Chervil and cilantro are a couple of herbs from different food cultures that have a lot in common. The two herbs are members of the Apiaceae family and have some properties in common, but there are also some that they don’t share. The SPICEography Showdown below shows how chervil and cilantro compare to each other.
Table of Contents
- How does chervil differ from cilantro?
- Can you use chervil as a substitute for cilantro (and vice versa?)
- When should you use chervil? And when should you use cilantro?
How does chervil differ from cilantro?
Chervil and cilantro are genetically different, even though they belong to the same family. Chervil is Anthriscus cerefolium and cilantro is Coriandrum sativum. Chervil is native to the Caucasus region; cilantro is native to Southern Europe and North Africa.
Chervil and cilantro have different flavor profiles. Chervil’s profile is herbaceous with a touch of licorice or anise. Cilantro is herbaceous with a bright lemony note. Cilantro’s taste is controversial in some circles because it tastes soapy to some people.
While chervil and cilantro do share some features, they have different appearances. Chervil leaves are more arrow-shaped compared to the rounder, spade-shaped cilantro leaves. Chervil leaves are a paler green with a yellowish tint compared to the relatively deep green of cilantro.
Chervil and cilantro are not available to the same degree in most places. In much of the world, cilantro will be easier to find and more affordable since it is used in a range of cuisines. Chervil is a niche herb and its usage is limited mostly to French and French-style food, which is why it is usually harder to find.
Can you use chervil as a substitute for cilantro (and vice versa?)
Chervil won’t make a good substitute for cilantro unless it is being used as a garnish. The flavor profiles are too different for you to use one to replace the other without seriously affecting the dish’s flavor profile. The fact that the dish will taste different doesn’t always mean that it’s necessarily bad, just that you will get the licorice notes of chervil instead of the citrus ones from cilantro.
Sometimes, both herbs get used in the same kinds of dishes, so the switch might be enjoyable in a salmon or other fish dish; however, chervil probably won’t work as a cilantro substitute in a salsa fresca.
Cilantro won’t work as chervil sub in any application except those where it is used as a garnish and is not consumed. Cilantro’s strong lemony notes will stand out in most of the delicate French dishes that call for chervil.
When should you use chervil? And when should you use cilantro?
Chervil is a common herb in French and French-influenced dishes. You will see it used on seafood, including fish and shellfish. Chervil is also used to flavor poultry and in salad dressings. Use chervil in herb butters and potato dishes; it is one of the main herbs in French blends like herbes de Provence. Because of its mild taste, you will need to use it in raw or fast-cooking dishes; otherwise, you should sprinkle it on at the end of the cooking time.
In North America, cilantro is most commonly associated with Mexican and Tex-Mex food. It is a key ingredient in the best-known styles of salsa, and you will sometimes see it used as a garnish for tacos. In Asia, cilantro shows up as one of the condiments for the Vietnamese noodle soup known as pho and is heavily used in Thai cuisine. Thai cooks use cilantro in tom yum soup and the salad called larb.