Parsley Vs Cilantro: A Kitchen Guide

Parsley Vs Cilantro: A Kitchen Guide

I use herbs actively in my cooking and have met many people who believe that parsley and cilantro are the same. I have had friends visit me and describe the ‘cilantro’ in my kitchen as unique and quite different. Ideally, what they try to paint a word picture of is parsley. There is a striking similarity in the appearance of cilantro and flat-leafed parsley. This can be confusing especially to people with limited knowledge in both herbs. In this article I discuss both herbs in details to help you understand how they are different.

Definitions: Parsley vs Cilantro

Parsley is scientifically known as Petroselinum crispum. Its origin is traced back to Southern Asia and the Mediterranean region. The herb comes in three varieties that include curly parsley, flat leaf parsley and the Hamburg parsley. In this article I will focus on the curly and flat-leafed varieties because they are the most common. Parsley belongs to the Apiaceae family which also features plants such as celery, fennel and carrots.

Cilantro/coriander is scientifically known as Coriandrum sativum. It is a herbal plant that is native to the Mediterranean region. Different communities from around the world use names such as Chinese parsley, coriander, dhania and Mexican parsley to refer to the same. Cilantro and coriander refer to different parts of the same plant.

The term cilantro describes the stem and leafy parts of the plant whereas coriander refers to the seeds or ideally the entire plant. All the parts of the plant are edible although there are different ways in which they are incorporated into culinary uses. Just like parsley, cilantro belongs to the Apiaceae family. Today, it is grown by large and small scale farmers in many parts of the world.

Appearance: Parsley VS Cilantro

Parsely vs cilantro
Image by Julius Machira (Parsley Vs Cilantro)

Describing the appearance of parsley brings the question of varieties into consideration. The curly-leaved parsley is also known as common parsley or French parsley. It is characterized by curly-edged/ruffled rich green leaves that produce a sweet grassy aroma. Curly-leaved parsley is mainly used for garnishing because of its subtle flavor and aroma.

Flat-leafed or Italian parsley features cilantro-like deep green leaves that are richer in flavor and aroma when compared to those of curly-leaved parsley. Therefore, it is primarily used for cooking.

Cilantro is a thin delicate herb that features broad, flat, parsley-like leaves on the lower parts and lacy asparagus-like leaves on the upper parts. Young cilantro plants are characterized by wide leaves throughout. The main differentiating factors between them and flat-leaved parsley are color, texture and aroma. Cilantro leaves are thin, shiny, highly aromatic and bright green in color.

Cooking with Parsley

As a herbaceous ingredient that offers both tangy and sweet hints, the culinary uses of parsley are vast and extensive. Its grassy taste finds its place in cuisines from all over the world. Italian parsley has a reputation of pairing well with garlic, poultry, lemon, beef, legumes, lamb, shrimp, eggs, carrots, cauliflower, mussels, asparagus and potatoes. It is widely used in soups, marinades, stews, salads, vegetable dips, and other forms of savoury preparations. Parsley blends well with herbs such as celery, sage, chervil, coriander and tarragon.

Cooking with Cilantro

Although there are some that find the aroma and flavor of cilantro intimidating and soapy, it fits in perfectly in a wide range of recipes. In fact, it is safe to say that cilantro is the most commonly used culinary herb. It adds a deep vibrant flavor to dishes and it is equally satisfying when used for garnishing.

 Cilantro is a critical ingredient in Mexican, Asian, Persian and Caribbean cuisines especially when used for preparation of recipes that involve meat, rice, legumes, sauces and vegetables.  Cilantro pairs well with peppers, mint, parsley, chiles, basil, dill, ginger, chervil and garlic.

Coriander Seeds do not substitute cilantro in recipes. They are rich in spicy notes that make the ideal for recipes that use ingredients such as cumin, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.

Growing Parsley and Cilantro in a Kitchen Garden

It is possible to grow parsley and cilantro in a kitchen garden. Parsley is propagated from planting seeds directly into well-drained and fertile soils. The seeds manifest slow germination rate but there are special treatment methods that are used to achieve proper and rapid germination.

 Cilantro thrives in regions that have cool weather conditions and well-drained, fertile soils. The seeds are sown directly into the soil but sometimes their germination rate can be very low. Good seeds take less than a week to germinate and young leaves can be harvested within five weeks after planting. Farmers maintain a constant supply of cilantro by sowing seeds after every few weeks.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Is coriander the same as cilantro? Is Coriander Cilantro?

Coriander and cilantro are different parts of the same plant. Cilantro is the green plant (leaves and stalks) whereas the term coriander refers to the seeds.  Both are edible but do no have the same flavor and aroma.

What does coriander taste like?

Coriander has a spicy, citrusy flavor that blends well with spices such as cumin, cinnamon and nutmeg. Accordingly, it is one of the ingredients used to prepare garam masala.

What does parsley taste like?

Parsley has a subtle lemony flavor. The flavor is more pronounced in flat leaf parsley.

What is another name for coriander?

As indicated earlier, coriander is also known as cilantro, Mexican parsley, dhania, or Chinese parsley in different regions around the world.

Is Cilantro good for you?

Cilantro is very good for your health because it is a rich source of vitamins A, C, E and K. These among other components are associated with reduced anxiety and stress, skin rejuvenation, neurological inflammation control, improved digestion and controlled blood sugar levels and many other benefits. 

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