Parsley vs Cilantro: What’s The Difference?

Parsley and cilantro are both popular herbs used in various cuisines around the world. They share some similarities, but they also have their distinct differences. In this article, we’ll explore their unique properties, from appearance to taste, and learn about their culinary uses and health benefits.

Some might confuse one for the other, but closer inspection will reveal that these two plants are not interchangeable. In fact, they belong to different families, with parsley from the Apiaceae family and cilantro, also known as coriander, from the same family as carrots and celery. Understanding the unique characteristics and flavors of these two herbs will help you make the most of them in your cooking.

By knowing the differences and similarities between parsley and cilantro, you’ll be better equipped to choose the right herb for your culinary creations, as well as appreciate their nutritional values and health benefits. So, let’s dive into the world of these two popular herbs.

Key Takeaways

  • Explore the unique characteristics of parsley and cilantro
  • Learn about their culinary uses and health benefits
  • Understand the importance of knowing the differences to enhance your cooking

Understanding Herbs

In this journey to better understand the difference between parsley and cilantro, let’s first learn about herbs in general. Herbs are plants with fragrant or aromatic properties. They can be used for various purposes, such as seasoning food, adding flavor to beverages, and even for medicinal benefits.


Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is an herb belonging to the Apiaceae family. There are two main types of parsley: flat-leaf (Italian) and curly-leaf. Both varieties add flavor and color to your dishes, and they pack a punch in terms of nutrition. Some benefits of parsley include being rich in vitamins A, C, and K, as well as minerals like iron and potassium. Here’s an overview of parsley’s characteristics:

  • Taste: Fresh, slightly bitter
  • Culinary uses: Widely used as a garnish, in sauces, and as an ingredient in various dishes
  • Medicinal uses: Aids digestion and supports kidney function, among others


Cilantro, also known as coriander (Coriandrum sativum) or Chinese parsley, is another member of the Apiaceae family. The leaves and stems of this plant are called cilantro, while the seeds are typically referred to as coriander. Cilantro is commonly found in various cuisines, such as Mexican, Indian, and Asian. It offers a wealth of health benefits, being rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and dietary fiber. Here are some highlights of cilantro’s properties:

  • Taste: Bright, citrusy, with a hint of soapiness for some people (due to genetics)
  • Culinary uses: Frequently used in salsa, guacamole, salads, and as a topping for cooked dishes
  • Medicinal uses: Anti-inflammatory and digestive aid, among other health benefits

Both parsley and cilantro are versatile, edible herbs belonging to the Apiaceae family, adding flavor and nutrition to your meals. Don’t be afraid to experiment with these herbs in your cooking and enjoy the benefits they offer.

Appearance and Aroma

Parsley vs Cilantro

When comparing parsley and cilantro, you’ll notice some differences in their appearance and aroma. Parsley comes in two popular varieties: curly leaf parsley and flat-leaf (also known as Italian parsley). Curly parsley has eponymous, ruffled leaves, giving it a distinctive texture. In contrast, Italian parsley has broader, flat leaves that resemble cilantro.

Cilantro, on the other hand, has delicate, feathery leaves, and a slightly more serrated edge. Both parsley and cilantro share a similar bright green color, although cilantro might appear slightly lighter.

As for aroma, you will also find differences between these two herbs. Parsley has a subtle, grassy scent, which is not overpowering. This mild aroma allows parsley to blend well with other flavors without taking over a dish.

Cilantro, however, has a strong and distinct smell that people either love or hate. In fact, some people describe cilantro’s aroma as soapy, while others find it citrusy and refreshing. This polarizing scent is primarily due to a compound called aldehyde, which is also present in soap.

When using parsley or cilantro in your cooking, keep these differences in appearance and aroma in mind. They will help you decide which herb best complements your dish and which flavors you’re looking to achieve.

Taste Profiles

Flavor of Parsley

Parsley has a mild, fresh taste, and it adds a subtle, refreshing flavor to your dishes. Its taste can be slightly peppery and bitter at times, but it’s predominantly known for its fresh, green flavor. Parsley is often used as a garnish, but it also adds depth to soups, salads, and sauces.

You’ll find that parsley pairs well with a wide variety of dishes, as it enhances the flavors without overpowering them. Its mildness makes it a versatile and useful herb in many cuisines, and its lemony undertones can help brighten dishes.

Flavor of Cilantro

Cilantro, on the other hand, has a bold, citrusy flavor profile. It can be described as pungent and tangy, with a hint of lemony zest. Some people even detect a soapy taste due to the presence of aldehydes in the herb. However, for most, cilantro brings a lively and bright flavor to dishes, especially in Mexican, Indian, and Southeast Asian cuisines.

Its aromatic, citrusy qualities go well with spicy and savory dishes, adding a balance and complexity to the flavors. Although cilantro is a taste that might take some getting used to, it’s a key ingredient in enhancing many types of food – from salsas and curries to soups and marinades.

In summary, while parsley has a mild, fresh, and slightly bitter taste, cilantro offers a more robust, citrusy, and pungent flavor. They each bring distinct qualities to your cooking, so experiment with both herbs to find what best complements your desired tastes.

Culinary Uses

Parsley in Cooking

Parsley is a versatile herb that you can use in various cuisines. You’ll often find it in Italian, Middle Eastern, and American dishes, adding a fresh, vibrant flavor to your meals. It is commonly used as a garnish, adding color and zest to a dish.

While you can add parsley to your dishes both raw and cooked, please note that cooking parsley might cause it to lose some of its flavors. It works great in soups, salads, and pesto, offering its subtle, earthy essence. Store parsley in a cool and dark place to preserve its freshness.

In Middle Eastern cuisine, parsley is a key ingredient in tabbouleh, a popular salad featuring bulgur, tomatoes, and onions. In Italian dishes, you might see parsley alongside other herbs in gremolata, an aromatic topping for meats and seafood.

Cilantro in Cooking

Cilantro, on the other hand, contributes vibrant, bold flavors, making it particularly popular in Mexican, Asian, Indian, and Middle Eastern cuisines. As with parsley, you can use cilantro both raw and cooked, but it’s important to note that its flavors tend to be stronger when it is raw. Store cilantro similarly to parsley, keeping it in a cool and dark place.

You’ll often find cilantro in guacamole, salsas, and sauces, providing a refreshing taste to your dishes. It’s also a common ingredient in salads, such as rice salads and chutney, as well as in guac.

In Indian cuisine, cilantro is frequently used as a garnish, adding brightness to flavorful dishes, like curries. Asian dishes, such as Vietnamese soups and noodle dishes, also benefit from the bold flavor cilantro provides.

Nutritional Values and Health Benefits

Health Benefits of Parsley

Parsley is not only a popular garnish for your dishes but also offers numerous health benefits. Rich in antioxidants, it contains essential nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate. These vitamins contribute to maintaining your overall health.

Vitamin C, in particular, helps boost your immune system, and vitamin A is known to support good vision. Parsley is also a great source of iron, which aids in producing red blood cells. Besides, with its very low calorie count, it’s a guilt-free addition to your meals.

Moreover, the antioxidant quercetin found in parsley helps reduce inflammation and may protect against chronic diseases. It also contains properties that support lung health and may improve bone health as well.

Health Benefits of Cilantro

Cilantro, also known as coriander, offers its distinct flavors and health benefits too. Like parsley, it is rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, and iron. Additionally, it contains small amounts of other nutrients like folate and potassium.

Cilantro has antioxidant properties, which help protect your cells against damage from free radicals. A unique feature of cilantro is its ability to help remove heavy metals from your body, supporting your overall wellbeing.

Some research suggests that cilantro may help improve your mental health by reducing anxiety symptoms. It may also benefit your heart health by lowering blood pressure, cholesterol, and regulating blood sugar. Furthermore, cilantro has antibacterial properties that could help protect against certain infections.

Incorporating parsley and cilantro into your diet can provide you with various nutrients and health benefits. Try adding them to salads, sauces, or your main dishes to enhance flavor and improve your nutrition.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main differences between parsley and cilantro?

Parsley and cilantro are both popular herbs used in cooking. They have similar appearances but differ in taste and aroma. Parsley has a mild, grassy flavor, while cilantro has a more pungent and citrusy taste. Their botanical families also differ as parsley belongs to the Apiaceae family, and cilantro is part of the Coriandrum genus.

How do parsley and cilantro taste compared to each other?

Parsley has a fresh, mild taste with a slightly peppery undertone. It’s often used as a garnish to enhance the flavors of other ingredients without overpowering them. Cilantro, on the other hand, has a bold and citrusy flavor with a hint of soapiness for some people. This distinct taste can be divisive, with some people loving whereas others dislike it.

Can parsley and cilantro be used interchangeably in recipes?

Although parsley and cilantro may look similar, their flavors are quite different. Substituting one for the other in a recipe can significantly change the taste of the dish. In some cases, it’s possible to swap them if you’re experimenting with flavors, but be prepared for a different outcome. However, for recipes where the distinctive taste of cilantro or parsley is crucial, it’s best to use the specified herb.

Which is better for detox: parsley or cilantro?

Both parsley and cilantro boast health benefits and can support detoxification. Parsley is rich in antioxidants and vitamins, including vitamins A, C, and K. It helps to flush out excess fluids and support kidney function. Cilantro is known to have chelation properties, which can help remove heavy metals from the body. Your choice between the two may depend on your personal taste and health goals.

What are some popular substitutes for parsley and cilantro?

If you’re short on parsley, you can try substituting it with fresh chervil or celery leaves for a similar mild flavor. For cilantro, potential substitutes include Thai basil, lemon balm, or a mix of fresh parsley and mint leaves, although the taste won’t be identical.

What are the different types of parsley and how do they compare to cilantro?

There are two main types of parsley: curly leaf parsley and flat-leaf (Italian) parsley. Curly leaf parsley is often used as a garnish due to its attractive appearance, while flat-leaf parsley has a more robust flavor and is preferred in cooking. Both types of parsley have a milder taste compared to the bold and citrusy flavor of cilantro.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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