Culinary Arts

What Is Coriander (Cilantro)? How to Cook With Coriander Seeds and Cilantro Leaves

Written by MasterClass

May 9, 2019 • 3 min read

As an herb, coriander has always warranted a strong reaction—people either love it or hate it—but it's a plant that is useful in its entirety—from roots to seeds and leaves. Ground into a fine powder or left whole, coriander seeds are a warm spice that can be added to sweet and savory dishes in cuisines from across the world.

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What Is Coriander?

Coriander is an aromatic plant (Coriandrum sativum) in the parsley family. The fresh leaves of the plant are commonly called cilantro or Chinese parsley, and have a strong citrus flavor. The dried seeds are used whole or ground as a spice in European, Asian, Latin, and Indian dishes.

Coriander seeds also yield a beneficial essential oil, which aids in digestion, skin ailments, and anxiety.

Where Does Coriander Come From?

Coriander is native to regions from southern Europe and North Africa to southwestern Asia. It is one of the oldest herbs and spices recorded in history. The plant has mentions in the Bible, while seeds have been discovered in ruins from the Bronze age.

What Does Coriander Look Like?

One of the easiest mix-ups in the produce section is between Italian flat-leaf parsley and coriander leaves (cilantro). While they look similar, you’ll find that coriander leaves are more delicate with rounded serrations.

What Does Coriander (Cilantro) Taste Like?

The coriander leaves should taste refreshing, tart, and citrusy. Coriander seeds are the plant’s dried fruit, which can be used whole or ground. Its flavor is earthy, tart, and sweet with a floral aroma that releases when toasted.

Cilantro vs. Coriander: What’s the Difference Between Cilantro and Coriander?

Cilantro and coriander are actually just two different words for the same plant. The plant itself is called coriander, and coriander seeds are the dried seeds from the plant. The fresh, leafy bunches you see in the produce department are the greens and stems of the plant. The leaves are known as cilantro in US, while elsewhere in the world they are called coriander.

5 Culinary Uses of Coriander

Coriander powder is a common ingredient in Middle Eastern cooking, often combined with cumin and cinnamon. The subtle, nutty flavor of coriander seeds works best when used in spice blends, helping to pull together complex flavors.

  • Egyptian cuisine. You’ll find it in Egyptian dukkah and garam masala, combined with spices like cumin, cinnamon, and fennel.
  • Thai curries. The pungent roots of the coriander plant are used to add depth of flavor to Thai curry pastes and stir-fries.
  • Mexican dips. The coriander leaves (or fresh cilantro leaves) have a bright, citrus-like flavor, which makes them an idea finishing herb in Mexican salsas and guacamoles.
  • Vietnamese pho. The warming broth blanches fresh cilantro leaves, providing texture to Vietnamese pho bowls.
  • Chinese stir-fry. Cilantro tempers the heat of spicy peppers and brightens the flavor profile of fried meats in this Chinese cuisine classic.

5 Recipes That Use Coriander Seeds

  • Homemade Dill Pickles are cucumbers that have been pickled in a brine. The brine is typically made from a mixture of water, vinegar and salt combined with spices like coriander, dill seed, and red pepper flakes.
  • Chicken Tikka Masala is an Indian dish that features chicken cooked in a creamy tomato-based curry sauce. Coriander, garam masala, chili powder, and turmeric are commonly used spices in this dish. Make the perfect chicken tikka masala here.
  • Carrot and Coriander Soup is made of a blend of carrots, onions, cilantro, and ground coriander. The vegetables are seasoned with the spice, then sautéed until soft, and simmered with stock until tender. The soup is puréed in a blender until smooth and creamy.
  • Egyptian Dukkah is a tasty mix of toasted nuts, seeds, and spices that can be used in many ways: as a dip with bread, sprinkled over eggs, and crusted on fish. Common ingredients in this condiment are coriander, sesame seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, nuts (pistachios, cashews, or pine nuts), salt, and black pepper.
  • All-Purpose Spice Rub can be used for grilling steak, chicken, fish and vegetables. A common blend of spices includes coriander, cumin, garlic powder, ground ginger, cinnamon, pepper, and paprika.

What Can You Substitute for Coriander?

  • Fennel, cumin or caraway seeds. If you’re out of whole coriander seeds, try replacing them with fennel, cumin, or caraway seeds.
  • Ground coriander. If a recipe calls for whole seeds but you only have ground coriander, swap out each teaspoon of coriander seed with ¾ teaspoon of ground coriander.