As a home cook, you need to be quick on your toes when faced with an unexpected situation in the kitchen. That's why knowing what cilantro substitute to use in your recipe is important.
Cilantro is an herb used in many dishes, sauces, and marinades, so you can't just ignore the taste and aroma it brings to your recipe. Also, like with other ingredients, cilantro's taste or smell isn't for everyone, and some people are allergic to it.
Whether you suddenly run out of this flavorful herb or are serving someone who doesn't like it or can't consume it, my list of the best dried and fresh cilantro substitutes will be handy.
How Does Cilantro Smell and Taste Like?
Before we proceed with the list, we must have a good understanding of cilantro flavor and aroma.
This knowledge plays a significant role in answering the question, "What can you substitute for cilantro?" and what other ingredient you might need to add if you want to mimic the exact flavor profile of the herb or at least as close to it as possible.
The Cilantro Flavor
Fresh cilantro has a peppery flavor with a hint of a lemony or citrusy taste. Meanwhile, the dried herb has anise- or licorice-like, piney taste with hints of fresh mint, lemon, and peppery flavor.
However, some people claim that it has an unpleasant, soap-like taste, so they refrain from consuming anything with a strong cilantro flavor or even dishes with just a bit of cilantro.
The Cilantro Aroma
The fresh herb resembles the smell of a lemon with a bit of an earthy scent, while dried cilantro has a more subtle peppery, minty, citrusy, and piney smell. Like with the taste, some people find that cilantro's smell resembles soap's.
14 Best Cilantro Substitutes
Now you know that the distinct flavor of cilantro is a bit complex, so you must be careful when choosing what ingredient to replace it with. Based on my experience experimenting with many recipes requiring cilantro, below are my go-to dried and fresh cilantro substitutes.
9 Best Fresh Cilantro Substitutes
You can find many fresh herbs that can give your dish the same vibrant color as cilantro, but the following are my favorite when I need to replace cilantro in my recipe:
1. Dried Cilantro
Dried spices and herbs in your pantry have less concentrated flavor than their fresh counterpart. That's why it isn't surprising for some of you to think you can't substitute dried cilantro for fresh cilantro.
Well, it's your best option because they have similar flavors if you have them available in your pantry. However, when you substitute dry cilantro for fresh cilantro, it’s a good idea to add twice more than your recipe calls for.
Best for bread, bean dip, chutney, rice, soup, salsa, and tagines.
2. Fresh Parsley
Did you know that many people mistake cilantro for parsley and vice versa because of how similar they look? I’m not surprised at all because cilantro actually belongs to the parsley family.
But there is a slight difference in flavor. Although both cilantro and parsley have the same peppery taste, parsley lacks cilantro's bright, citrusy flavor and is more bitter.
When shopping for parsley, you'll find that there are two varieties available: the curly (Hamburg) and the flat (Italian) leaf parsley. The flat leaf parsley is more fragrant and less bitter than the curly variety, so it should be your top choice.
That said, whether you'll use the Hamburg or Italian parsley, substitute one cup of freshly chopped cilantro with one cup of chopped fresh parsley.
Pro Tip: To cut out some of the parsley's bitterness and add the missing citrusy taste and aroma, what I do is add lime juice to the chopped parsley. Just make sure you add only a little.
Best cilantro substitute in guacamole, salads, casseroles, and soups
3. Thai Basil
One of the most easily accessible herbs that work as a great substitute for fresh cilantro is Thai basil. Not only does it have the anise-like and citrusy zing and floral and citrus aroma, but it also pairs well with most ingredients used in dishes with cilantro.
Like with parsley, you won't need to adjust the amount required in your recipe. Just note that Thai basil has a slightly sweet flavor and a bit of spiciness. Hence, you need to reduce the amount of any spicy and sweet ingredients in your recipe.
Best for Southeast Asian cuisine, curries, and stir-fries.
4. Celery Leaves
Celery leaves might not come to mind when you're seeking the answer to "What is a substitute for cilantro?" This is understandable because most of us often throw the leaves away.
Take advantage of the similar appearance and fresh, lemony, peppery flavor profile of cilantro and celery leaves. Just make sure you choose the smaller, tender leaves instead of the large, fibrous ones.
In terms of measurement, you won't need to make adjustments when using freshly chopped celery leaves instead of freshly chopped cilantro.
Best for casseroles, purees, stews, soups, sauces, and meat dishes.
5. Fresh Dill
This fresh herb is a good cilantro substitute in some recipes because of its bright, citrusy, grassy flavor and aroma. It's one of the best options if you or the people you're serving food dislike cilantro's taste.
It has a stronger flavor than cilantro, so you must add only half the amount your recipe needs. It means that for one teaspoon of freshly chopped cilantro, you need to use half a teaspoon of dill.
Pro Tip: If you want to ensure you achieve the flavor profile your cilantro recipes need, add a small amount of dill and add more as and when needed.
Best for cold soups, dips, creamy sauces, salad dressings, and casseroles.
Yes, fresh mint doesn't have a similar taste to cilantro, but it also has slight earthy tones. Its strong minty taste and aroma will also bring the refreshing smell and taste that cilantro is known for.
This aromatic flavor profile is why you should reduce the amount required when replacing cilantro with mint leaves. I highly recommend following the 2:1 (cilantro:mint) ratio.
Pro Tip: When I use fresh mint as a substitute for fresh cilantro and feel like the mint smell and taste are too much, I add a splash of lime juice to the chopped herb.
Best for salad, taco, curry, Asian cuisine, and Latin American dishes.
7. Carrot Greens
The green leafy part of carrots will never cross your mind when trying to find the answer to "What is a substitute for cilantro?" because you usually discard it when cooking. Some of you are probably even unaware that it's edible!
Carrots belong to the same family as the cilantro plant, so it's one of the best substitutes for cilantro if you don't have any of the fresh herbs in this list. It has flavor notes resembling parsley and light sweetness that will give your recipe a well-balanced flavor.
You can use it fresh or cooked by following a 1:1 ratio.
Best for sauces, salads, casseroles, and soups.
From the sound of its name itself, you know that culantro has a similar taste and aroma to cilantro. It's a popular seasoning and garnish that belongs to the same plant family as cilantro. It is also a famous medicinal herb in Caribbean countries.
However, there are a few differences that you need to make a note of when using it in your recipes.
One is it has a much stronger flavor than cilantro, so you need to use less than your recipe requires. The measurement ratio I found that works best for many recipes is 10:1 (cilantro:culantro).
Pro Tip: If the amount of cilantro you need is in teaspoons, the best way to get the exact measurement is to use a weighing scale. One teaspoon is equivalent to 5g. As such, you need to substitute 5g of cilantro with 0.5g of culantro.
Another difference between these two fresh herbs is the timing of adding them to your dish. Culantro can handle heat better than cilantro, so add it halfway through your cooking. On the other hand, you must add cilantro leaves at the end of cooking so as not to overcook them.
While it has the closest taste and aroma to cilantro leaves, it's at the bottom of my list because it isn't easily accessible.
Best for stews and soups.
9. Papalo Leaves
Papalo isn't as popular as most of the other herbs on this list, but it's a common seasoning to flavor South American and Mexican dishes. Like cilantro, it's a bit challenging to find it, but if you can, consider adding it to your spice rack.
In terms of taste, it's a combination of cucumber and cilantro, but some find it's more of a combination of cilantro and arugula. Either way, you can use papalo leaves as a garnish or add them to your cilantro recipes at the end of the cooking process.
To replace cilantro with papalo leaves, you will need to reduce the amount; ideally, divide the amount of cilantro required by three.
Best substitute for cilantro in guacamole, carnitas, tacos, and other South American and Mexican dishes
5 Best Dried Cilantro Substitutes
Now, what can you substitute for cilantro when your recipe calls for the dried variety? Here are five of my recommendations:
1. Fresh Cilantro
Since you can substitute dried cilantro for fresh cilantro, you can definitely replace the dried herb with the fresh one. However, you will need to dehydrate the cilantro leaves by following these steps:
- Preheat your oven to 250F (C).
- While waiting, wash the leaves, allow them to dry, and remove the stems.
- Line your baking pan with parchment paper and place the cilantro, ensuring there's enough space between them.
- Once your oven is ready, place the pan on your oven's upper rack.
- Bake until the leaves appear crumbly or for 30 minutes.
- Remove the pan from your oven and allow the dried leaves to cool for about 10 minutes.
Best for soups and stews.
2. Dried Parsley
My above list of the best substitutes for fresh cilantro leaves answered, "Can you substitute parsley for cilantro?" with a yes. Thus, dried parsley is also a good dried cilantro substitute for some recipes.
The difference is the amount that you need to use. With dried parsley, you must use less than the required amount of dried cilantro. That is, for every tablespoon of cilantro, you must only use a teaspoon of dried parsley.
Best for soup, sauce, and dressing.
3. Coriander Seeds or Powder
Cilantro and coriander come from the same plant. Americans and Spanish call the coriander leaves cilantro, while the fruit is called coriander seeds. In other countries, the leaf is called coriander leaves (herb), while the fruits are known as coriander seeds and ground coriander spice.
Hence, the same amount of coriander seeds can give your dish a similar cilantro aroma and taste. You can add the whole seeds or slightly toast them and then grind them to a fine powder before using them.
Best for soups.
4. Caraway Seeds
While not as easily accessible and affordable as cilantro, caraway belongs to the same family as the coriander plant. Thus, it has almost the same flavor profile as cilantro and coriander, so you will need the same amount of caraway as the cilantro required.
I want to note that caraway has a less peppery taste than cilantro because of the slightly sweet aftertaste. That's why I highly advise removing any sweet ingredients or reducing the amount of which in your recipe. This way, you won't end up with a dish with an unbalanced flavor.
Also, caraway can enhance the flavor of spicy elements in your dish, so you also need to reduce the amount of these ingredients.
Best for Indian dishes and spice blends, one-pot dishes, rye bread, potato salad, marinades, and dry rubs.
5. Cumin Seeds or Powder
Did you know that most recipes requiring cilantro also have cumin in their ingredients list? That's because these two herbs go well together! It only means that the ingredients that complement cilantro or cilantro complements can also perfectly blend well with cumin.
Yes, cumin is darker and has a warmer, spicier (peppery), and more bitter flavor than cilantro, but it has nutty tones that slightly mimic cilantro's earthy flavor.
To use as a cilantro substitute, follow a 1:1 ratio whether you're using seeds or powder form. If your recipe also lists cumin as an ingredient besides cilantro, you must add more cumin.
I suggest you add another one-fourth teaspoon of cumin for every teaspoon of dried cilantro. If it needs a more earthy and peppery taste and aroma, then you add a little more.
Best for Mexican dishes and Latin American dishes.
Cilantro Substitute FAQs
1. Can I substitute cilantro for parsley?
Since the answer to "Can you substitute parsley for cilantro?" is a yes, it isn't surprising for most of you to ask, "Can I substitute cilantro for parsley?"
As mentioned, they belong to the same plant family, so yes, you can use fresh or dried cilantro instead of parsley. However, I suggest you use it in moderation because of the more complex flavor of cilantro than parsley. Gradually add it to your dish until you achieve the taste that you're looking for.
2. Why do some people think cilantro tastes and smells like soap?
The answer to this question isn't just interesting but also scientific: a cilantro olfactory (sense of smell) gene. Studies have found that people with this gene can detect the natural chemical, aldehyde, present in cilantro that makes it smell soapy.
Remember that smell also greatly affects our taste buds, so it goes without saying that when food smells like soap, it will taste like soap as well.
3. What is the best cilantro substitute in guacamole?
Among the recipes that require cilantro is guacamole. But what can I substitute for cilantro in guacamole when I run out of it, or I'm serving people who can't consume the herb?
Mixing several herbs and spices is my secret to a delicious and satisfying cilantro-free guac. I combine a tablespoon of parsley, a teaspoon of ground coriander, half a teaspoon of cumin, and freshly squeezed juice from a slice of lime. This is equivalent to two tablespoons of fresh cilantro.
Why this combination, you may ask? The fresh parsley gives the guac the needed cilantro earthiness, the cumin adds savory flavor, and the lime and coriander provide the citrus flavor.
4. What is the substitute for cilantro in salsa?
Like guac, some salsa recipes call for cilantro because of its complex and refreshing flavor and aroma profiles. That said, the best substitute for cilantro in salsa will depend on the specific cilantro-free salsa you're preparing.
For Pico De Gallo, my top recommendation is parsley. But if it isn't available, your next best alternative is Thai basil or oregano. On the other hand, I use mint leaves when I make cilantro-free papaya, peach, pineapple, mango, or watermelon salsa.
Start Making "Cilantro Dishes" Without the Cilantro!
With this compiled list, you now have the answer to "What can I substitute for cilantro?" whether your recipe calls for the fresh or dried herb.
Like with any other ingredient substitute, most cilantro alternatives will not completely replicate the exact taste and aroma of the herb. However, each of them will lend your dish a good earthy, citrusy flavor or a combination of both and the vibrant color of the fresh herb.
So, go ahead and use the right amount of cilantro substitute for the specific dish you're preparing or mix some of them. Don't worry; no one would even notice that cilantro is missing!
Homemade Dried & Fresh Cilantro Substitute Recipe
- Chopping board
- Small bowl
Fresh Cilantro Substitute
- ⅓ cup parsley or
- ⅓ cup basil
- ⅓ cup dill
Dried Cilantro Substitute
- ¼ teaspoon ground parsley
- ¼ teaspoon ground basil
- ¼ teaspoon ground dill
Fresh Cilantro Substitute
- Place the fresh parsley on your chopping board and chop finely with your knife.
- Put your chopped parsley in a bowl.
- Do the same for the basil and dill.
- Mix the chopped herbs together.
- To use any of the spice blends, follow a 1:1 ratio.
Dried Cilantro Substitute
- Place the dried herbs in a bowl.
- Mix them together using a spoon.
- To use any of the spice blends, follow a 1:1 ratio.
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