Deciding between parsley and cilantro might not be not easy, especially if you want to know which one suits better for your dishes. Their similar aspect might confuse you. However, there are some clear differences if you know what to look, to not talk about their taste and nutritional content. Let’s dive into such differences with this illustrated guide.
Hence, what are the differences between parsley and cilantro? Despite parsley and cilantro belong to the same herb family (Apiaceae) they are from two different genera justifying their differences in:
- Appearance: their leaves and flower arrangement can be different
- Taste: one has an extra lemony taste
- Nutrition Facts: higher vitamin content for parsley
- Food Pairing: Mexican cuisine manly for cilantro
Let’s see all the differences with photos between these two herbs and how, knowing them, we can improve our dishes.
Here the first two confusions: cilantro name!
Indeed cilantro (also known as Coriandrum sativum in the scientific world) is also called Chinese parsley. However, as you will learn here, parsley and cilantro are two different herbs.
Second confusion: cilantro and coriander are names used interchangeably despite not being the same thing. Indeed, cilantro is the name used to identify the leaves and stem of the plants. These are the parts normally sold for eating purposes. On the other hand, dry seeds are called coriander. These are used as a spice.
Here I have to be clear.
You might already know that parsley (called in science Petroselinum crispum) and cilantro look quite similar. However, you need to know that there are some clear differences if you know what to look at. Here you have them!
Cilantro herb has very thin roots that do not go in-depth. The whole herb is not taller than 30 inches (80 cm). Parsley has slightly yellow roots that can have a length up to 8 inches (around 20 cm) and go deep no more than 5 cm.
Here the first take away.
If you grow parsley or cilantro at home, you do not need a deep container (no more than 10cm). Indeed, for the same reasons discussed for the basil container size (article in the image below), a too large and deep container can actually be a problem for your herbs causing root rot due to a large amount of water trapped in the growing medium compared to what the plant needs.
Cilantro leaves are quite small (max 2cm around 0.8 inches), indented and of dark green color if in a healthy state. Parsley leaves look quite similar to cilantro. However, parsley leaves are slightly darker, and their borders are sharper than cilantro ones.
Cilantro and parsley stems are light green in color, quite thin (a few millimeters), and generate multiple branches and are very similar.
Cilantro flowers grow in small groups, and their color varies from white, pink, or purple, depending on the variety (although white is the most common). Parsley flowers also grow in small groups, but, differently from their cilantro counterparts, they tend to place in a way to create an umbrella-shaped structure. They are usually white or yellow.
Cilantro and parsley herbs, despite their similar aspect, have different tastes and often different culinary purposes.
When I taste parsley, I can perceive a spicy aroma with hints of anise and lemon. It has a bitter taste with some trace of pepper.
On the other hand, cilantro has a stronger flavor that reminds parsley with the addition of lemon zest. However, this, unfortunately, does not apply to me. Indeed, due to genetic modification of my olfactory-receptor genes, it tastes like vomit. If you taste the same, then welcome to the 20% of the population (on average) with such a problem, here for more.
The table below reports the nutritional data for 100g of fresh parsley and cilantro (this is the equivalent of around 4 small supermarket bags like the one below)
|Vitamin A (% daily intake)||168||135|
|Vitamin C (% daily intake)||222||45|
|Vitamin K (% daily intake)||2050||388|
Nutrition facts for 100g of fresh herbs (Source)
Despite the fact that parsley is slightly higher in calories, this is not a concern at all. Indeed, 100g (quite a generous amount) only carries 36 calories.
However, they are a great source of vitamins that are normally missing in mainstream food (like chicken, here for more). Parsley has a significantly higher content of vitamins A, C, and K than cilantro (from 30 to 600%). Indeed, it is sufficient for you to add just 10g of parsley to your dish to have twice your daily content of vitamin K and a good chunk of your daily intake of vitamin A (17%) and C (22%).
These vitamins are quite an important part of a healthy diet. Indeed vitamin A is responsible for supporting a healthy immune system and for protecting your eyes (more detailed in this guide). Vitamin C is important for the development of the immune system wound healing, and much more. Finally, the vitamin K, by far the most abundant in both parsley and cilantro, and the maintenance of cartilage, bones, and teeth as discussed in this study.
Recipes With Cilantro or Parsley: Best Picks
There are literally hundreds of recipes valorizing the taste of cilantro or parsley, and, of course, I do not know all of them! Interesting to notice that cilantro is more used in Mexican cuisine while parsley more in Mediterranean cuisine (Italian especially).
Here my best two favorite parsley recipes. These are easy, quick, and require only a few ingredients, and believe me, they are extremely tasty! Try them!
Let’s be honest. Everyone has a bit of garlic and butter home. So, if you also have a bunch of parsley, just head to your nearest supermarket and buy a few fresh salmon fillets. The recipe is quite easy and requires around 1 hour (mainly waiting time for the sauce to marinate the salmon).
It tastes extremely good, try it if you do not believe! The combination of garlic, lemon, and parsley is just the perfect match with salmon.
Do you think that chicken and cauliflower are not a good match? Well, you might need to reconsider this statement after watching this simple recipe. In this 30 minutes recipe, some quickly fried chicken ties are placed in the oven with cauliflower and seasoning. Their aroma and taste are then matched with a generous sprinkle of parsley. To notice that parsley is added only at the very end of the recipe.
Still undecided? Give it a try, you will not regret it!
Here my two favorite cilantro recipes
I am pretty sure that, even if you are not a fan of Mexican food, you have heard (if not very likely, tried at least one) the famous guacamole sauce. This is more than a famous recipe, it is one of the flagships of the Mexican cuisine.
For the success of this incredible sauce that perfectly eggs on toast, chips, and much more (as detailed here), cilantro is key. This simple and quick recipe (less than 10 minutes) that does not require any oven or microwave is obtained by mixing onions, avocados, lime, tomatoes.
For the full guideline of this sauce recipe (ideal for indoor party) checks the video below.
I have to be honest, I found cilantro and lime a fantastic combo to prepare full of flavor dishes. In this case, some rice is cooked with garlic and onion to be then enriched, once finished, with a generous sprinkle of parsley and lime juice. Simple, easy, quite inexpensive, and very tasty.
If you want to give it a go, here is the recipe below.
What happens if a recipe requires cilantro, but you have parsley or vice versa? Can you replace cilantro with parsley in recipes? Despite the fact that they do not taste the same, the answer is yes, it is possible.
Protip: if you use parsley to replace cilantro just add some lemon juice to add the lemon taste that cilantro has and parsley lack
If you use cilantro to replace parsley, be careful. Cilantro has a lemony taste that parsley does not have.
Protip: As you cannot remove such an extra note of flavor in cilantro, make sure that cilantro still matches well in the dish. If unsure, I would use chervil as parsley replacement, better than cilantro.
Can Cilantro and Parsley Grow Together?
After all this talking about cilantro and parsley, you might be tempted to grow them indoors. However, as they are small herbs and you might have a large container, you were thinking of growing them together.
Can cilantro and parsley be grown in the same container?
Cilantro and parsley can be planted together. Indeed, they both enjoy full sun or partial shade. They both require a damp soil but not soaked. Also basil, it is a good companion for parsley and cilantro.
However, you need to care for such herbs by regular pruning. Indeed, to avoid these herbs from leggy encouraging new shoots, remove all stems whose leaves are starting to turn pale/yellow. The video below shows how to cut cilantro.
Cilantro and Parsley Propagation From Cuttings?
If you are familiar with the concept of propagation by cutting, you know that it is an amazing technique by which you can produce an endless supply for herb through what is a naturally available cloning technique (yes, you read well, for more check the article below).
However, you might wonder if such a technique also applies to cilantro and parsley. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Indeed, cilantro and parsley hardly ever can be propagated by cutting. The only way to increase the chances is to use rooting hormones (check this article to know what they are). However, buying rooting hormones, although it can make your parsley root, partially defeat the purpose of growing parsley for free.
The easy option?
In this case, it can be more convenient to buy this potted herb from the grocery for less than a dollar, and transplant them in a proper pot with good quality potting mix. Just have a look at the article below to know more about how to save store herbs.
The more fun option?
Another viable option (that I would avoid if you do not have much patience) is to buy the seeds directly. You can find hundreds of them for a few dollars or so or, for maximum saving, buy for a few dollars on Amazon a large variety of different herbs to grow in your garden like this one.
Do you have a cilantro or parsley herb at home and you are now wondering how long do they last?
Well, not very good news. Parsley is a biennial, while cilantro is an annual herb. This means that parsley will bloom after the first year to the bloom in the next one. On the other hand, cilantro will develop and die within one year. Usually, they should be planted in spring, and they die off in winter.
Parsley, although biennial, is often an annual as it does not survive the first winter. To increase his chance of survival on its first winter, grow it indoors. Be careful with both herbs, about watering. Remember the finger test. Just stick the finger two joints down. If the soil is moist, your finger will come out moist with some soil sticking to it. In this case, no watering needed. If it comes out dry, then it is the time for watering. Do not trust your eyes. Indeed, the soil surface might be dry while the soil at roots level is wet enough.
What are parsley and cilantro health benefits? Their benefits range from analgesic, antiseptic to enhancing the digestion process, as well as keeping the immune system strong.
Which herb is the closest to parsley in taste? Chervil, among all herbs, is the one with the closest taste to parsley. Cilantro can also be a good replacement.
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