The shallot is a type of onion, specifically a botanical variety of the species Allium cepa. The shallot was formerly classified as a separate species, A. ascalonicum, a name now considered a synonym of the currently accepted name. The genus Allium, which includes onions and garlic, is now classified in the plant family Amaryllidaceae, but it was formerly considered to belong to the separate family Alliaceae.
Shallots probably originated in Central or Southeast Asia, travelling from there to India and the eastern Mediterranean. The name “shallot” comes from Ashkelon, an ancient Philistine city, where people in classical Greek times believed shallots originated.
Indian names for shallots include kanda or gandana or pyaaz (Hindi, Marathi, Marwari and Punjabi), gundhun (Bengali), cheriya ulli or chuvanna ulli (Malayalam), chinna ullipayi (Telugu) and chinna vengayam (or sambar vengayam in the Chennai region) (Tamil). In the Kashmiri language, shallots are called praan. In Nepal, shallots are called chyapi.
In Southeastern Asia, shallots are called bawang merah kecil (small red onions) in Malay, brambang in Java, sibuyas bumbay (Indian onion) in the Philippines (in contrast with sibuyas Tagalog, the larger, red onion), and hom (fragrant) in Thai. In Cambodian (Khmer), shallots are called katem kror hom, where katem or ktem is a species of onion, and kror hom or hom meaning “red”, describes their colour.
The name shallot is also used for the Persian shallot (A. stipitatum), from the Zagros Mountains in Iran and Iraq. The term shallot is further used for the French red shallot (Allium cepa var. aggregatum, or the A. cepa Aggregatum Group) and the French gray shallot or griselle (Allium oschaninii), a species referred to as “true shallot”; it grows wild from Central to Southwest Asia.
The term eschalot, derived from the French word échalote, can also be used to refer to the shallot. The usage of green onion for shallot is found among English-speaking people in Quebec; but when shallot is used, stress is on the second syllable.