Cilantro goes by many names including Chinese parsley and Coriander. It is known for its strong aroma and the fact that it is a popular ingredient in Latin American cuisine. This member of the carrot family is also the plant that supplies coriander, another popular seasoning.
As noted above, cilantro is potent. The flavor is controversial in that while many love it, others find it soapy and overpowering. Whether you are looking for a milder flavor or have simply run out, you may need a cilantro substitute at some point. Below, we look at some of your best options if you are seeking an alternative to cilantro.
Your best bet: Thai basil
Widely used in cuisines from Southeast Asia, this basil variety is a popular cilantro substitute. It is especially popular among people who do not like cilantro’s flavor. Thai basil has small leaves and purple stems along with a bright flavor that includes both citrus and licorice notes. It is also slightly spicy, unlike the sweet basil used in Mediterranean dishes.
Much like cilantro, Thai basil does not hold up well to long braising and should, therefore, be added at the last minute. Thai basil will provide your dish with a different flavor, but one that will work in most dishes that require cilantro.
You can find Thai basil in markets that cater to Southeast Asian immigrants. Depending on where you live, you may also be able to find local farmers who grow and sell it. A third option is to look for it online.
A decent second choice: Papalo
Papalo may be ideal for you if you have no trouble with cilantro’s flavor but have run out of it or are unable to find it in your local supermarket. This relative of the daisy is also called macrocephalum and is widely used in Mexican cooking. Its flavor has been described as a peppery cross between cilantro and cucumber. Like cilantro, you can simply chop the leaves and add them raw to your dishes as a garnish. Papalo is used in cemitas, a Pueblan sandwich; it can also be added to tacos, guacamole, and carnitas.
It is important to note that papalo is more potent than cilantro, so you will need to use less of it. Use 1/3 tablespoon of papalo for every tablespoon of cilantro that the recipe requires. Depending on where you live, you may be able to find papalo in a Mexican market. You can also purchase the seeds online if you want to grow it yourself.
In a pinch: Italian parsley
Parsley is a related to cilantro and the two herbs do closely resemble each other. If your recipe uses cilantro mainly as a garnish, parsley could be an acceptable substitute; however, parsley does have a slightly bitter taste. You can compensate for the bitterness by adding a small amount of honey or sugar. To more closely mimic the taste of cilantro, consider adding a little oregano or basil along with the parsley.
Rau ram is another viable substitute for cilantro. This herb is also known as Thai coriander or Vietnamese cilantro. It is a relative of cilantro and has a taste that is similar but with a stronger lemon note. It is often seen as a more enjoyable substitute for people who do not like cilantro. Mint leaves can also be used to replace cilantro if you are unable to find any of the other substitutes on this list. Use with balsamic vinegar to eliminate the distinctive minty coolness.