From what they taste like to chive substitutes, and everything in between.

Everyone has that one thing that tells them sunnier days are on the way. For some, it's the yellow explosion that is forsythia. For others, it's the change in the light...or maybe the annual "spring forward" time change. But for me, the truly exhilarating  moment is when I see my chives starting to emerge from the ground. It's that moment that causes me to cheer, and to start planning all sorts of lighter, brighter meals.

What Are Chives?

Chives (scientific name: Allium Schoenoprasum) are a perennial plant that grows all across Asia, Europe, and North America. It is a member of the allium family along with close relatives onions, garlic, shallots, leeks, and scallions. Both the long, thin, grass-like blades and the beautiful light pink/purple flowers are edible and used in the kitchen.

What Do Chives Taste Like?

Considering their relatives, it is not at all surprising that chives boast an onion-like flavor. But the great joy of chives is that the onion flavor is much milder than that of its more bulbous cousins, making them better for eating raw. Chives also have a very fresh, grassy, herbal taste that rounds out the onion flavor. The blossoms have an even more delicate taste, but the hint of onion is still present. 

How to Use Chives

For many people, the only way to use chives is raw — as a garnish, chopped and sprinkled over the top of virtually anything that would benefit from a gentle hint of onion. And I cannot disagree with that. Both the color, the freshness, and the touch of onion flavor brighten any dish: eggs, potatoes, chicken, fish, tomatoes, stews, creamy sauces, etc. That said, I'm also a big fan of adding chives to things in the last minutes of cooking and then sprinkling more on top. That way, you get the best of both worlds. For example, just before I take scrambled eggs off the heat, I fold in some chopped chives, and then top with more after I dish them. Same with mashed potatoes or colcannon

If you've never used the flowers of chives, you are in for a treat. Take a chive blossom in your hand, and gently pull; the tiny blooms will separate and can then be sprinkled on both your food and the plate as a garnish. The purple petals look gorgeous and add just a hint of flavor, along with a bit of texture.

Fresh vs. Dried Chives

I'm generally not an either/or kind of guy when this question comes up. But, in this case, I am. I honestly see no reason to use dried chives. None of the flavors that make chives such an appealing addition are present in the dried product. There may be a tiny bit of onion flavor, but they mostly taste like dried grass. Given how easy fresh chives are to grow in either your yard or in a pot on the windowsill, I can't recommend the dried counterpart in good conscience.

Substitutes for Chives

The unique combination of delicacy and onion is hard to replicate. However, you can get something similar (just slightly stronger) if you mince the green parts of scallions. That said, don't use quite as much scallion when substituting for chives as you can easily overpower your dish. Chopped fresh parsley will give you the bright herbal, grassy notes; but again, use sparingly. A mixture of parsley and scallion tops is probably the closest chive substitute in terms of flavor.

Bottom line: I urge you to try keeping a small pot of chives in your kitchen window. And if you have a yard, plant some — they'll return every spring, bringing plenty of excitement with them.