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Despite the celebrity status of this fresh herb in the foodie world, the taste and smell of cilantro, or coriander, are pretty polarizing.
While some people love cilantro’s bright, citrusy, and grassy flavor, others deride it. Some even say cilantro tastes and smells like soap.
In any case, having a substitute handy is necessary.
The best substitute for cilantro (or fresh coriander) is Italian parsley. It generally has the same flavor profile but with a subtle bitterness that makes it taste even better. If you are looking to replace coriander seeds in a recipe then curry powder is one of your best options.
In this article, I’ll be walking you through some of the basics you need to know about cilantro and the best substitutes you can use.
In this post we'll cover:
- 1 What is the difference between cilantro and coriander?
- 2 Best substitutes for cilantro (fresh coriander)
- 3 Best substitutes for coriander seeds
- 4 Why you might not like cilantro
- 5 Takeaway
What is the difference between cilantro and coriander?
Cilantro and coriander are basically the same things. See, both come from the same plant: Coriandrum Sativum.
How you call this plant, however, depends on where you live.
In most parts of the Americas, the leaves and stem, or the fresh part of the plant is called cilantro (a Spanish word for coriander). The dried seeds are called coriander.
However, as we move out of the American continent, both the leaves and the seeds go by the same name.
For example, the stem and leaves are called coriander, and the seeds are simply known as coriander seeds.
Anyways, due to the distinct taste and uses of both, they are now widely known as cilantro and coriander, as is most people will know what you mean.
Fresh vs. dried cilantro
Well, here’s a fun fact! Cilantro becomes milder as you dry it, completely opposite to other herbs that become more potent after drying.
Dry cilantro doesn’t have that fresh, lemony, and peppery taste compared to fresh cilantro. Additionally, the smell also isn’t that potent.
This is the reason why fresh cilantro is always preferred over dried one. I would highly recommend never using dried cilantro. It just doesn’t “click”!
Best substitutes for cilantro (fresh coriander)
Whether you are in a love-hate relationship with cilantro or just want to experiment with your recipes, there are a bunch of cilantro substitutes at your disposal.
Here, it’s important to mention that each of the substitutes has a different flavor and might not even be a perfect fit for every dish.
However, once you know the type of taste and texture you want in your dish, it becomes so much easier to pick the ideal herb.
That being said, the following are some of the best cilantro substitutes you might want to try out!
Fresh cilantro has a robust, citrusy taste that complements almost every dish, from soups to veggies and anything in between.
If you have run out of fresh cilantro or want to add a good twist to your recipes, the following are some cilantro substitutes you can try out now!
Italian parsley (flat-leaf parsley)
Have you ever mistaken parsley for cilantro in the superstore? Well, I’m not surprised, and you’re not the only one.
No kidding, Italian parsley and cilantro almost look identical. Moreover, they share relatively similar flavors, having a peppery taste with hints of citrusy notes.
The only thing that distinguishes parsley from cilantro is the slight bitterness in its overall taste.
However, that shouldn’t worry you. It still brings some of the best and most aromatic flavors out of every dish, especially veggies.
Moreover, you always have the option to mix it with Thai basil and oregano to make it taste even more similar to fresh cilantro.
If you don’t have flat-leaf parsley, curly parsley would also work.
Italian parsley usually goes great with roasted/grilled vegetables, roasted potatoes, soups, stews, and pasta.
Besides, parsley is also great for health. It is rich in vitamin C and antioxidants that are great for health.
All in all, the best cilantro substitute in every department.
Thai basil has a licorice taste that is a little sweet, with a hint of spiciness that makes it unique compared to other herbs.
However, this uniqueness is one of the many factors that make basil a great alternative to fresh cilantro.
Apart from the signature peppery taste, it also gives a great aroma to your food, with the lemon-ish and herbaceous notes being quite conspicuous.
You can use it as a salad garnishing or topping for your favorite pizza and pasta. Besides, It’s one of the most sought-after ingredients for various sauces as well.
Thai basil also has a bunch of medical benefits. It contains a lot of antioxidants and has anti-cancer, anti-viral, and antibacterial properties.
Overall, a good cilantro substitute, although it has a taste far from similar to cilantro, can complement several meals to quench your cravings.
You can call mint the younger brother of cilantro. In the south Asian countries, mint is used to substitute cilantro in many recipes, whether it’s the infamous biryani, chaat papri, or just a simple curry.
The practice is now widely spread across the globe, and mint is now considered one of the best cilantro substitutes in many dishes.
Fresh mint has a very refreshing flavor and smell, a subtly sweet taste, and a lingering cool effect and aftertaste. The high point is the scent, though. It just makes the dish smell so much better.
You can add fresh mint to many things, including vegetable salads, pesto, salsas, marinades, and sauces.
There are also a lot of health benefits of mint. It is a rich source of nutrients and helps to improve irritable bowel syndrome, brain function, and relive ingestion.
The first thing to know about dill leaves? It tastes nothing like cilantro. The second thing? Whatever it tastes like, it tastes downright amazing.
Dill has a sweet taste with a subtle hint of citrusy notes and grassiness. These flavors combined impart some exciting flavors to your dishes.
However, be a bit careful with it. It’s much more pungent compared to cilantro. Thus, you would like to be less generous while sprinkling it on your food.
It’s also an excellent consumable for reducing LDL cholesterol and improving heart health.
Papalo has a taste somewhere between cilantro and cucumber and is one of Mexican cuisine’s most commonly used herbs.
You can use it in any Mexican dish as a substitute for cilantro, including tacos, guacamole, and carnitas.
However, bear in mind that the flavor of papalo is quite intense and should be used carefully.
Usually, for every spoon of cilantro, you would like to use about 1/3 tablespoon of papalo.
Like many of the other herbs mentioned in this list, papalo too has a bunch of health benefits, including helping with blood pressure, stomach disorders, and treatment of liver alignments.
Be it Italian cuisine, most Asian recipes, Latin American dishes, or even Mexican dishes, all have one thing in common! And that is oregano.
Oregano doesn’t have that signature citrusy and peppery cilantro flavor like dill. However, mixing it with additional fresh herbs and a bit of lime juice can give it that zesty flavor you crave.
Like fresh cilantro, oregano is also quite versatile and goes great with several dishes. These include lamb, chicken, seafood, eggplants, and even potatoes.
Additionally, It’s a major ingredient of tomato sauce and a replacement for many other herbs, including basil, etc. Not to mention its health benefits.
Fresh oregano is rich in antioxidants and antibacterial agents. Regular use of oregano helps protect against different infections and helps in proper bowel movements.
It’s certainly not the ideal substitute for cilantro due to its totally different flavor profile. But hey, as you may have heard, “a drowning man will clutch at a straw.”
In this case, it’s not straw but a bunch of celery leaves. Roughly resembling a cilantro plant except for the thick stalks, celery leaves taste conspicuously peppery and have an intense flavor.
They go great with a bunch of cooking dishes, including soups, stews, meat dishes, and casserole. You could also use it with roasted vegetables, but it isn’t often considered the best combination.
Although mild, tarragon tastes almost similar to cilantro when mixed with a couple of other ingredients like garlic, basil, and fennel.
Here, it’s also important to mention that the use of tarragon is limited to just a few recipes. Usually, it goes excellent with stir-fried or roasted veggies, chicken, and salmon recipes.
Nevertheless, tarragon is a very healthy cilantro substitute. It has proven health benefits such as blood sugar reduction and improvement in sleep, appetite, and heart health.
Best substitutes for coriander seeds
Coriander seeds are a step-down version of fresh cilantro, with a completely different taste and more potency.
Though its uses are relatively different from the fresh herb, it’s still an essential ingredient in many recipes.
Following are some of the best substitutes for dried cilantro you might want to have a look at:
Curry powder is one of the many herb and spice blends to fill in for coriander seeds.
It contains a mixture of turmeric, coriander, chili, and ginger. All these herbs and spices combined can enhance the flavor of just about any recipe that requires coriander or even cilantro.
Another advantage of using curry powder is its versatility. You can use it to flavor a number of dishes, whether it’s soups, veggies, -sauces, stews, meat, or even marinade.
Moreover, as curry powder is essentially a mix of natural ingredients, you get the combined health benefits of all. Curry powder helps in cancer prevention, digestive health, and heart function.
‘Garam masala’ is an Urdu word that translates as ‘hot spices.’ And believe me when I say this, it’s the uncrowned king of Indian spices. It is used in almost every dish you can find in Indian cuisine.
Garam masala is a spice mix that contains many potent ingredients, including cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, peppercorns, mustard seeds, cloves, mace, and nutmeg.
Just like coriander seeds, garam masala should be used as one of the ingredients in the cooking process.
This will ensure that the hot and potent flavors of the spice blend are fully cooked and infused into the dish. Undercooked garam masala could literally ruin a dish.
Apart from that, garam masala is pretty versatile and could be used for many dishes. I like to use it when making curries, vegetable dishes, soups, and stews.
Occasionally, I also put a pinch of it when making stir-fries. The aroma is just otherwordly!
Ah! Another favorite of mine, cumin, is another tastemaker you cannot miss. And that’s not an exaggeration, but an experience.
But before I tell you anything more about this unique spice, know that its flavor profile is different than that of coriander seeds.
Cumin has a nutty and subtly bitter flavor that adds magically mouthwatering flavors to your dishes.
Apart from being an infamous dried cilantro and coriander seeds substitute, you could also use it in place of oregano, coriander seeds, dried parsley, and other dried herbs.
Although the use of cumin is pretty ubiquitous in south Asian cuisine, it is also commonly used in some Latin American and Mexican dishes, most famously in tacos.
Well, not my all-time favorite and certainly not the super-best recommendation, caraway seeds would still suffice if you are out of options.
The flavor of caraway is different than dried coriander leaves or seeds. It has a subtle hint of sweetness to it with a relatively nutty flavor.
It is usually used in hot and sour foods like stews, meat, and pickles, while also being a major ingredient of baked foods.
Using it carefully will add some decent flavors to your dishes without affecting their real taste drastically.
Why you might not like cilantro
Well, two things might explain your dislike for cilantro. The first is your general geographical location. And second, your biology.
Don’t know about either? Let me tell you!
Your geographical location
Now I understand how ridiculous it sounds to conduct research on whether someone in South Asia likes cilantro compared to someone from the US. But then again, researchers are curious people.
Anyways, the research found that the number of people with a dislike for cilantro, though small, is undoubtedly there. The percentage of people disliking significantly varies from region to region, though.
According to the research data, 21% of people who dislike cilantro are of East Asian descent, 17% of European descent, and 14% of African descent.
The number is significantly small when we move to regions such as South Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, where it stands at 7%. That’s because most of the dishes in these places are incomplete without fresh herbs.
It’s in your blood
Again, I know this sounds ridiculous, but it is what it is! A genetic survey conducted in 2012 suggests that the dislike for coriander might be due to the presence of the ORA62 gene.
The ORA62 is a variant of the gene that codes for the olfactory receptor that picks up the smell of aldehydes, a chemical commonly and so generously contained within cilantro and soap.
The presence of the aforementioned gene variant might make someone hypersensitive to the presence of aldehydes.
This is by far the most solid reason why some people can’t stand cilantro. And perhaps, it’s also a good explanation for why they compare fresh cilantro with soap.
So, the next time the smell or taste of cilantro makes you throw up, you can curse your ancestors. The problem is not cilantro but your genes.
Love it or hate it, you cannot ignore it! Talk of any cuisine in the world, the use of fresh cilantro is almost inevitable. You’ll find it complementing different dishes in different forms.
It can be a sprinkle on top of chaat or a mix of chutney from the Indian cuisine, a sauce ingredient for your favorite ribeye steak from American cuisine, or a primary ingredient in tacos, enchiladas, and stews from the Mexican cuisine.
However, if you don’t like cilantro, or simply can’t get your hands on it, it would be great to know what to use in its place.
Cilantro can be substituted with various spices, each with its own unique flavor profile and set of benefits.
Whether you’re looking for a similar taste or something that will add new flavors to your dish, there’s definitely a substitution out there for you.
In this article, we discussed all the possible fresh and dried herbs that you could use as an alternative to cilantro and coriander seeds.
Next time you host a dinner party and one of your guests can’t stand cilantro, you know just what to use instead.
Also read my full guide on how to substitute lemongrass if you can’t find it for your recipe
Check out our new cookbook
Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.
Try it out for free with Kindle Unlimited:Read for free
Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.