Love it or hate it, cilantro is one of the most popular fresh herbs in the kitchen. But because of its unique grassy flavor and citrusy aroma, cilantro can be one of the more complex herbs to substitute. If you are trying to substitute cilantro in a recipe, don't sweat. Instead of simply swapping herb for herb, you may need to use two herbs or add a squeeze of acid to recreate its robust flavor.
So to help you find the best cilantro substitute, we're breaking down everything you need to know about the leafy green herb— including the reason why you may hate cilantro. Whether you are looking to substitute fresh or dried cilantro, we have a ray of selections below.
What Is Cilantro?
Cilantro refers to the leaves and stems of the coriander plant, more formally known as Coriandrum sativum. As its long-stemmed, flat-leafed appearance would suggest, the versatile herb is a member of the parsley and carrot family, and it's often referred to as Chinese parsley, Mexican parsley, or fresh coriander leaves.
What Does Fresh Cilantro Taste Like
Cilantro has a pungent aroma and bright flavor that adds just the right amount of zing to everything from pico de gallo to steak marinade. However, while the fresh herb contains citrus and pepper notes, these bold flavors quickly fade when cooked or dried.
Fresh cilantro is commonly available in bunches and can be found in the produce section of most grocery stores. Because its leafy appearance can be easily confused with parsley, you should always do a quick double-check before tossing it in your cart.
Thanks to its unique taste, fresh cilantro is a signature ingredient in numerous cuisines across the globe. It's frequently used in Mexican cooking in flavorful salsa, guacamole, and cilantro lime rice and is often sprinkled on top of tacos, enchiladas, carnitas, and other Mexican dishes as a garnish. Cilantro is also used in Caribbean, North African, Mediterranean, Eastern European, and South Asian cuisine.
Why Do I Hate Cilantro?
But perhaps the most interesting thing about cilantro is that it tastes different to different people, all thanks to a specific gene: OR6A2, a receptor gene that codes messages from aldehyde chemicals. Scientists at Cornell University discovered that individuals with this unique genetic trait think cilantro tastes like soap— which, interestingly enough, often contains aldehyde chemicals.
If you aren't exactly a fan of the taste, try crushing the fresh cilantro leaves before adding them to your guacamole or salsa or using them to garnish your dish. A Japanese study found that crushing the leaves releases an enzyme that helps to reduce aldehyde levels for a milder, less soapy flavor.
The Good News: You Can Actually Train Yourself To Go From Cilantro Hater To Lover
For many people who hate cilantro, it is usually due to the way their brain is programmed. For example, if a new and unfamiliar flavor/scent doesn't fit what we have experienced already, we are more likely to categorize the new experience as "unpleasant."
The good news is you can try to ignore and overpower the experience by gradually turning it into a positive association. While you don't have to dive in, surround yourself with people who enjoy the herb and create a positive association. Then slowly add it to your diet.
The Best Substitutes for Cilantro
Dried Cilantro For Fresh And Vice Versa
Dried cilantro and fresh cilantro have distinct differences in flavor, texture, and intensity. Dried cilantro makes a great fresh cilantro substitute, and vice versa.
Dried cilantro has a more concentrated flavor compared to fresh cilantro. Keep in mind that the drying process alters the flavor profile, and dried cilantro may not provide the same freshness as fresh cilantro.
As a general rule, you can use one-third to one-fourth of the amount of dried herb when substituting for fresh cilantro. For example, if a recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of fresh cilantro, you can use 1 tablespoon of dried cilantro.
While no fresh herb can add quite the same zing as cilantro, Thai basil can come pretty close. The purple-stemmed leafy herb is a close relative of the Italian sweet basil that you're probably familiar with seeing spread on your pesto pasta or sprinkled on top of your pizza and is a staple in Southeast Asian cooking.
Thai basil has a distinct flavor characterized by its sweet, anise-like taste with hints of licorice. While it differs from cilantro's herbal and citrusy taste, it can still contribute a vibrant and aromatic element to your dishes.
Coriander seeds can be used as a substitute for fresh cilantro leaves in certain dishes when you want to capture cilantro's herbaceous and citrusy flavor. Coriander seeds are derived from the same cilantro plant (Coriandrum sativum), but they possess a distinct flavor profile due to being dried seeds.
To use coriander seeds as a substitute, you can crush or grind them to release their flavor. The flavor of coriander seeds is warm, earthy, and slightly citrusy, with a hint of sweetness. While coriander seeds don't provide the same fresh and green taste as cilantro leaves, they can impart a similar underlying flavor to your dishes.
Coriander seeds work particularly well in recipes that involve cooking or require a longer cooking time, such as stews, soups, and marinades. The heat helps to release and infuse the flavor of the seeds into the dish. You can also use coriander seeds as a seasoning or spice in spice blends, curries, and roasted vegetables.
Vietnamese Coriander/ Vietnamese Cilantro
Vietnamese Coriander, also known as "Rau Răm" or "Persicaria odorata," can substitute cilantro in dishes that require a similar fresh and herbaceous flavor with a hint of citrus. Vietnamese cuisine often incorporates this herb as a cilantro alternative, especially in soups, salads, and spring rolls.
The Vietnamese coriander has a slightly spicy and peppery taste, resembling a combination of cilantro and mint. Its unique flavor can bring a distinctive twist to your dishes, especially if you enjoy the vibrant and aromatic notes found in cilantro.
Flat leaf parsley
Because parsley and cilantro are closely related, fresh parsley is one of the best cilantro substitutes. The zippy of fresh parsley helps bring out the freshness of other ingredients in the dish— especially when paired with a squeeze of lemon or lime juice that helps to mimic cilantro flavor.
Additionally, thanks to its similar appearance, Italian parsley makes good fresh cilantro substitutes in recipes that call for the herb as a garnish. Making this the best substitute garnish on top of a soup or stew.
Cumin is not typically considered a substitute for cilantro in terms of flavor. Cilantro has a bright, citrusy, and slightly herbaceous taste, while cumin has a warm, earthy, and slightly spicy flavor, and they have distinct flavor profiles that are not interchangeable.
Cumin can be a fantastic complement to cilantro in various dishes, enhancing the overall flavor profile. It is frequently used alongside cilantro in Mexican, Indian, and Middle Eastern cuisines. This versatile spice is an excellent cilantro substitute for meat dishes, curries, soups, and stews. Cumin adds depth and warmth to these preparations, making it a suitable alternative for dried cilantro or ground coriander seeds.
Mint can be a suitable substitute for cilantro in certain dishes, particularly when you want to add a fresh and aromatic element. While mint has a different flavor profile compared to cilantro, it can still provide a pleasant and herbaceous note to your recipes. In certain dishes, fresh mint leaves can serve as an alternative to dried cilantro.
Mint has a cool, fresh flavor, refreshing taste with hints of sweetness and a slight menthol undertone. It is commonly used in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Southeast Asian cuisines. Mint pairs well with ingredients like lemon, lime, cucumber, and yogurt, and it can bring a bright and uplifting flavor to dishes.
Celery leaves can serve as a decent substitute for cilantro in certain dishes, particularly when you want to add a fresh and herbaceous note. While celery leaves have a different flavor profile compared to cilantro, they can provide a similar green and slightly tangy taste.
Celery leaves have a mild and slightly bitter flavor with a hint of celery's characteristic taste. They work well as a substitute for cilantro in recipes where the herb is used as a garnish or to provide a fresh element. Salads, soups, stews, and some sauces are examples of dishes where celery leaves can be used in place of cilantro.
While celery leaves can offer a comparable visual appeal and a hint of herbaceousness, keep in mind that they lack cilantro's distinct citrusy notes.
Dill has a unique flavor that brings a refreshing and slightly tangy taste to dishes. When you desire a fresh and herbaceous element in your recipes, it can be used as a substitute for cilantro.
In recipes where cilantro is used for its fresh and herbal notes, such as salads, dressings, and seafood dishes, dill can be a suitable substitute. It can add a pleasant and herbaceous flavor to the dish, although it will have its own distinct taste.
Green onion, also known as scallion or spring onion, can be a suitable substitute for cilantro in certain dishes, particularly when you want to add a mild onion flavor and a fresh, crunchy texture. While green onion doesn't have the exact flavor profile of cilantro, it can provide a complementary element to your dish.
Green onions have a mild onion flavor with a hint of freshness. They are commonly used in Asian and Mexican cuisines and can work well in salads, stir-fries, soups, and as garnish. The green part of the onion offers a subtle onion taste, while the white part adds a slightly sharper flavor.
In recipes where cilantro is used as a garnish or to add a fresh element, green onions can be used as a cilantro substitute to provide a similar visual appeal and a hint of onion flavor.
Although it has a slightly different taste, arugula can bring a peppery taste and vibrant flavor to dishes. It can be used as a cilantro substitute when you want to add a touch of bitterness and a distinct green element.
While arugula may not provide the exact flavor profile of cilantro, it can still work as a substitute in certain recipes where you want to introduce a peppery note. For example, arugula can provide a similar green and slightly bitter touch in salads or as a garnish for sandwiches or pizzas. However, remember that it will alter the dish's overall taste.
Mixed Fresh Herbs
Another possible substitution for cilantro is to combine a number of different herbs that bring their own unique depth and interesting flavor notes to the recipe. Try starting with a blend of herbs like fresh Italian parsley, basil, dill, tarragon, oregano, and other herbs, and adjust your ratio as your taste buds see fit.
While curry powder cannot exactly replicate the fresh and distinct flavor of cilantro, it can be used as a cilantro substitute in certain dishes to add a similar aromatic and complex profile.
Curry powder is a combination of different spices, including cumin, coriander, turmeric, fenugreek, and other flavorful ingredients. Its flavor is warm, earthy, and slightly spicy. While it doesn't taste exactly like cilantro, it can still provide a flavorful and aromatic dimension to your dishes.
Since cilantro is commonly used in curry-based recipes, incorporating curry powder can help maintain the essence of those flavors. It can work well in curries, stews, soups, and dishes with Indian, Thai, or Middle Eastern influences.