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What’s the difference between cilantro and coriander?

Updated: 
August 1, 2017 - 12:05am

Q: What is the difference between cilantro and coriander?

— Tom Bankovich, Riverview, Mich.

A: If there are ever confusing herbs, it’s cilantro and coriander. While both come from the same plant, they have different uses and tastes. Cilantro is the leaves and stems of the coriander plant. When the plant flowers and turns seed the seeds are called coriander seeds. Cilantro is also the Spanish word for coriander.

Fresh cilantro is used in many Asian and Mexican dishes — especially salsa. Both the soft feathery green serrated cilantro leaves as well as the stems are used in most dishes. In many Asian recipes cilantro might be referred to as Chinese Parsley or coriander leaves. At most grocery stores it will be labeled as cilantro.

Many people either love cilantro or loathe it. Those who loathe it find the flavor soapy, acrid or pungent. There are some references saying it’s a genetic thing with those who find cilantro’s flavor soapy. If you love it, as I do, the flavor is aromatic and citrusy with a slight peppery tone.

Use cilantro in salsa, spreads, pasta and noodles and more. It’s best to add the chopped leaves at the last or at the end of cooking. Once you’ve used all the leaves with stems, don’t toss the bottom stems. You can finely chop them, too, or use them in marinades, brines or poaching liquid. Sometimes you will find fresh cilantro with its root, which is also edible. It’s used in many Thai dishes.

The only bummer with cilantro is that it doesn’t last very long. It’s best to store a bunch like you would a bouquet of flowers. Place the bunch, stem side down in a mason jar with about 2 inches of water. Loosely cover the leaves with plastic wrap. It will keep about 5 days.

Coriander seeds are like tiny tan hued beads with ridges. They are used whole in pickling recipes or crushed or ground and used in many recipes including curries, rice dishes and soups. Coriander’s flavor leans more toward the warm spice category like cinnamon with nutty nuances. To intensify the flavor of coriander seeds, toast the seeds first. Place the seeds in a dry skillet and heat over medium heat until they become fragrant. This will take just a few minutes, so watch carefully so the seeds don’t burn. Once you toast them, crush them using a mallet or bottom of a heavy skillet. Or pulse them a few times in a clean coffee grinder.

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