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Culantro vs cilantro: two herbs – seven differences

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Learn seven differences between these two herbs that will help you to distinguish cilantro and culantro, their best uses, and their substitutes. 

During my visits to the local market in Peru, where I was last year, I came across a herb named culantro. Its pungent flavor with a hint of citrus impressed and I wanted to memorize it. The next day when we visited the ceviche restaurant, I immediately noticed the same scent and flavor. I wondered.

how to differentiate culantro and cilantro

What is culantro?

Culantro (Eryngium foetidum) is a herb native to Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and Latin America but is cultivated worldwide, mainly in the tropics. It’s also known as Mexican coriander, sawtooth coriander, long coriander, recao, chadon beni, bhandhania, spiny cilantro, and ngò gai. Culantro is a versatile herb of unique flavor and aroma that adds depth and complexity to many dishes.

culantro in a pot

What is cilantro?

People know cilantro also as coriander or Chinese parsley (not to be confused with parsley) in some parts of the world, is a herb commonly used in cooking and is native to regions of the Mediterranean and Asia.In other parts of the world, such as India and Southeast Asia, coriander refers to the seeds of the cilantro plant, which are used as a spice in cooking. In North America, however, the terms cilantro and coriander are often used interchangeably to refer to the plant’s leaves.

Moreover, cilantro appeared first among the most used herbs in the world.

cilantro leaves

What are the key differences between culantro and cilantro?

  1. Appearance
  2. Scent
  3. Taste
  4. Plant type
  5. Nutritional value
  6. Culinary uses
  7. Medicinal uses

1. Culantro vs Cilantro Appearance

Differences between cilantro and culantro start in appearance.

Culantro leaves are long, thicker, and tougher with serrated edges. Unlike cilantro, culantro leaves are usually darker green and slightly glossy. The culantro leaves also grow in a rosette, which radiates out from a central point.

In contrast, cilantro leaves are delicate, feathery, and more rounded. In addition, cilantro leaves are usually lighter green and have a softer texture than culantro. Long-leafed coriander grows on thin stems that branch out from a central stem.

Another notable difference is the size of the plants. Culantro grows much larger than cilantro and can reach up to two feet, whereas cilantro usually grows to a height of about one foot.

Overall, while culantro and cilantro may look somewhat similar from a distance, their leaves have distinct differences in texture, shape, and color, which make them easy to differentiate upon closer inspection.

culantro leaves
culantro leaves

2. Cilantro annual plant vs Culantro perennial plant

Culantro and cilantro look so distinct from each other that you will rarely confuse one for the other when at the grocery. This is because they are two different plants that belong to different botanical families.

Culantro is a perennial herb common in Caribbean and South American cuisines.  As a member of the family Apiaceae, culantro is relative to plants like carrots, parsley, and dill. 

Unlike perennial herbs that need to be replanted, Cilantro is an annual herb native to regions of the Mediterranean and Asia. Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) is a member of the Apiaceae family, like culantro, but belongs to a different genus. 

Coriander seeds
Coriander seeds

3. Is the scent of culantro stronger than cilantro?

Culantro has a strong, pungent aroma compared to a mixture of cilantro, citrus, and anise. The scent is often described as earthy and slightly bitter, with a hint of sweetness. Some people find the smell of culantro to be overpowering or unpleasant.

In contrast, cilantro has a fresh, citrusy scent that is often described as bright and slightly sweet. The aroma is delicate and can be easily overwhelmed by other flavors and scents. Some people find the cilantro scent refreshing and pleasant, while others perceive it as soapy or unpleasant.

The strong, spicy aroma of culantro is well-suited to hearty stews and marinades, while the delicate, citrusy scent of cilantro pairs well with fresh, light dishes like salads and salsas.

4. Culantro tastes stronger than cilantro.

Cilantro and culantro are two different herbs, although they taste similar.

Culantro has a much stronger and more pungent flavor, which is often described as a mixture of cilantro, citrus, and anise. The flavor is complex and overwhelming for some people but is highly valued in Caribbean and Latin American cuisine. Culantro is often used in marinades, stews, and soups, where its pungent flavor can stand up to other ingredients.

In contrast, cilantro has a fresh, bright flavor that is often described as citrusy and slightly sweet. The taste of cilantro is delicate and can be easily overwhelmed by other flavors, but it is a versatile herb that is used in a wide range of cuisines. Use cilantro as a garnish for dishes like tacos and curries or as an ingredient in this Peruvian salsa criolla, chutneys, and other sauces or dips like cilantro chimichurri. Like this Restaurant-Style Salsa with Chipotle Peppers. I also love to add it to this vegan Tom Kha soup.

While some people enjoy both culantro and cilantro, others find their flavors to be overpowering or unpleasant. Some people have a genetic predisposition to dislike cilantro, as they find its flavor and aroma soapy or metallic. However, culantro is generally less polarizing than cilantro and is appreciated for its unique, pungent flavor by many people.

Cooking with corriander

5. Cilantro and culantro nutritional value.

Culantro and cilantro have similar nutritional profiles and are both excellent sources of vitamins and minerals.

Both herbs are low in calories and high in vitamins A and C and antioxidants

Culantro is rich in calcium, iron, and potassium, while cilantro is a good source of vitamin K and small amounts of calcium, iron, and potassium.

While both herbs are nutritious and can be incorporated into a healthy diet, they are usually consumed in small amounts, primarily used as herbs to add flavor to dishes rather than as a significant source of nutrients.

Growing coriander
Growing coriander

6. Culinary uses

Culantro is used in Caribbean and Latin American cuisines. It is a key ingredient in dishes like sofrito, a fragrant sauce made with onion, garlic, and peppers used as a base for many stews, soups, and rice dishes. Culantro is also used in marinades and rubs for meats, where its strong, pungent flavor can add depth and complexity to the dish.

Conversely, cilantro is used in various cuisines, including Mexican, Indian, and Thai. It is often used to add a fresh, citrusy flavor to salsas, chutneys, curries, but also in this fat flush soup. Cilantro is also commonly used as a garnish for dishes like tacos or to add vibrant and earthy flavors to American southwest spice blend.

7. Culantro vs cilantro Medicinal uses

Both culantro and cilantro have been used for their medicinal properties for centuries, and they are believed to have various health benefits.

Culantro is known for its antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. It has been used to treat various conditions, including infections, fever, and high blood pressure. Culantro is also believed to be a natural remedy for digestive issues, including diarrhea, gas, and indigestion.

Cilantro is also known for its medicinal properties, particularly its ability to aid in digestion and promote healthy digestion. In addition, it has been used to treat nausea, bloating, and flatulence and may also have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Cilantro is also believed to have chelation properties, which can help remove heavy metals from the body.

culantro long leaves
culantro long leaves

Can I Substitute Cilantro for Culantro?

While culantro and cilantro have similar names and may look somewhat similar, they have distinct flavors that cannot be easily substituted for one another in most recipes.

If a recipe specifically calls for cilantro, it’s best to use cilantro, as its fresh, citrusy flavor is an essential part of many dishes. However, if you can’t find cilantro and need to substitute it, you could try using a combination of parsley and a small amount of mint, which can help replicate some of cilantro’s flavor and aroma.

On the other hand, if a recipe calls for culantro, it can be difficult to find a good substitute. While some people have used a combination of cilantro and parsley to replicate culantro’s flavor, it’s not an exact match and may not be appropriate for all dishes. 

In general, culantro is usually not eaten raw, whereas cilantro is mostly eaten raw or half-boiled. In most dishes, culantro isn’t a suitable substitute for cilantro, especially in dishes that call for raw cilantro.

7 differences culantro vs cilantro
Vladka Merva on February 18th, 2023

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