The leek is a vegetable, a cultivar of Allium ampeloprasum, the broadleaf wild leek (syn. Allium porrum). The edible part of the plant is a bundle of leaf sheaths that is sometimes erroneously called a stem or stalk. The genus Allium also contains the onion, garlic, shallot, scallion, chive,[1] and Chinese onion. Three closely related vegetables, elephant garlic, kurrat and Persian leek or tareh, are also cultivars of A. ampeloprasum, although different in their uses as food.[2]

SpeciesAllium ampeloprasum L.
Cultivar groupLeek Group (other names are used, e.g., Porrum Group)
CultivarMany, see text
Raw leeks, bulb & lower leaves
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy255 kJ (61 kcal)
14.15 g
Sugars3.9 g
Dietary fiber1.8 g
0.3 g
1.5 g
Vitamin A equiv.
83 μg
1000 μg
1900 μg
Thiamine (B1)
0.06 mg
Riboflavin (B2)
0.03 mg
Niacin (B3)
0.4 mg
Pantothenic acid (B5)
0.14 mg
Vitamin B6
0.233 mg
Folate (B9)
64 μg
Vitamin C
12 mg
Vitamin E
0.92 mg
Vitamin K
47 μg
59 mg
2.1 mg
28 mg
0.481 mg
35 mg
180 mg
Other constituentsQuantity
Water83 g

Link to USDA Database entry
Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA FoodData Central


Historically, many scientific names were used for leeks, but they are now all treated as cultivars of A. ampeloprasum.[3] The name leek developed from the Old English word lēac, from which the modern English name for garlic also derives.[4] Lēac means 'onion' in Old English and is a cognate with languages based on Old Norse; Danish løg, Icelandic laukur, Norwegian løk and Swedish lök.[5] German uses Lauch for leek, but in Dutch, look is used for the whole onion genus, Allium.


Rather than forming a tight bulb like the onion, the leek produces a long cylinder of bundled leaf sheaths that are generally blanched by pushing soil around them (trenching). They are often sold as small seedlings in flats that are started early in greenhouses to be planted as weather permits. Once established in the garden, leeks are hardy; many varieties can be left in the ground during the winter to be harvested as needed.[citation needed]


Leek cultivars may be treated as a single cultivar group, e.g., as A. ampeloprasum 'Leek Group.' [6] The cultivars can be subdivided in several ways, but the most common types are "summer leeks," intended for harvest in the season when planted, and overwintering leeks, meant to be harvested in the spring of the year following planting. Summer leek types are generally smaller than overwintering types; overwintering types are generally more strongly flavored. Cultivars include 'King Richard' and 'Tadorna Blue.'[citation needed]


Leeks are easy to grow from seed and tolerate standing in the field for an extended harvest, which takes place up to 6 months from planting.[7] The soil in which it is grown has to be loose and drained well; leeks can be grown in the same regions where onions can be grown.[8] Leeks usually reach maturity in autumn. Leeks can be bunched and harvested early when they are about the size of a finger or pencil, or they can be thinned and allowed to grow to a much larger mature size. Hilling leeks can produce better specimens.[citation needed]

Leeks suffer from insect pests, including the thrips species Thrips tabaci and the leek moth.[9][10] Leeks are also susceptible to leek rust (Puccinia allii).[8]


Fresh leek sautéing

Leeks have a mild, onion-like taste. In its raw state, the vegetable is crunchy and firm. The edible portions of the leek are the white base of the leaves (above the roots and stem base), the light green parts, and to a lesser extent, the dark green parts of the leaves. The dark green portion is usually discarded because it has a tough texture, but it can be sautéed or more commonly added to stock for flavor.[11] A few leaves are sometimes tied with twine and other herbs to form a bouquet garni.

Leeks are typically chopped into slices 5–10 mm thick. The slices tend to fall apart due to the layered structure of the leek. The different ways of preparing the vegetable are:

  • Boiling turns it soft and mild in taste. Whole boiled leeks, served cold with vinaigrette, are popular in France,[12] where leeks are nicknamed asperges du pauvre 'poor man's asparagus'.
  • Frying leaves it crunchier and preserves the taste.
  • Raw leeks can be used in salads, doing especially well when they are the prime ingredient.
  • In Turkish cuisine, leeks are chopped into thick slices, then boiled and separated into leaves, and finally filled with a filling usually containing rice, herbs (generally parsley and dill), onion, and black pepper. For sarma with olive oil,[13] currants, pine nuts, and cinnamon are added, and for sarma with meat,[14] minced meat is added to the filling. In Turkey, especially zeytinyağlı pırasa (leek with olive oil), ekşili pırasa (sour leek), etli pırasa (leek with meat), pırasa musakka (leek musakka), pırasalı börek (börek with leek), and pırasa köftesi (leek meatballs) are also cooked.
  • Keftikas de Prasa, or leek patties, are a staple of Sephardic Jewish cuisine and are served on holidays such as Rosh HaShana and Passover.

Leeks are an ingredient of cock-a-leekie soup, leek and potato soup, and vichyssoise, as well as plain leek soup.

Because of their symbolism in Wales (see below), they have come to be used extensively in that country's cuisine. Elsewhere in Britain, leeks have come back in favor only in the last 50 years, having been overlooked for several centuries.[15]


Raw leek (bulb and lower leaves) is 83% water, 14% carbohydrates, 1% protein, and contains negligible fat (table). A 100-gram (3+12 oz) reference amount supplies 255 kilojoules (61 kcal) of food energy and is a rich source (20% or more of the Daily Value, DV) of vitamin K (45% DV) and manganese (23% DV). It is a moderate source (10-19% DV) of vitamin B6, folate, vitamin C, and iron (table).

Historical consumptionEdit

The Hebrew Bible talks of חציר, identified by commentators as leek, and says it is abundant in Egypt.[16] Dried specimens from archaeological sites in ancient Egypt, as well as wall carvings and drawings, indicate that the leek was a part of the Egyptian diet from at least the second millennium BCE. Texts also show that it was grown in Mesopotamia from the beginning of the second-millennium BCE.[17]

Leeks were eaten in ancient Rome and regarded as superior to garlic and onions.[18] The 1st century CE cookbook Apicius contains four recipes involving leeks.[18] Raw leeks were the favorite vegetable of the Emperor Nero, who consumed it in soup or oil, believing it beneficial to the quality of his voice.[19] This earned him the nickname "Porrophagus" or "Leek Eater."[18]

Cultural significanceEdit

Still life with leeks by Carl Schuch (National Museum, Warsaw)

The leek is one of the national emblems of Wales, and it or the daffodil (in Welsh, the daffodil is known as "Peter's leek," Cenhinen Bedr) is worn on St. David's Day. According to one legend, King Cadwaladr of Gwynedd ordered his soldiers to identify themselves by wearing the vegetable on their helmets in an ancient battle against the Saxons that took place in a leek field.[20] The Elizabethan poet Michael Drayton stated, in contrast, that the tradition was a tribute to Saint David, who ate only leeks when he was fasting.[21]

The leek has been known to be a symbol of Wales for a long time; Shakespeare, for example, refers to the custom of wearing a leek as an “ancient tradition” in Henry V. In the play, Henry tells the Welsh officer Fluellen that he, too, is wearing a leek "for I am Welsh, you know, good countryman." The 1985 and 1990 British one pound coins bear the design of a leek in a coronet, representing Wales. One version of the 2013 British one pound coin shows a leek with a daffodil.

Alongside the other national floral emblems of countries currently and formerly in the Commonwealth or part of the United Kingdom (including the English Tudor Rose, Scottish thistle, Irish shamrock, Canadian maple leaf, and Indian lotus), the Welsh leek appeared on the coronation gown of Elizabeth II. Norman Hartnell designed it; when Hartnell asked if he could exchange the leek for the more aesthetically pleasing Welsh daffodil, he was told no.[22]

Perhaps the most visible use of the leek, however, is as the cap badge of the Welsh Guards, a battalion within the Household Division of the British Army.[23]

In Romania, the leek is also widely considered a symbol of Oltenia, a historical region in the country's southwestern part.[24]


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Block, E. (2010). Garlic and Other Alliums: The Lore and the Science. Royal Society of Chemistry. ISBN 978-0-85404-190-9.
  2. ^ "AllergyNet — Allergy Advisor Find". Allallergy.net. Archived from the original on 15 June 2010. Retrieved 14 April 2010.
  3. ^ "Allium ampeloprasum", World Checklist of Selected Plant Families, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, retrieved 1 February 2013
  4. ^ Caroline Foley (2006). The A-Z of Allotment Vegetables. New Holland Publishers. p. 75. ISBN 978-1-84537-283-5.
  5. ^ "Leek definition and meaning". Collins English Dictionary. Retrieved 17 July 2022.
  6. ^ Brewster, James L. (2008). Onions and other vegetable alliums (2nd ed.). Wallingford, UK: CABI International. ISBN 978-1-84593-399-9. p. 30
  7. ^ Marie Iannotti (25 February 2014). The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Northeast. Timber Press. pp. 186–. ISBN 978-1-60469-595-3.
  8. ^ a b K. V. Peter (25 August 2006). Handbook of Herbs and Spices. Elsevier Science. pp. 370–371. ISBN 978-1-84569-171-4.
  9. ^ Theunissen, J.; Legutowska, H. (1991). "Thrips tabaciLindeman (Thysanoptera, Thripidae) in leek: symptoms, distribution and population estimates". Journal of Applied Entomology. 112 (1–5): 163–170. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0418.1991.tb01042.x. ISSN 0931-2048. S2CID 83916407.
  10. ^ Mason, P.g.; Appleby, M.; Juneja, S.; Allen, J.; Landry, J.-F. (1 July 2010). "Biology and Development of Acrolepiopsis assectella (Lepidoptera: Acrolepiidae) in Eastern Ontario". The Canadian Entomologist. 142 (4): 393–404. doi:10.4039/n10-026. ISSN 0008-347X. S2CID 85817953.
  11. ^ Librarie Larousse, ed. (1984). Larousse Gastronomique: The World's Greatest Cooking Encyclopedia. The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited.
  12. ^ Mongrain-Dontigny, Micheline (16 November 2016). Les grands classiques de la cuisine d'ici (in French). Guy Saint-Jean Éditeur. p. 52. ISBN 978-2-89758-209-8.
  13. ^ "Zeytinyağlı Pırasa Sarması". Tavkim.
  14. ^ "Etli Pırasa Sarması". Turkish Media.
  15. ^ Jane Grigson, Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book, (Penguin Books, 1978, ISBN 0-14-046859-5) p 291
  16. ^ Glantz, Animal and plant life in the Torah, חי וצומח בתורה, p. 204
  17. ^ Zohary, Daniel; Hopf, Maria; Weiss, Ehud (2012). Domestication of plants in the Old World: the origin and spread of domesticated plants in Southwest Asia, Europe, and the Mediterranean Basin (4th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 195. ISBN 9780199549061.
  18. ^ a b c Sanderson, Helen; Renfrew, Jane M. (2005). Prance, Ghillean; Nesbitt, Mark (eds.). The Cultural History of Plants. Routledge. p. 121. ISBN 0415927463.
  19. ^ Pliny, Historia Naturalis, XIX, 33.
  20. ^ The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction. Vol. 5. London: J Limbard. 1825.
  21. ^ Cumo, Christopher, Encyclopedia of Cultivated Plants: From Acacia to Zinnia, ABC-CLIO, 2013, p.561.
  22. ^ Rosemary Goulding (June 1998). "SILVER AND GOLD". Waterlooville Parish Church. Retrieved 8 February 2013.
  23. ^ Wolf D. Storl (14 June 2016). A Curious History of Vegetables: Aphrodisiacal and Healing Properties, Folk Tales, Garden Tips, and Recipes. North Atlantic Books. pp. 155–. ISBN 978-1-62317-040-0.
  24. ^ Vladimir Mirodan (1987). The Balkan Cookbook. Pelican Publishing Company. p. 63. ISBN 978-0-88289-738-7.

External linksEdit

  • Allium ampeloprasum L. on US National PLANTS Database
  • Allium porrum L. on US National PLANTS Database
  • Allium ampeloprasum, Porrum on Floridata
  • "Allium porrum". Plants for a Future.
  • Food Museum page
  • National Symbols of Wales