You’re at the grocery store, getting the ingredients for saag paneer, when…ugh…you realize they’re out of ground coriander. The aromatic, citrusy spice is tough to replicate, but there are a few other ingredients that will do in a pinch. If you’ve found yourself in this situation, read on for four coriander substitutes that will totally work.
Wait, what’s the difference between ground coriander, coriander seeds and cilantro?
If your head is spinning over the different options this spice brings to the table, you’re not alone. When a recipe calls for coriander but doesn’t specify which variation should be used, things can get tricky, but here’s your cheat sheet:
Ground coriander is the powdered spice you’re most likely to use when making a curry, jazzing up grilled meat or adding flavor to roasted veggies. It’s a staple in Indian and Middle Eastern dishes and kitchens. But where does ground coriander come from? Coriander seeds, typically sold dried, are often used in pickling blends and bring a little spice to fermented vegetables, like kimchi. Finally, cilantro is actually the Spanish word for “coriander leaves.” (Confused yet?) Cilantro is the leafy part of the same plant, and it’s the stuff you’re used to chopping up and putting in your guacamole. (It’s also the herb that can taste like soap to some people—luckily, both ground coriander and coriander seeds have a mellower flavor.) It’s used widely in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking, as well as in Mexican, Latin American and South American dishes.
What can I substitute for each?
If you’re all out of coriander or just couldn’t find it at the store, there are a few ways you can create a very similar flavor profile with other ingredients in your pantry.
When a dish calls for ground coriander, there’s a good chance the recipe will include cumin as well. The two spices complement each other and have a similarly nutty, spicy quality. Cumin is more aggressive and will more than make up for coriander’s flavor, so be sure not to go overboard when adding a dash more to your Moroccan-style pasta Bolognese. (Unless you’re really into it, in which case, go nuts.)
Like coriander, caraway comes in both whole seeds and a ground powder. It tastes so similar to coriander that it’s almost impossible to tell the difference (well, for us, anyway). Technically, caraway has a teeny hint of extra sweetness to it, but swapping it in for coriander in a dish like saag paneer is an easy fix in our book.
3. Garam masala:
This spice is particularly useful to have on hand if you’re cooking an Indian dish. Garam masala is a combination of earthy flavors like peppercorn, coriander, cloves, cumin, cinnamon and bay leaves. This flavor profile is different from pure coriander, so use a light hand when subbing it into your slow-cooker chicken tikka masala.
4. Curry powder:
This is another blend of spices, not a singular spice in and of itself. Lots of curries include herbs and spices like turmeric, chili powder, coriander, garam masala, cumin and cardamom. Adding a dash to any recipe that needs that coriander kick—like this chickpea and veggie coconut curry—will work nicely.
Why do these two herbs look and smell so similar? Parsley and cilantro are actually from the same plant family. If you’re someone who can’t stand the taste of cilantro, toss in some parsley—but don’t overdo it. This herb is slightly more bitter than cilantro and will be more noticeable in your food. (And yes, you can add it to guac.)
Italian basil comes in handy when you’re making pesto, or if you want to add an aromatic element to a dish that can handle a little sweetness. If you’re lucky enough to have a grocery store that stocks Thai basil, load up—the herb is way closer in flavor to cilantro because it’s a little more bitter than its sweet Italian cousin. Want some inspiration? You can use either cilantro or Thai basil in these Thai beef bowls with rice noodles.
3. An herb mixture:
If you’re making a huge pot of stew, rummage through your crisper drawer and get creative. Have a couple sprigs of chives? A few tarragon leaves? Some leftover parsley and a stem or two of rosemary? Chop it all up and throw it into the pot. Some of these flavors are similar to cilantro and some definitely aren’t (we’re looking at you, rosemary), but when making something with layered flavors like this lentil soup, the cilantro was never going to be a standout in the dish anyway. Adding a blend of herbs will give your dinner some interest—but remember, just like eye shadow, less is more.