What is Cilantro and How to Cook With It

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I was confused when I learned that two very different herbs, cilantro and coriander, come from the same plant.So what is cilantro then?” I was asking for ever, and I’ve finally figured it out.

What Is Cilantro?

Cilantro is a fresh herb used as a garnish and adds lemony, peppery flavor to many dishes like Mexican, Indian, and Asian cuisine.

Sometimes fresh cilantro is referred to as coriander leaves, Mexican parsley, or Chinese parsley.

Fresh Cilantro Versus Dried Coriander Seed

So here’s the deal. Cilantro and coriander are different herbs that come from the same plant.

Coriander seed is an herb made from the dry seeds of the cilantro plant, also sometimes known as the coriander plant. Cilantro and coriander differ in their taste. Cilantro’s dried seeds, called coriander seeds, taste citrusy like cilantro leaves, but coriander spice tastes more warm and spicy while the cilantro tastes more citrusy and refreshing.

What Does Cilantro Look Like?

Cilantro is an herb in the parsley family, usually used in cooking for its leaves and stems, and sometimes its roots.

The cilantro plant grows in temperate climates and has long, thin stems and leaves similar to flat-leaf parsley.

What Does Cilantro Taste Like?

Fresh cilantro tastes like lemons and black pepper. Its flavor is strong, and some people relate its flavor to soap. The soapy taste comes from the cilantro leave’s natural aldehyde chemical. Some people notice this taste more than others.

How To Cook With Cilantro

Cilantro is typically used as an ingredient in or garnish on savory foods.

Cilantro’s pungent flavor is at its height in the herbs fresh form.

To keep cilantro’s bright, lemon-pepper flavor, chop or tear both leaves and stems and with your hands, a knife, or a food processor, and use as an ingredient in cold foods or add during the last minute of cooking.

Beware that cilantro’s pungency may flavor-stain plastic kitchen tools like your food processor and plastic cutting board. But chop away! Here are our tips on How to Clean a Plastic Cutting Board.

I recommend topping or even stirring a handful of cilantro into your black beans made from our recipe on How to Cook Black Beans From Dried for Better Flavor. Try a cilantro pesto, and hit both Asian and Indian cuisines by combining fresh cilantro and lime juice in a variety of rice dishes.

Cilantro Pairings

Cilantro is delicious fresh in pesto and sauces made with nuts, seeds, legumes, peppers, or lemons.

Substitutions For Cilantro

There are several herb substitutions for cilantro if your fresh cilantro has become too wilty or dry, and you didn’t find any sprouting up like a weed in your back yard.

The closest match to cilantro is culantro, a close family member with a similar leaf texture and near-matching flavor. Use the exact amount of fresh culantro as a replacement of cilantro.

You can also use equal amounts of fresh tarragon, dill, or parsley as substitutions for cilantro. Just be aware that the flavors are a bit different for each of these.

Where To Buy Cilantro

Fresh cilantro is available in the refrigerated vegetable section of most grocery stores. You can often find it near salad dressings or other green leafy vegetables.

Choose fresh cilantro that has open-palmed leaves (not fisted or wilty-looking), and that stands up strong on its stems when you hold a bunch.

Though dried, chopped cilantro does not have much flavor and the fresh version is easy to find and use, dried cilantro can be bought in most grocery stores in the spice isle or online.

How To Store Cilantro

Fresh cilantro keeps for a couple of days in the fridge if whole. Keep your cilantro fresh for as long as possible by snipping off the tips of the stems and putting a bunch in a glass of cool water, covered with a plastic bag, and in the fridge. Chopped cilantro keeps in the fridge in an airtight container for a few hours.

Keeping your own cilantro plants is another way to preserve cilantro for a long time and take advantage of its fresh cilantro leaves and dried seeds, also called fresh coriander or cilantro seeds.

Frozen cilantro is easy to cook with, and lasts a long time. Finely chop or put a whole bunch in a freezer bag and keep for up to one month. To use frozen cilantro, break it up into small pieces with your finger or chop, and add to food frozen. It will quickly thaw on hot food and at room temperature.

Cilantro pesto can be frozen and used easily later. Pour homemade cilantro pesto into an ice cube tray and freeze for up to two weeks. To use, pop out a few cubes and thaw at room temperature, thaw in a saucepan, or stir through hot pasta or other foods.

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