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What are Leeks?

By Jane Harmon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Leeks are root vegetables that look quite similar to onions, to which they are related. Their flavor is onion-like but much milder. People who avoid this vegetable because they don't like onions should try them — their flavor is mellow and not overpowering, and many onion-haters enjoy them.

Unlike onions, leeks don't form much of a bulb on the end of the root. Instead, they remain cylindrical, with perhaps a slight bulge at the end. The part of that is under ground remains tender and white, while the part exposed to the sunlight becomes tough and fibrous and not very good for eating. To maximize the edible part of the plant, farmers mound the dirt up around the sprouting plant; this keeps more of it underground and white, but also means that dirt often gets between the layers, so leeks need careful cleaning before cooking.

Leeks are most commonly used in soup, most notably in vichyssoise, a cold soup that also contains potatoes. Cooks who have a favorite potato soup recipe might want to try adding some sliced leeks next time they prepare it, since the flavors go well together. A combination of leeks, potatoes, and carrots in a chicken broth makes a dish that many people enjoy. The vegetable is also edible raw, and it can impart a great crunchy flavor to salads or when eaten with a dip. It should be cut in half lengthwise and rinsed thoroughly to remove and dirt or grit, then it can be added to a platter of crudites.

Nutritionally, leeks are a great source of fiber and may actually help lower cholesterol. They're also packed with important vitamins and minerals, including potassium.

According to Welsh tradition, back in the days before military uniforms, the Welsh fighters were instructed by their king to distinguish themselves from the enemy by fixing a leek to their helmets. Whether because of this legend, or for older reasons, the plant is one of Wales' national symbols, and it is worn on the lapel in honor of St. David, Patron Saint of Wales, on his Day.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon997436 — On Jan 07, 2017

I used leeks in a delicious Vietnamese chicken soup called Pho. This was my first time using leeks and I loved them! Plan to grow in the garden.

By serenesurface — On Mar 06, 2013

Leeks are great for vegetarians. I cook leeks with broken wheat, olive oil, lemon juice and diced carrots. I also add some turmeric for a lovely yellow color. I learned this Mediterranean recipe from a friend. It's very delicious and filling.

By turquoise — On Mar 06, 2013

I made the Indian dish sabzi korma the other day. I had lots of different vegetables at home including leeks, so I included a stalk of it in the dish even though the recipe didn't mention it.

I regretted doing that after tasting the final product however. The flavor of the leeks had basically taken over the flavors from the other vegetables. Leeks might not have a flavor as strong as onion but it definitely is overpowering.

I think leeks are best cooked alone.

By SteamLouis — On Mar 05, 2013

@somerset-- I grow garden leeks. When it's time to eat them, I just cut them horizontally into small cylinders. Then I put them in a strainer and wash them under the faucet. All the dirt comes out.

By anon303981 — On Nov 17, 2012

They are really easy to grow but do take about eight months to be of suitable size. They are not difficult to clean; it just takes a bit of effort.

By candyquilt — On Nov 08, 2012

My mom grows leeks in her yard and gave me a bunch last time I went to see her. I hadn't cooked with leeks before and I thought they were like green onions so I didn't clean them properly.

Huge mistake! The food came out crunchy and for a while I couldn't figure out why. Then I asked my mom about it and she asked me how I cleaned the leeks. I said that I just removed the top layer, washed it and chopped it.

I had no idea that it's necessary to cut vertically and check under each layer. Who knew the dirt could get into each layer like that. An otherwise perfectly good meal went to waste because of me. I still feel so stupid about it.

By ZipLine — On Nov 08, 2012

@ysmina-- Oh yea, I do that all the time. I just made some soup with leeks instead of onion. I love everything in the leek family including onions. Sometimes onions can be a bit too strong for a recipe though even though it calls for it. It's absolutely fine to replace it with leeks.

I've never used onion instead of leeks in a recipe, but I don't see why that wouldn't work as long as everyone who will be eating it likes onion.

By ysmina — On Nov 07, 2012

anon38916-- I want to know exactly the opposite, if I can use leeks instead of onions in recipes.

I don't like onions, I never have. I don't enjoy their scent and flavor and I absolutely hate cutting them because they make my eyes tear.

Since leeks are milder, I might do okay with those. But will it mess up the recipe if I use leeks in place of onions?

By anon102431 — On Aug 07, 2010

What's the tagalog word for leeks?

By anon53166 — On Nov 19, 2009

Is it a vegetable?

By anon38916 — On Jul 29, 2009

can i substitute an onion for a leek in a tomato pie

By anon38575 — On Jul 27, 2009

Can leeks be juiced?

By anon30819 — On Apr 25, 2009

I purchased leeks from a fair in the pot. When I transplanted them, there were what looked liked 4 plants together. Should I have cut them apart and planted them as 4 plants? Can I still do this if needed?

By Mvb — On Mar 04, 2008

What is the best way to wash leeks? This is the first time I am using them.

By somerset — On Feb 07, 2008

As mentioned above leeks can have quite a bit of dirt in between layers. The best way to get rid of it is to cut the leek lengthwise and rinse it in the sink under running water.

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