What is Leek?

Allium ampeloprasum L.

(Synonym: Allium porrum)

Also known as  Poireau  in French.

Leek is a cultivated herb with flat and tough overlapping dark green leaves that form a white elongated cylindrical bulb at the base which is eaten as a vegetable.

It’s a descendant of the wild leek (Allium ampeloprasum). The other descendants of the wild leek, are Pearl onion, Kurrat and Elephant Garlic or the Great-Headed Garlic.

Origin of Leek

The origin of leek is unknown but it’s widely cultivated for its leaves which have an onion-like flavour but with a sweeter and milder flavour. Leek, onion, chives and garlic, belong to the same genus Allium.

Leek is grown in all continents except in areas of high temperatures or heavy rains. Europe is the most important leek producing continent with over 500,000 tonnes produced annually. The leading world producers are France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

 The Leek Plant

Leek is an upright, leafy plant up to 150cm high.The leaves are tough and dark green, at the apex but white and softer at the base. They are are opposite, overlapping and tightly sheathing, at the base, where they form a long cylindrical white bulb.

The bulb is the edible part and is often erroneously referred to as the stem or stalk. It should be referred to as a pseudo-stem. Leek is a very hardy plant and many cultivars are left in the ground in winter to be harvested as needed, usually, the following spring.

Leek Cultivars

There are several cultivars of leek but they can generally be grouped into “summer leeks” which are harvested in the same planting season and “overwintering leeks” which are left in the ground during winter and harvested the following year. Overwintering leeks are bigger and more strongly flavoured.

Culinary use of Leek

The dark green leaves at the apex tend to be tough and are generally discarded or used to make dark stocks (broths).

The softer white bulb is generally used to add flavour to foods. It is typically chopped in slices 5-10mm long.

Raw leek is crunchy and firm and can be used fresh in salads.

In general leeks can be boiled, fried, roasted, sautéed or used as an ingredient in many recipes like leek and potato soup or leek and bacon pie.

Leek is used extensively in Welsh cuisines, for various recipes like, the traditional Welsh vegetarian sausage, Glamorgan and the Traditional Welsh Cawl, a stew made with lamb, mutton or seafood, depending on the region.

Leek is used to add flavour to stocks.

They can also be bundled together with other herbs to form bouquet garni, used to flavour stocks, soups and stews.

Cultural Significance

Leek is one of the National Emblems of Wales and snippets of leek were worn in button holes or hats during war to identify friend from foe in battle.


Author: Liz

I love everything food: eating, cooking, baking and travelling. I also love photography and nature.

2 thoughts

  1. They have such a great taste. You can broil them, or put them in the smoker. The greens “take forever” to soften down, so best as stock. I recently used some leeks in one of my outdoor meals, & probably will pull a leftover portion out of the freezer for lunch. Thanks for the post.

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