Parsley Versus Coriander: How To Tell The Difference Between

Undoubtedly, you have both parsley (Petroselinum crispum) and coriander (Coriandrum sativum) in your cupboard, on your spice rack, or in your herb garden.

Flavorful and nutritious, they’re a staple botanical for any home chef, adding an irreplaceable quality to many cuisines. But – these two herbs can be incredibly confusing!

Parsley Versus Coriander How To Tell The Difference Between These Two Common Kitchen Herbs

Their many similarities, ranging from appearance, size, and smell, can make it really difficult to differentiate between the two. 

Accidentally substituting one for the other can make your cooking taste gross, and it’s a major dinner party faux pas. Thankfully, there are distinct differences between the two that will help you identify them and tell them apart.

This article will teach you all their differences, (some obvious and some not so obvious) so that you don’t end up mixing them up in the kitchen. 

Parsley Versus Coriander

Genetically, these two herbs are very similar, coming from the same botanical family, (called Apiaceae). Both herbs are heavily used as a seasoning in cooking, as they are cheap, accessible, and strongly flavored.

Parsley is used in British, Middle Eastern, and European cooking, and is thought to have originated from the Mediterranean basin, including North Africa and Turkey’s coast (hence its widespread use in this area).

Tastewise, it has a clean and slightly peppery vegetal taste, almost like mint without menthol, and with a touch of rich earthiness. 

Coriander (also known as cilantro, or Chinese parsley) is thought to have originated in Western Asia, and subsequently spread throughout Eastern Europe and Northern Africa.

Because of this, it is often used in Spanish, Mexican, Latin, Indian, Polish, and Czech cuisine, in recipes like spice rubs, marinades, sauces, curries, and soups.

Coriander is notably more citrus-flavored than parsley, much like lemongrass, with a herby undertone. Fun fact! Due to their genetics, some people think that coriander has a soap-like taste and consistency, but don’t have the same problem with parsley.

Taste can be a very subjective sense!

When comparing the taste of the two herbs, it is noted that parsley has a slightly milder, but more bitter taste than coriander. If you’re not totally sure which herb is which, when you can taste them both, and immediately know which is which. 

Strength Of The Herbs

Generally speaking, coriander has a much stronger flavor than parsley. This can have a dramatic effect on your food, and far less coriander is necessary for cooking than parsley.

If you’re looking for a more subtle, earthy, and almost minty taste, then parsley is the herb for you. Coriander is like strong, herby lemongrass, though smaller, newer leaves will be more tender, and subsequently have a milder flavor.

If you’re not sure which herb you have, smelling the leaves will give you a clue as to what they are — like its flavor, parsley’s smell is far less strong than that of coriander. To get a cleaner aroma, rub the leaves between your fingers. 

However, remember that both of these herbs produce a predominantly vegetable, grassy taste, with mint and lemongrass simply being nuanced undertones. 

The Shape Of The Leaves 

Another significant difference between the two botanicals is their physical structure. The parsley plant’s leaves are long and thin, with three leaves on each stalk, and each leaf ending in three finger-like serrations.

On the other hand, coriander also has three leaves that are far more rounded, making it look a bit more stout than parsley. Coriander also has smaller gaps between its leaves than parsley, making it look a little stunted in comparison. 

Color-wise, parsley might be a slightly darker green than coriander, which tends to be brighter.

This does depend on growing conditions though, so might differ throughout the growing season, or be dependent on whether your herbs have been imported from sunnier climes. 

If you fancy trying your hand at growing parsley or coriander yourself, make sure you are planting them in moist but well-drained solid, in sun to partial shade.

Bot herbs are annuals, meaning they will die back in winter, and you will need to resow them year on year to maintain an annual crop. 

Nevertheless, Both Are Delicious Garnishes

How you use parley and coriander is completely up to your personal preference; if you enjoy strong, lemony flavors, cilantro is for you, whereas parsley is for the more vegetal inclined.

As a garnish on food, cilantro can be too strong if used in too large a quantity, so be careful you don’t overpower the rest of your food. 

If you’re planning on using parsley as a garnish, it might be best to invest in some curly parsley, as it has a far milder flavor, and it looks a lot more visually appealing.

How To Use Dried Parsley And Dried Coriander

As anyone acquainted with the herbs and spices aisle of the supermarket will know, both parsley and coriander can be purchased dried in small glass jars.

This is a super cost-effective way to get these herbs into your kitchen and your cooking, with portions often costing mere pennies.

However, the flavor is majorly dulled down during the drying process, and although they rehydrate quickly, they lose their flavor again just as rapidly.

If you do plan on adding dried herbs to your cooking, make sure that they’re added right at the end of the cooking process, to maintain flavor. Adapt any recipes that require fresh herbs, by adding a larger quantity of dried ones.

Coriander’s soapy lime taste increases when dried, so only use the dried version of the herb, if you really enjoy this! To enjoy the herbs in their purest, tastiest form, it is best to experience them fresh…

How To Choose The Best Quality Fresh Herbs

If you don’t have the luxury of picking herbs from your backyard, choose bunches of fresh parsley and coriander from the store. Look for herbs that are fresh-looking and bright green, with no wilting, dry edges and discoloration.

Fresh herbs can usually be found at your local grocery store, or a nearby farmers market. 

Steer clear of any herbs with discolored spots, whether the spots are yellow, black, or white, as this can be caused by pests, old herbs, or even that the herbs have been grown without adequate nutrition (which will make them far less tasty).

Similarly, wilted herbs will not have the same flavor as their fresher compatriots. 

Ideally, fresh herbs should be kept with their stems in water, as you would with fresh flowers, so look for herbs stood in jars, or with wet stems that suggest they’ve only just been taken out of the water.

When you get the bunches of herbs home, make sure you store them stood up in a glass of water, to keep them fresher for longer. If you pop a plastic bag over the top of the herbs and change the water every two days., they will keep fresh for up to a week. 

Alternately, you can chop the herbs as finely or roughly as you would like, and store them in an airtight container in the freezer. 

If you can’t get your hands on any parsley, consider dill or chervil as a substitute. Basil or herb mixtures can be used as a substitute for coriander leaves.

Don’t be tricked into using coriander seeds as a replacement for the leaves if you don’t have any in the house – although they come from the same plant, they have distinctly different taste.

Coriander seeds lack the vegetal freshness of coriander, having a floral, near fruity taste when left whole, and a nutty taste when ground and roasted.  

As with all herbs (whether in chopped, paste, or dried form), parsley and coriander should be added near the end of cooking to preserve flavor.  

How To Prepare Fresh Parsley And Coriander

For parsley, wash the leaves of the herb, and chop the herbs either finely (for adding subtler flavor to cooked dishes), or coarsely, (for stronger flavor in garnishes and salads).

Don’t forget the stalks, either! They are true flavor bombs. Chop them finely and add them to dishes just as you would the leaves, or save them to make a stock with. 

Much like parsley, coriander can be prepared for recipes simply by shopping roughly or coarsely, depending on the recipe’s required flavor.

However, coriander paste can also be made to maximize the herb’s flavor – simply chop, grind up or blend the whole herb (stalks and all), along with any other spices.

Thai and Indian cuisines use coriander paste for making chutneys, dips, and marinades, alongside spices such as lime, Thai pepper, cumin seeds, and peanuts. 

Ensure that any chopped herbs are stored in the fridge or freezer, and are used rapidly, so they maintain freshness. 

Final Thoughts

These diverse herbs have a wide range of culinary uses, and are used in many global cuisines across the world. They may look similar to the untrained eye, but they have different flavor profiles.

Parsley is the more versatile of the two herbs, whereas cilantro creates a far stronger citrus-based flavor. 

Jess Smith
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