Both cilantro and parsley are members of the same family, which is the same one to which carrots belong. You will usually be able to find them next to each other in the produce section of grocery stores and often used in similar ways. It is easy to believe that these two herbs are interchangeable, but are they? Do they have similar flavors? Do they look alike? These questions and others will be answered in this installment of SPICEography Showdown.
Do cilantro and parsley differ in flavor?
For many people, one of the key differences between the two herbs has to do with their flavors. Cilantro’s flavor is dramatic and polarizing, while parsley’s is much less so. The flavor of cilantro can be described as bright and intensely herbal with notes of citrus. This is accompanied by an aroma that is may seem perfume-like to some people. The flavor and aroma combine to create a versatile and delightful complement to foods for some but for others, the herb tastes mostly of soap.
There are two types of parsley that are easy to find but that have different flavor profiles. The flavor of curly parsley is simply herbal. Its mild taste is sometimes described as grassy. Flat leaf parsley has a stronger, even grassier taste that makes it better at flavoring foods. Neither has cilantro’s controversial perfume taste.
Do cilantro and parsley resemble each other?
Cilantro and flat leaf parsley are similar enough in appearance that they can easily be mistaken for each other, especially if the herbs are sold in unlabeled bundles. Parsley typically has a brighter green color than cilantro, but that color can fade if the parsley is not fresh.
You can tell the difference by the shade of green and by the shapes of the leaves. Cilantro’s leaves are more rounded and have more curves, while parsley’s leaves are more pointed.
Can you use cilantro in place of parsley and vice versa?
Cilantro can be used in place of parsley in dishes where you may want more flavor than either form of parsley can provide. Note that because cilantro does have a strong flavor, it may not be suitable for all dishes that require parsley.
Both curly leaf and flat leaf parsley are acceptable cilantro substitutes if you do not like the cilantro flavor or in dishes where it is not essential. Cilantro and parsley look enough alike when chopped that parsley can be used if all you need is a garnish.
What are the best uses for cilantro and for parsley?
The traditional uses for the herb include in Mexican favorites like salsas, guacamole and in mole verde. It is also widely used in Southeast Asia and can be found in Indian raitas, Thai curried noodles and Vietnamese pho.
Curly leaf parsley’s lack of flavor makes it perfect as a garnish since it can make an attractive presentation without distracting from the flavors in a dish. Flat leaf parsley is a little more versatile in that it can bring its herbal flavor notes to certain dishes and condiments like chimichurri, gremolata and pesto.