Experimenting with flavors when you’re cooking is a good way to gain confidence in the kitchen and it’s also more fun than always following recipes. To increase your learning curve, it’s good to understand some of the common ingredients before you throw on the apron. Take, for example, parsley vs cilantro; could you tell the difference between these two herbs?
This article will compare parsley and cilantro (aka coriander) and highlight the key differences. At a glance, they are two herbs that can easily be confused and this is something you don’t want to do. Trust me on this one.
Special Note: This article refers to flat leaf parsley (also known as Italian parsley), not curly leaf parsley which has a very unique look that isn’t easily mixed up with other herbs.
Quick summary table
|Origin||Central Mediterranean area||South Western Asia through to Southern Europe and North Africa|
|Botanical name||Petroselinum crispum||Coriandrum sativum|
|Appearance||Long, thin stalks with flat green, pointy leaves||Long, thin stalks with flat green, rounded leaves|
|Flavor||Mild flavor with some subtle bitterness||Distinct flavor that some consider bright and lemony – to others, metallic and soapy|
|Popular uses||Garnishes, chimichurri, pesto, pasta, salads||Soup, salads, stir-fries, salsa verde|
Infographic Comparing Parsley and Cilantro
If you’re looking for a high impact flavor punch then cilantro will be your best weapon. It’s used in many Mexican dishes such as salsa verde; without it, the flavors would be quite bland.
Parsley has a subtle flavor which won’t overpower the other ingredients. It is excellent for adding some color to a chimichurri and texture to a pasta.
Comparing cilantro and parsley
These two herbs look very similar to the untrained eye. The hapless first-time cook could easily be forgiven for mixing them up at the supermarket! They both have long, thin stalks with flat green leaves.
How to tell them apart visually
The leaves are a giveaway. Parsley has more pointed leaves when compared to the rounded cilantro leaves.
P for pointed parsley.
C for curved cilantro.
The differences in aroma
If you’re still a little confused, the smell will help you differentiate the two. A mild aroma means you’re inhaling the scent of parsley. An overwhelming bright, lemony aroma means you’ve got cilantro.
Comparing the flavors
The biggest difference between these two herbs is the taste. You won’t have any difficulty telling them apart. Parsley has a very mild flavor with some subtle bitterness. This herb is an excellent addition to many dishes; it adds color, enhances other ingredients in the recipe and balances flavor. Parsley is a very common ingredient in Italian cooking for these reasons. In fact, in some parts of the world it is called Italian parsley.
Cilantro has a distinct, overpowering flavor that some consider citrusy – to others, metallic and soapy. It’s a divisive flavor that some love, others loathe.
How to use each herb in cooking
In most cases, the parsley leaves are chopped off and the stalk is discarded. The leaves are commonly used in Asian, Italian and Middle Eastern cooking. It works well as a garnish but can also be used to help season sauces, soups, casseroles and much more. Some common dishes using parsley include:
The entire cilantro plant can be used in cooking, including the stem and leaves. Flavorful Mexican and Indian cuisine benefits from this herb although you’ll need to get the ratios correct. A smidgen too much cilantro will overwhelm the dish and put it out of balance. Common uses for cilantro are:
- oil infusions
- salsa verde
How to store your herbs
- Slice off the end of the stalks with a sharp knife to help the water absorb into the stems.
- Add your herbs to a glass or vase then fill half way with water.
- Store away from direct sunlight or in the fridge for 10-14 days.
Nutrition comparison (/100g)
Can I use parsley instead of cilantro?
Parsley and cilantro have very different flavor profiles and have their own specific uses. Substituting one for the other is not recommended in most recipes.
When comparing parsley and cilantro the only similarity is their appearance. They are a similar size and color, with long green stems that have flat leaves. However, they are very different herbs when comparing their aroma, taste and uses in the kitchen.
It is vital to respect the potency or cilantro and also understand that it is a divisive ingredient. You could create the perfect salsa verde, but if the person eating it dislikes cilantro then it’s all for nothing.
The best option for at-home cooks is to simply buy a bunch of each herb and experiment with it. No doubt, you’ll have some failures; but that’s part of the fun when learning to cook without a recipe.