Have you cooked with coriander before? It’s such a unique and delicious spice, isn’t it? If you cook often, I bet you’ve experienced finding yourself in a last-minute crisis where you run out of certain ingredients, herbs, or spices. It’s nice to stock up just in case, but there are times when we can’t predict what’ll happen.
In such cases, the next best thing is to have substitutes on-hand -- if only to be sure. So what are the best coriander substitutes? Will it be the same alternative for both coriander leaves and seeds, or will you require a different ingredient for each?
These are all good questions. I recommend you keep reading to find out the answers to them!
- What is Coriander?
- What Does Coriander Taste Like?
- How to Cook With Coriander
- How to Store Coriander
- Health Benefits of Coriander
- Where to Get Coriander
- The Best Coriander Substitutes (Seeds)
- The Best Substitutes for Coriander Leaves (Cilantro)
- Using Ground Instead of Whole Coriander
- Using Whole Instead of Ground Coriander
What is Coriander?
But first, let’s define what a coriander is. Coriander and cilantro leaves come from one plant, Coriandrum sativum. Coriander refers to the leaves that you can harvest from the plant, while the leaves are called cilantro. The seeds can be bought either whole or ground.
Cilantro is very famous in Southern Asian and Mexican cuisines, and is often used while the leaves are still fresh. Coriander seeds, on the other hand, are considered as a spice. They have a spiciness and warmth to them, interspersed with bursts of citrus flavor. These flavors are released even more so when the seeds are crushed, as this lets out pinene and linalool, the essential oils present in coriander.
The entire coriander plant can be eaten, even the roots. The seeds and leaves are the most commonly used in cuisine, though. It is best to use coriander seeds fresh. It’s better to only crush them as you are about to begin cooking, instead of letting ground seeds sit out for a long time. Doing this will make them lose their potency quickly.
Coriander is also used in different spice blends, the common ones include curry and garam masala. They are also used when brewing beer and pickling veggies.
What Does Coriander Taste Like?
The seeds have a flower-like aroma and lemony flavor that is perfect when used with cumin. A lot of recipes call for these two spices, together, in equal amounts. When ripened, the seeds have a spicier and bolder flavor.
The leaves have a pungent flavor. The common opinion is that they don’t taste great, but cilantro is still widely used as an herb. On its own or in salads, one can say that cilantro leaves are definitely an acquired taste.
Take note that fresh seeds, ripened seeds, and cilantro leaves cannot be used as a substitute for each other because of their hugely different flavor profiles.
How to Cook With Coriander
Whole coriander seeds can be used in brining and pickling. They are often toasted and ground before cooking with them, mostly to break down their naturally tough texture. Once ground, coriander serves as a spice in baked goods and curry dishes. You can dry roast them in the oven at low heat or in a pan on the stovetop before using a spice grinder to make your own ground coriander.
If you are following recipes, be extra careful to follow the instructions carefully. For instance, some recipes will ask you to discard the stems, this refers to the stems of the cilantro leaves. A “bunch” of coriander will also refer to cilantro leaves. They are often used interchangeably because they come from the same plant, so you need to be cautious since they have very different flavors.
How to Store Coriander
For either fresh, whole seeds or ground coriander seeds, make sure to use airtight food-grade containers for storage. Keep them away from direct heat and light, too.
In the case of cilantro leaves, they don’t stay fresh for long on their own. The best way to store them would be by keeping them in the fridge. You can either (1) put the leaves in a secure plastic bag that’s filled with air and sealed closely, and place them in the veggie section of the refrigerator, or (2) place them in the freezer.
Health Benefits of Coriander
For centuries, coriander has been a part of traditional medicine. It was used to treat stomach conditions. It was given as a tea for people who had indigestion or constipation. The seeds contain a good amount of potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. The cilantro leaves, on the other hand, are a great source of phytonutrients and fiber.
There is some deliberation about its efficacy in helping patients diagnosed with diabetes. Today, research is still required if it has health benefits beyond its nourishing qualities and ability to help gastrointestinal issues.
Where to Get Coriander
Now that you’ve learned in which dishes it’s good for, and its health benefits, let’s check to see where to buy coriander seeds.
In the supermarket, you’ll spot coriander (ground and whole) in the spice section. If you aren’t using it on a daily basis, we recommend buying whole seeds instead of ground ones. When you are about to use them, toast and grind them quickly. This ensures the best flavor possible. After grinding, the spice loses its potent taste quickly.
You can also find them in international markets, where they are often sold in bulk. Make sure if they need to get washed before storing them. If they do, give them a quick rinse, and dry them under the sun or heat them in the oven (low temperature) before storage or cooking.
As for cilantro leaves, go for bright green ones. Avoid wilted leaves and those with yellow spots.
If you love gardening and growing your own produce and herbs, then you can grow your own coriander at home. It is categorized as an annual and thrives in direct sun. Place it in loamy soil, around the same time as you plant your parsley. This will let you get fresh seeds and leaves straight from the garden!
The Best Coriander Substitutes (Seeds)
Now, back to the question at hand: what are the best coriander substitutes? We’ve listed some spices that can be used in place of coriander without compromising taste and flavor significantly.
Cumin comes from the Cuminum cyminum plant’s seeds. They are dried and ground, and are used in many dishes such as curries, soups, chilis, stews, and more. Cumin is a popular spice and is actually often paired with coriander.
In certain countries such as Morocco, cumin is considered a kitchen staple and is used on the regular - just as Americans use salt and pepper all the time.
Cumin is slightly different because it has a warm and nutty flavor. However, its spiciness resembles the earthiness of fresh coriander seeds. When substituting coriander with cumin, use the same (1:1) ratio as you normally would.
Caraway is believed to have the closest flavor resemblance to coriander. This herb can be a substitute that would cause the least amount of flavor changed to your dish.
Caraway has essential oils, including pinene and linalool, same as coriander. These are believed to be the secret to their similar taste. Caraway is described as slightly sweet and earthy, and is often used in baked goods, desserts, veggie recipes, meat dishes, and casseroles.
The caraway plant also produces fruits, often referred to as seeds. These are dried and sold either ground or whole. These are what are used in place of coriander.
If it’s your first time to use caraway instead of coriander, it’s best to start with small amounts and keep checking the taste, then adjusting to avoid overpowering the flavor profile and changing the overall dish’s taste.
3. Curry Powder
Like we mentioned earlier, coriander is often used in spice mixes including curry powder and garam masala. So you have your answer right there. Of course, you’ll get a taste of the other spices in the mix, such as turmeric, chili, ginger, fenugreek, and many others.
Curry powder is ideal if you are cooking dishes that require a level of sweetness and savoriness. Its flavor creates a warmth and a hint of spice, characteristic to dishes such as marinades, roasted veggies, and -- of course -- curries.
Curry powder can be overpowering. So be careful in adjusting your measurements. You can begin with only half the required amount of coriander, then taste and adjust from there.
4. Garam Masala
Another spice blend that usually contains coriander, garam masala is a rightful alternative to our spice in the spotlight. Every blend may vary, depending on the vendor, but the usual ingredients include turmeric, cloves, mace, cinnamon, bay leaf, peppercorns, cumin, and coriander.
One thing to keep note of when using garam masala is its strong flavor profile. So be careful in which dishes you use it for, and how much you put in. The smart thing would be to control the amounts you add in, in small increments, until you achieve your desired flavor.
The Best Substitutes for Coriander Leaves (Cilantro)
Now let’s talk about the ideal alternatives for cilantro leaves. Again, do not use coriander seeds in place of cilantro leaves. The key note to remember is that cilantro leaves have a familiar citrusy flavor.
Here are our recommended cilantro substitutes.
Parsley shares the same herb family as cilantro. However, it carries a more bitter taste. It creates similarly fresh notes to your recipes as cilantro would, though. The appearance and color of the herb are also similar to cilantro’s.
A major difference is the lack of citrus flavors in parsley. You can remedy this by adding some lemon peel or juice to your recipes in addition to parsley.
There are various parsley varieties. The best ones to substitute for cilantro would be the Italian, curly-leaf, or flat-leaf varieties.
Basil isn’t the best alternative, but in certain cases it will work well. There are a lot of basil types. We recommend using Thai Basil in particular, because of its licorice-like and spicy taste. It will work great in curries and will add a nice pop of flavor, much like cilantro would.
You can also use it as a garnish by chopping it up.
3. Herb Blends
Sometimes, one answer is not a good enough answer. So let’s talk about blends of fresh herbs. By using a few herbs that resemble the flavor of cilantro, you might find the best substitute for it.
You can chop herbs like parsley, dill, oregano, and tarragon, and mix them together as one herb mixture. They can create interesting notes to your recipes.
This strategy allows you to keep cooking your recipe and work with what herbs you have in your pantry without sacrificing the originally desired flavor by a long shot. Stick to herbs that share a similar flavor profile, such as parsley. Then, add other herbs to make sure the dish will still taste good.
Using Ground Instead of Whole Coriander
You can use ground instead of whole seeds. Follow this ratio: use ¾ teaspoon of ground seed in place of 1 teaspoon of whole seed.
Remember that once ground, it will lose flavor and potency quickly. So it might be necessary to add more to get the flavor you want. Just keep doing a taste check to make sure your flavor is on point.
Using Whole Instead of Ground Coriander
This one is easier. If you need ground seeds but only have whole seeds, all you have to do is grind them with a mortar or pestle or coffee grinder. It’s better if you have a spice grinder, but whichever of those will do the job just fine. You can also use a rolling pin.
Put the seeds in a sandwich bag. Roll and grind them over until you get the desired size. As soon as you grind them, make sure you use them right away to maximize the flavor. So only grind the amount that you will use.
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