What Does Allium Mean?

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What Does Allium Mean?
Plants in the genus Allium are widely used in cooking. (Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Fabian Winiger)

Some people love Allium plants and others hate them, but we've all probably eaten them. Despite their odor, they are included in thousands of recipes.

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Allium is the genus (or scientific) name for plants in the lily family that produce large, bulbous herbs.


Plants in this category include onions, garlic, chives, leeks, and shallots. There are between 600 and 1,000 different species included in this scientific grouping.

Onions and Shallots

Onions are the most plentiful plant in the Allium genus. The common onion (Allium cepa) grows throughout all of North America. Onions are divided between strong- and mild-flavored. Yellow onions are stronger flavored, and milder ones are referred to as European onions.


There are nearly thirty different varieties of garlic in the Allium genus. Cultivated garlic (Allium sativum), as its name implies, is the type you'll generally find in the grocery store. Garlic is a widely grown Allium, second only to onions.


There are nine varieties of leeks in the Allium genus. Although leeks look much like green onions, they are much more bitter when raw and are generally cooked, which softens them and reduces the bitterness.


The Allium species are among the oldest cultivated crops. In addition to providing a food source, these plants provide health benefits, including cardiovascular protective and anticarcinogenic effects.

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