some some detail to explain my thought process for the answer, Alternatively, I could move this answer's contents to a comment for the OP (for the technical knowledge portion to be retained). In your opinion, what would be the best approach for this? Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 16:30
  • Sulfurous, perhaps? It's not exactly right, but it is why the smell is how it is.
    – Joe M
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 16:41
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    @JoeM If you say "sulfurous", people are going to think "hydrogen sulfide", not "onions." Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 21:47
  • This is a difficult question. My thought process was "this is either a suggestion to use "thiosulfinate" as a flavor description in a conversation, or it is not an answer to the question". In such cases, I prefer to err on the side of interpreting as answer instead of deleting, especially with no flags. I think that if you want it to be an answer, you should go deeper into how well do you think this is usable in conversations, and why you suggest it even if you think it is not that good (e.g. because you think nothing closer exists). If you don't want to write this up, comment would be better.
    – rumtscho
    Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 16:31

This is sometimes called the pungent flavour.

The term pungent vegetables is usually used to specify garlic, onion and leeks in diets that omit them, such as Su Vegetarianism. This is also a nicer sounding name than fetid vegetables, which is apparently behind the etymology of asafoetida, a supposedly similar flavour.

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    Pungent has a much broader meaning than just resembling cipolloids[1]. You could say that ginger or chillis are pungent too. [1] Not an actual word, yet. Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 16:21
  • Pungent is not THAT bad a description for the group of flavors in question. Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 23:24

In East Asian Vegetarian diets, they are named as "The Five Pungent Spices" and are being forbidden from consumption. Note that, other than Allium vegetables, the word also include Asafoetida for Buddhist, Coriander and Brassica Rapa for Taoist.

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