Leek vs. Chive: What’s the Difference?

Written by Larissa Smith
Updated: August 3, 2023
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When it comes to Alliums, leeks and chives are two of the most popular. Both have a mild onion flavor and get used in various dishes, but there are some key differences between the two.

For one, leeks are much larger than chives. They have a long white stem with a greenish-white bulb at the end. On the other hand, Chives grow narrow, hollow green stems with small purple flowers.

Leeks are also milder in flavor than chives. When cooked, they become sweet and mellow, while chives have more of a sharp and pungent taste. Regarding cooking, leeks get used as a base for stews and soups. They can also be braised, grilled, or baked. Chives are perfect as garnish. Sprinkle some on top of salads, soups, and potatoes to add a delicious kick to the flavor.

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So, what’s the bottom line? If you’re looking for a milder flavor, go with leeks. If you’re looking for something with more punch, go with chives.

Let’s learn all about leeks vs. chives!

Comparing Leek and Chive

ClassificationKingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Asparagales
Family: Amaryllidaceae
Subfamily: Allioideae
Genus: Allium
Species: Allium ampeloprasum L.
Cultivar Group: Leek Group
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Asparagales
Family: Amaryllidaceae
Subfamily: Allioideae
Genus: Allium
Species: A. schoenoprasum
OriginEurope, AfricaEurope, Asia, North America
Plant TypePerennial, Annual           Herbaceous, Perennial
DescriptionLeeks grow 2-3 feet tall and 6-12 inches wide. They have long, cylinder leaf sheaths and may develop small bulbs. Leaves are yellow-green or blue-green.Chives grow 10-15 inches tall. The bulbs are ¾-1 long and ½ inch wide. Stems are tubular-shaped and solid green with a soft texture. They produce a pale purple flower consisting of 6 star-shaped petals.
How to Grow– Plant seeds 6-8 inches apart and ¼ inch deep
– Full sunlight
– Loamy, well-draining soil
– Neutral-acidic pH
– Requires 1 inch of water per week
– Grow in 55-75 degrees Farenheight
– Plant seeds 4-6 inches deep
– Full sunlight to partial shade
– Slightly acidic to neutral soil pH
– Keep soil moist

Leek vs. Chive: Classification and Origin

Leek is a cultivar of the species A. schoenoprasum. This means that humans bred and maintained the plant to meet their desired characteristics. As a result, it’s different from varieties because they grow in nature without human interference.

Archeologists found specimens of leek in ancient Egypt sites, and wall carvings suggest Egyptians consumed leeks dating back to the second millennium BCE. In ancient Rome, people regarded leeks as superior to onion and garlic. Emperor Nero, the 5th Roman Emporer, believed it improved the quality of his voice, which led people to nickname him “leek eater.”  

On March 1st, the Welsh wear a leek in honor of King Cadawallader’s win over the Saxons. This day is known as St. David’s Day, and the leek plant is considered a Wales symbol.

Leek, chive, onion, scallion, and garlic belong to the same genus Allium. Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are native to North America, Europe, and Asia. Europeans cultivated chives as far back as the middle ages and consumed chives for more than 5,000 years. The Romans believed chives could increase your blood pressure and relieve sunburn pain. In the middle ages, people called chives “rush leek” and cultivated them for ornamental and nutritional value.

Leek vs. Chive: Description

Leek is a vegetable that consists of long cylinder leaf sheaths. This is the edible part of the plant. Unlike the bulb onions develop, the leeks stem is fairly flat and grows between 2 – 3 feet tall, and its width is about 6 -12 inches. They can develop small bulbs but are significantly smaller than an onion.

They are hardy, true perennial plants. However, leeks can be biennial. The leaf shanks can vary in thickness and length. The leaves they produce are either yellow-green or blue-green leaves. The white and light green parts get eaten; however, the dark green parts have a ton of flavor.

Chives are herbaceous perennial plants that develop a bulb. They can grow between 10 – 15 inches tall, with bulbs around ¾ – 1 inch long and ½ inch broad. The stems are solid green, tubular-shaped, and hollow with a soft texture. Chives produce a beautiful pale purple flower with six star-shaped petals around ½ inch wide. Flowers are attractive to bees, but insects often find them to be repulsive due to their sulfur compounds.

It is easier to identify wild chives because they are some of the first plants to pop up in the spring, and you can spot them among the dormant grass. They look like a clump of grass, but you will see the hollow, cylindrical shape upon closer inspection.

Stack of raw chives.

Freshly harvested raw leeks and chives (pictured) make great additions to soup and stews.

©Heitor Pergher/Shutterstock.com

Leek vs. Chive: Uses

Both leeks and chives are edible plants that enhance the flavor of dishes while carrying nutritional value. Leek and chives are crunchy vegetables with an onion-like taste. It makes soups, stews, and pasta so much more flavorful. Another bonus to leeks and chives is their low-calorie content which is great for weight management. The water and fiber can make you feel full for longer, and you may be less likely to overeat.

Due to their antioxidant properties, leeks and chive can help to lower the risk of some cancers, such as colon, prostate, and stomach cancer. For example, after 16 studies by experts and researchers, the conclusion was that vegetables in the Allium family repair damaged DNA and reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. In addition, research from China found that people eating more than 10 grams a day can reduce their risk of prostate cancer by half!

One cup of leeks contains:

  • 54 calories
  • 2g fiber
  • 1g protein
  • 13g  carbohydrates
  • 4g sugar

Leeks contain plenty of vitamins K, C, and B6, magnesium, folate, iron, and copper. As a result, they encourage strong bones and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. They may even reduce the risk of cataracts and improves eye health.

One tablespoon of chives has your daily vitamin A and C amount. In addition, chives contain folate and choline that aid in memory function. Research shows that it can reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimers.

While both have amazing health benefits, one of the biggest differences is their taste. Leeks add a sweeter flavor to dishes, while chives have an onion-like flavor. It is acceptable to substitute chives with leeks but remember, it won’t have the exact flavor you desire. The final flavor of the meal may be different.

Leek vs. Chive: How to Grow

How to Grow Leek

Keep in mind that leeks, chives, and onions are toxic to pets. This is because they contain compounds that can damage red blood cells. Japanese dog breeds and cats are the most sensitive to plants in the Allium family. Ensure your plants grow out of reach of your furry best friends.

Tips for growing leeks:

  • Slow to moderate growth rate.
  • Plant seeds 6-8 inches apart and ¼ inch deep.
  • Leeks prefer full sunlight.
  • Use loamy, well-draining soil.
  • Neutral to acidic soil pH.
  • 1 inch of water each week is required.
  • Ideal temperature is 55 – 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

How to Grow Chives

Fresh chives are excellent as a garnish. They add a delicious onion flavor to potatoes, fish, and soups. Chives are easy to grow if you provide them with enough water. What makes them so unique is that if you need chives for your recipe, simply cut a stem, and it’ll regrow.

Tips for growing chives:

  • Plant seeds 4 – 6 inches deep.
  • Chives do well in full sunlight and partial shade.
  • Use loamy, sandy soil.
  • Slightly acidic to neutral soil pH.
  • Keep soil moist throughout the growing season.
  • Extreme cold can kill the foliage, and extreme heat can cause chives to remain dormant.

Final Thoughts

There are many reasons to love both leeks and chives. They’re both low in calories and an excellent source of vitamin K. They’re also very easy to cook with and add a lot of flavor to a dish.

Are leeks and chives the same?

If you’re like most people, you probably think of leeks and chives as interchangeable. After all, they’re both long, thin, leafy green herbs often used in soups and salads. But while these two herbs may look similar, they have quite different flavors and uses.

So, the next time you’re in the kitchen, reach for the leeks if you want a subtle flavor boost in your dish. And if you’re looking for something to spice up your meal, grab the chives.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Graham Corney/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Larissa Smith is a writer for A-Z Animals with years of experience in plant care and wildlife. After years spent in the South African bush while studying Nature Conservation, she found her way to writing about animals and plants in her work. She hopes to inspire others to appreciate and care for the precious world around them. Larissa lives in Florida with her two sons, a miniature golden retriever named Pupples, and a colorful succulent garden. In her spare time, she is tending to her garden, adventuring with her kids, and hosting “Real Housewives” watch parties with her friends.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Can chives be substituted for leeks?

In general, yes. However, leeks have a sweeter taste, and chives have a more onion flavor.

Are leeks and chives the same?

They are similar but not the same. Leeks are an Allium vegetable, while chives are Allium herbs. Leeks have a sweet onion flavor, while chives have a scallion onion flavor.

What do we use chives for?

Chives have a delicious onion flavor that works best as a garnish on potatoes, soup, omelets, and seafood dishes.

What part of chives do you use?

You can eat every part of the chives, including flowers, foliage, and bulbs.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

  1. Master Class, Available here: https://www.masterclass.com/articles/cultivar-vs-variety
  2. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leek
  3. History - UK, Available here: https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofWales/The-Leek-National-emblem-of-the-Welsh/
  4. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chives
  5. WebMD, Available here: https://www.webmd.com/diet/health-benefits-leeks#:~:text=Here%20are%20some%20ways%20to%20use%20them%3A%201,flavor%20blend.%207%20Serve%20saut%C3%A9ed%20leeks%20over%20salmon.
  6. WebMD, Available here: https://www.webmd.com/men/news/20021105/garlic-chives-reduce-prostate-cancer
  7. WebMD, Available here: https://www.webmd.com/diet/health-benefits-chives
  8. Pet Poison Helpline, Available here: https://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/poison/leeks/