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What is Cilantro?

Cilantro is a fragrant herb characterized by its citrusy, peppery undertones. Typically added towards the end of the cooking process to preserve its bold flavor, here we dive into its specifics and discuss what makes cilantro unique.

Raw Cilantro Bunch set on a light-colored linen.

What The Heck Is Cilantro?

Cilantro is a vibrant green, flat-leaf herb known in cooking for its pungent, lemony, peppery leaves. You’ll find it sold in bunches in the produce aisle, and if you’ve ever mistaken it for parsley, you’re not alone. In fact, cilantro is part of the family Apiaceae, which also includes herbs like parsley, fennel, and dill. Cilantro’s flavor, however, is unlike any other. Today, I’m giving the lowdown on cilantro: what it is, its benefits, and how it’s used in recipes.

What Does It Taste Like? 

Cilantro leaves have a strong, lemony, peppery taste. Depending on who you ask, the flavor is even described as soap-like. Technically, that’s not wrong. The leaves contain natural aldehyde chemicals similar to the ones used in soap. The seeds of the plant are much milder, with a nutty, spicy taste. When paired with the right flavors, the leaves and seeds give loads of dishes a bright, fragrant kick.

Is Coriander the Same Thing?

Coriander and cilantro are different names for the same herb. In North America, the leafy part of the herb is usually considered cilantro, while the dried seeds are referred to as coriander seeds. It’s also known in some parts of the world as Chinese parsley.

Cilantro Vinaigrette Coleslaw garnished with fresh cilantro leaves in a bowl.

Cilantro In Cooking

Cilantro is widely used as an aromatic herb and as a garnish. If you love Mexican food, there’s a good chance that you know it already! Cilantro brings bright, spicy, citrusy notes to tacos, salsa, and guacamole and authentic flavor to Mexican chicken pozole verde and Latin American dishes like sancocho Dominicano. It’s also a staple in Indian curries and chutneys, Central Asian dishes, and Middle Eastern and Northern African recipes, along with spices like cumin.

Health Benefits

Like its relative parsley and others in the Apiaceae family, cilantro is a powerful disease-fighting herb. The leaves and seeds are full of immune-boosting antioxidants and polyphenols, which help with inflammation. It’s also a good source of vitamins C and A, as well as vitamin K, which supports bone health.

Cilantro Substitutions

Here is a list of some common substitutes for cilantro:

Parsley

  • The flavor of parsley is milder and more versatile than cilantro. The plants look very similar, so you can easily substitute parsley as a green garnish in a recipe that calls for it. However, because the flavors are very different, parsley may not be the best choice to replace large amounts of cooked or fresh cilantro.

Thai Basil

  • Like cilantro, Thai basil has a pungent, herbaceous taste, though the flavor is more savory, spicy, and licorice-like. It makes a good substitute for cilantro in curry dishes and Asian-style recipes.

Dill 

  • Fresh dill makes a good substitute for cold dishes, like salads. Since dill has a stronger flavor, you can get away with using less. You can use half of the amount of chopped dill in place of cilantro in recipes.

Lemon and Lime

  • In a pinch, a squeeze of lemon or lime can mimic the zesty, citrus flavor of cilantro. This works mostly when you add it at the very end of a recipe or right before serving, much as you would with fresh cilantro leaves.
Close-up shot of fresh Cilantro.

How to Cut Cilantro

Once it’s removed from the plant, cilantro doesn’t stay fresh for long. It spoils quickly, so you’ll need to keep it in the fridge between uses. Here’s how to cut cilantro:

  • Wash. Don’t wash your cilantro until you’re ready to use it. Before chopping, gently rinse the leaves and stems with cold water, then carefully pat them dry with paper towels. 
  • Cut the stems. Next, move the cilantro to a cutting board. Bundle it together with the stems and leaves lined up. Using a sharp knife, cut off the long stems just below the leaves. Afterward, you can pick through the leftover leaves, separating out any larger stems.
  • Chop the leaves. Now, it’s time to chop up the leaves. Use one hand to bring the leaves together and bunch them up (gently!) on the cutting board. With your knife in the other hand, carefully run it through the leaves in an up-and-down motion to chop them.

How to Store Cilantro

It’s best to store cilantro unwashed and unchopped. To keep it fresh, place the stems in a glass of water in the fridge, with the leaves covered loosely in a plastic bag. This way, it should keep for up to 1 week, and you can snip off the leaves as needed.

15 Recipes That Use Cilantro

You’ve passed Cilantro 101 with flying colors! Now, it’s time to put cilantro to good use with these easy recipes.

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Juicy Cilantro Lime Chicken

Boneless chicken thighs are soaked in zesty cilantro-lime marinade and pan-seared in this Southwest-style recipe. The chicken comes out unbelievably tender and juicy, and so full of flavor!
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Creamy Cilantro Chipotle Chicken

This easy chicken breast recipe has it all: fresh cilantro, tender, pan-seared chicken, and a mouthwatering creamy sauce with chipotle peppers and adobo sauce to give it a hefty kick.
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Breakfast Burritos

These delicious, make-ahead friendly breakfast burritos are all kinds of flavor rolled up inside a flour tortilla! I make this recipe with fluffy scrambled eggs, beans, crispy potatoes and bacon, plus Mexican-inspired fixings like avocado, melty cheese, and salsa made with fresh cilantro.
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Salmon Tacos with Mango Salsa

Get your daily dose of omega-3s at your next family taco night! These delicious salmon tacos are full of flavorful seasonings, topped with sweet-tangy mango salsa with avocado, then drizzled with zesty cilantro yogurt.
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Crispy Baked Falafel

Baked homemade falafel are the perfect vegetarian meal idea that you can really make your own! These crispy round fritters come together easily with a mixture of garbanzo beans, tahini, cilantro, and herbs. Serve them in a pita, or on their own dipped in your favorite sauce.
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Taco Bowls

Fully loaded taco bowls are an easy, healthy lunch or meal prep idea made with tasty taco toppings served over a bed of fluffy rice. I make mine with savory seasoned ground beef, plenty of veggies, and avocado with a generous sprinkle of fresh cilantro leaves.
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Air Fryer Fish Cakes

Fresh chopped cilantro brings a citrusy, herby kick to these easy homemade fish cakes made from flaky white fish and a hint of sweet chili. All it takes is minutes in the air fryer to cook these patties to golden, crispy perfection!
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Elote (Mexican Street Corn)

Turning charred sweet corn into Mexican street food-inspired elote is one of the best things you'll do this summer! Juicy corn on the cob is rolled in a creamy sauce made from mayo, Cotija cheese, chilies, and fresh lime. Sprinkled all over with cilantro, of course!
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Grilled Chimichurri Steak Skewers

Turn a bunch of cilantro into the freshest, zestiest Argentinian chimichurri to serve over perfectly grilled flank steak skewers. This easy beef kebab recipe is spicy, savory, and all-around delicious!
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Easy Shrimp Ceviche

If you're anything like me, shrimp ceviche is a must whenever I see it on a restaurant menu! Now, make your own at home with this boldly flavored ceviche recipe made from juicy shrimp tossed with diced veggies, jalapeños, and creamy chunks of avocado.
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A skillet of chicken thighs in sauce, with fresh herbs and lemon on the work surface.

Moroccan Chicken Tagine

Moroccan tagine, or tajine, is a flavorful dish that's named after the North African cookware it's prepared in. This easy chicken tagine recipe is a must-try! It's made with bone-in chicken thighs cooked in a savory spiced stew with carrots, chickpeas, and sweet dried apricots.
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Mojo Carne Asada

Trust me, this incredible mojo carne asada recipe needs to be on your grill ASAP. Bold, flavorful steak is soaked in a citrusy mojo marinade with beer and cilantro, and then grilled tender and juicy in this easy summer dinner idea.
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chicken korma served alongside some rice and topped with chopped cilantro.

Easy Chicken Korma

Creamy chicken korma garnished with fresh cilantro is my favorite curry! I love that it's so easy to make in my own kitchen. Tender pieces of chicken are cooked with onions and cashews in a rich gravy filled with cream and spices.
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Fresh Mango Guacamole

Not your average guacamole – sweet mango and green cilantro bring delicious pops of flavor to this easy dip recipe made with creamy avocado. Rounded out with jalapeños for a spicy kick, all you need is your favorite tortilla chips!
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Coconut Chickpea Curry

Craving a new meatless Monday idea? Look no further! Vegan coconut curry is rich and creamy and crazy easy to make, filled with toasted chickpeas. veggies, and warm spices.
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Still hungry? Visit the recipe finder for hundreds of healthy dinner ideas and recipes made with your favorite herbs and spices!

Sources: Health.com

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