One might call chives a timid cousin of the Alium clan (garlic, leeks, shallots) because of their milder onion or garlic flavor. But chives are a versatile, reliable herb that accompany just about any savory dish.
There are two types of chives that we grow on Smoot’s Flavor Farm, garden chives (Alium schoenprasum) and garlic chives (Alium tuberosum). Both are hardy perennials in the Amaryllidaceae familie (formerly Liliaceae).
Garden chives have cylindrical, hollow leaves, a pronounced onion-y aroma and flavor, and produce numerous (and edible) purple-pink flower heads. Garlic chives have a flat, fettucine-like leaf, a stronger garlic flavor and aroma, and produce equally numerous (and edible) white flower heads.
CHIVES IN HISTORY
While its geographic origins are difficult to parse out, it’s thought that the prevalent garden chive is native to temperate regions across Europe, Asia and North America.
The Romans believed it had healing powers for digestive, renal and circulatory systems as well as offering relief from sunburn and sore throats (the latter of which is still thought to be true). It’s cultivation in Europe began in the Middle Ages, as it was known to discourage insects and thought to ward off evil spirits if hung in doorways.
Garlic chives have documented health benefits dating back to medical texts from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Thought to be native to southeast Asia, garlic chives are now widely cultivated in much of Asia, from India to Kazakhstan to Vietnam.
In other nations its known as nira (Japanese), buchu (Korean), and hẹ (Vietnamese). In Chinese there are three distinct names for garlic chives, each a different stage or means of growth. Gau choy is the name for the standard green, flat leaves, gau choy fa is the name for the budding flower stalks, and gau wong is the name for the flat leaves that have been deprived of light during growth, thereby displaying a yellow coloring.
CHIVES IN THE GARDEN
Chives are a favored addition to both vegetable, herb and flower gardens. As with all Aliums, they produce a number of sulfur compounds which give them their distinct aromas and flavors and simultaneously deter a number of insects. Gardeners love them for their ability to repel the Japanese Beetle, a garden pest to a number of fruit and vegetable crops.
While they may repel pests, their abundant nectar also attracts a wide variety of beneficial bees, hummingbird moths and other pollinators. In a UK study, chives were listed in the top 10 pollinator plants because of their high nectar supply throughout the year.
CHIVES IN THE KITCHEN
Chives are full of vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. Chives, both garden and garlic, are soul sisters with fats. They pair particularly well with the oils used in dressings, marinades and soups, the fats in cheeses and cream sauces, as well as fish and pork. They are also excellent culinary companions with eggs, potatoes and root vegetables.
Garden chives work best as an herb. They are a great addition to any dish–especially those served cool–in which onions might be too strong. Think salad dressings, potato and egg salads, and fresh green salads. The chopped leaves and flower petals are also a flavorful garnish atop baked potatoes, roasted vegetables, fish filets, omelets, even something as simple as a bagel and cream cheese.
Garden chives are found in the famous French herb blend fines herbes along with chervil, parsley and tarragon. Theyre sprinkled atop gräddfil (somewhat like sour cream) and served with herring and potatoes at midsummer celebrations. It’s also used to flavor tvorog, a soft cheese akin to cottage cheese that’s common in Poland and Russia.
Garlic chives can be used as an herb and substituted for any of the chive recipes above. But a great thing about garlic chives is how well they can stand on their own. They’re commonly added to dumplings and stir-fry. And they’re a main event in Niratama–-Japanese garlic chives and eggs–and Buchujeon–Korean garlic chive pancakes.
HOW TO COOK WITH CHIVES
Fresh is best when it comes to chives, but they can keep in the fridge if stored properly. Wrap them in a damp paper towel, place them in a plastic bag and store for a few days to a week. Garlic chives will keep longer. Visit our blog post here to learn more about keeping fresh herbs fresh.
Wait to wash your chives until right before use. Gently rinse them under cool water and pat dry. Trim off any brown tips and chop to the desired length.
Garden chives have a delicate flavor profile and the volatile oils will dissipate rapidly. As such its better to add them at the end of cooking or as a garnish. The young, slenderest leaves are the most flavorful, but both leaf and flower are edible. To use the flowers as a garnish, gently pinch and pull the small florets apart with your finger and thumb.
The hollow leaves of garden chives are easily bruised with a dull knife. Be sure to have a sharp blade at hand to chop them. Alternatively, a sharp pair of scissors is an easy way to snip chives to a desired length–this can be a great task for kids in the kitchen!
Garlic chives are much more robust and can be treated as an herb or even a vegetable. Its flavors and aromas withstand the heat of cooking much better, some even find it mellows the garlic flavor to a more desirable level. The flat leaves of garlic chives are less delicate, although a sharp knife is always preferred in the kitchen.
BEST FLAVOR PAIRINGS
- Cream sauces
- Root vegetables
- Salads and Dressings
- Other Herbs: basil, chervil, cilantro, dill, fennel, marjoram, parsley, tarragon, thyme