The Difference Between Cilantro And Coriander, Explained

One herb, so much confusion about what to do with its leaves and stems, what its flavor is like, and much more.

It’s happened to us so many times. We’re cooking from a recipe, and suddenly it calls for coriander. But what’s it referring to? The dried herb you find in a bottle? Or are they actually telling you to use fresh cilantro, which is often referred to as coriander? Or is it something else entirely? And can you even find it in the U.S.?

There’s a lot of confusion surrounding this polarizing herb. Whether you love it or hate it, it’s time you got it all straight: coriander and cilantro are just two different words for the same exact plant.

A bunch of coriander (also known as cilantro, depending on your location).
MmeEmil via Getty Images
A bunch of coriander (also known as cilantro, depending on your location).

That herb pictured above is fresh coriander. Fresh coriander is used for its fragrant, citrusy leaves. It’s popular in Asian and South American cuisine. And fresh coriander is sometimes called by its Spanish name: cilantro.

Coriander is the term English speakers in the U.K. use to describe the herb ― it comes from the French word for this herb, coriandre. In the U.S., however, fresh coriander is referred to as cilantro. Folks have speculated that this is because the herb was made popular in the States through Mexican cuisine, where it is naturally called by its Spanish name. What we know for sure is that cilantro and coriander are two names for the same herb ― and both are correct.

A bowl of coriander seeds.
A bowl of coriander seeds.

And then there are coriander seeds. These also come from the same plant. You can find them whole or ground ― grinding your own whole seeds will result in better flavor ― and they should never be used interchangeably with the fresh leaves. Coriander seeds have a warmer, spicier flavor and are popularly used in sauces, curries and stews.

A look at all the parts of the coriander plant.
Franz Eugen Kohler Kohlers Medizinal-Pflanzen
A look at all the parts of the coriander plant.

You can also find dried coriander leaves, but they will never be as good as the fresh ones. And they’re not as flavorful, either.

Now that you know, go get yourself a bunch of the fresh stuff and use it to make some killer guacamole.

And now, to get you really confused, there’s another herb out there called culantro. That’s another herb entirely. Culantro is an herb that is native to the Americas and very popular in Caribbean cuisine. It is sometimes called sawtooth coriander or serrated coriander, but it has nothing to do with the coriander plant above.

The more you know!

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