Cilantro vs. Coriander: Is There Actually a Difference?

cilantro vs coriander

Sure, you know the difference between shallots and onions, but the cilantro vs. coriander debate is a bit more nuanced—and in some cases the distinction between these two ingredients has more to do with nomenclature than anything else. So, what’s the deal with these closely-related cooking staples? Read on for a simple breakdown that will bring clarity and confidence to your future culinary adventures. 

What is cilantro? 

Cilantro is the Spanish name for a plant that belongs to the Apiaceae family—a diverse bunch that includes fennel, cumin, parsley and celery (to name a few). More specifically, both cilantro and coriander come from the very same plant: Coriandrum Sativum. But since nobody wants to casually utter that scientific mouthful on the regular, that brings us to our practical definition of cilantro. Per the experts at On the Gas, cilantro typically refers to the leaves of the plant (i.e., the fresh, herby stuff) that is frequently used raw as a garnish for soups, curries and tacos (not to mention an essential component of guacamole).

What is coriander?

Prized for its warming, slightly citrusy flavor profile, this spice frequently makes an appearance in Indian cuisine (like in this aloo gobi recipe or this saag paneer), as well as Latin American and Spanish dishes. So, be it powdered or whole, from whence does this aromatic spice hail? Yeah, we already told you: Coriandrum Sativum (i.e., the leafy herb that brings us cilantro). But here’s the difference according to On the Gas: Coriander refers to the seeds, not the leaf of the plant. As such, you will often find coriander ground into a fine powder or sold as whole, dried seeds.

So, why the confusion?

Ah, good question. So, here’s the thing: coriander and cilantro are hard to mistake in the United States because, by and large, we give the Spanish name (cilantro) to the leaves and the plant name (coriander) to the seeds. It’s an entirely different story across the pond in the United Kingdom and in other places like Australia where the word cilantro seldom makes an appearance, and coriander is typically used across the board. However, you can breathe a sigh of relief if you’ve made it this far because in countries where coriander applies to both leaf and seed, a parenthetical distinction will likely be made on the product itself. Also, if it’s not, you can always just use your senses to tell the difference between the green, leafy herb and the seed that has seen a pestle and mortar (or wants to).

Do they taste different?

Yep. While cilantro’s citrusy flavor is pretty controversial (it can taste like soap to some people), coriander seeds are much more mellow (think: warm, aromatic and slightly sweet). Coriander still has a hint of citrus in there but also a slight curry flavor. And while cilantro really packs a punch, coriander seeds tend to add a certain “I don’t know what” to a dish. 

Can I use cilantro and coriander interchangeably?

Because these two ingredients taste totally different, cilantro and coriander cannot be used interchangeably. Need a substitute for coriander? Cumin, caraway, garam masala and curry powder will do in a pinch. And if your recipe calls for cilantro, try subbing with parsley or basil.

Why You Need Coriander Seeds in Your Kitchen Cupboard

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Freelance PureWow Editor

Emma Singer is a freelance contributing editor and writer at PureWow who has over 7 years of professional proofreading, copyediting and writing experience. At PureWow, she covers...