When comparing coriander and parsley, it is important to remember how the word coriander is sometimes used. There are two ingredients called coriander that might show up in a cook’s spice cabinet: coriander seed and coriander herb. Both are commonly shortened to simply coriander. Coriander seeds are the coriander plant’s dried berries, while the coriander herb consists of the leaves and stems of that same plant. The coriander plant is better known as cilantro in the U.S. but is called coriander in the U.K. In the US, only the seed is referred to as coriander.
If you are trying to follow a recipe that requires coriander, find out whether the author intends you to use the herb or the spice. If there are no other clues, consider whether the recipe was published for an American or a British audience.
You should also note that there are two different types of parsley with mild but noticeable differences in terms of appearance and taste.
Below is a look at the ways in which coriander (seed) differs from parsley. If you are looking for coriander leaf (cilantro) vs. parsley, see our SPICEography Showdown here.
How does coriander seed differ from parsley?
The most meaningful difference is that coriander seed is a spice, not an herb like parsley. The berries of the coriander plant are light brown and oval-shaped. They are also the size of peppercorns while flat-leaf parsley has bright green, flat compound leaves that are similar in shape to cilantro leaves.
Coriander has a flavor that is best described as earthy and nutty with a hint of sweet citrus. Parsley has a clean and bright herbaceous flavor with a slight bitterness.
Coriander is used most in cooked, savory dishes where it is usually ground and combined with other spices. Coriander works best when it plays a background role in a complex flavor profile.
Parsley is usually — but not always — served in raw applications where it can be used for its flavor or for its bright green color to make the food more attractive. If your priority is flavor, use the flat leaf variety and opt for curly leaf parsley if your focus is on the appearance.
Can you use coriander in place of parsley and vice versa?
Coriander seed does not make a good substitute for parsley since it is not a herb and has a completely different flavor profile. Coriander leaves and stems bear a close resemblance to flat leaf parsley, enough so that it is possible to mistake one for the other; however, the resemblance does not go much beyond appearance. Coriander leaves have a much stronger flavor, including a bright citrus note that you will not get from parsley.
The fact that they have little in common with regard to flavor or appearance does not mean that they cannot be used in the same types of dishes. Both coriander seed and parsley are popular additions to savory dishes and you can certainly swap them out in some dishes as long as you recognize that neither will provide the same effect as the other.
When should you use coriander and when should you use parsley?
You can use coriander seed in many different spice blends. For example, ground coriander is great in dry rubs for barbecue and is essential if you are making your own curry powder. The whole seeds are also among the required spices in many pickle recipes.
Use flat leaf parsley in salads, sandwiches, and chimichurri sauces as well as in marinades. The curly leaf variety has long been a popular garnish for enhancing the visuals of savory French-style dishes.