If you’ve ever accidentally grabbed a bunch of parsley instead of cilantro, or vice versa, while grocery shopping, you’re not alone.
At first glance, these two leafy green herbs could be twins. People often mistake them for one another, and many wonder whether they’re interchangeable.
This article explains the difference between parsley and cilantro, so you can decide which to use and when.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) and cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) are two bright green, leafy, aromatic herbs that grow on long, thin stems. They come from the same botanical family, called Apiaceae (1,
People in some regions refer to cilantro as coriander or Chinese parsley.
Although cilantro and parsley bear a great resemblance, you can tell them apart by examining their leaves. Cilantro leaves are more rounded, while parsley leaves are pointed.
However, the best way to tell the two apart is by smelling them. Parsley has a fresh, mild herbal scent, while cilantro has a much stronger, spicy, citrusy aroma.
Some people describe the smell and taste of fresh cilantro leaves as soap-like. That’s because they contain aldehyde compounds that are common to soap (3).
People use both herbs frequently in cooking, but they also have a long history of use in traditional medicine (1,
Parsley and cilantro are culinary herbs that look nearly identical but taste and smell quite differently. Parsley has a fresh, mild scent. Cilantro has a strong, citrusy aroma, which some people describe as soapy.
Parsley and cilantro contain similar nutrients.
Both are very low in calories, protein, carbs, and fat. However, both are a rich source of several vitamins. The table below provides nutritional information for 28 grams of each raw herb (
|Protein||1 gram||1 gram|
|Carbs||2 grams||1 gram|
|Vitamin K||574% of the Daily Value (DV)||109% of the DV|
|Vitamin C||62% of the DV||13% of the DV|
|Vitamin A||47% of the DV||38% of the DV|
|Folate||11% of the DV||4% of the DV|
Parsley’s vitamin K content is notable. Just 28 grams provides nearly 6 times the recommended Daily Value for this vitamin. Vitamin K is especially important for healthy blood clotting and strong bones (
In addition to their nutrients, both herbs are rich in phenolic compounds. These are antioxidants that can protect your cells and DNA from oxidative damage (1,
Parsley and cilantro are both very low in calories but rich in certain vitamins, most notably vitamin K. They’re also a source of antioxidants that can help protect your cells from oxidative damage.
Like other herbs and spices, parsley and cilantro have been part of traditional medicine practices for hundreds of years.
Test-tube and animal studies have found that the plant chemicals that occur naturally in these herbs may confer various health benefits, such as (1,
- reducing blood sugar
- reducing cholesterol
- helping prevent blood clots
- inhibiting the growth of some types of bacteria and fungi
- reducing blood pressure and kidney stones by acting as a diuretic
- relieving pain
- minimizing intestinal tract spasms
Cilantro does not appear to reduce heavy metals in the body, such as leached mercury from dental fillings, though anecdotal sources have made this claim (
It’s important to note that the findings in the list above were mainly observed in animal and test-tube studies (1,
Therefore, scientists need to study these potential health benefits in humans before they can make health claims about parsley or cilantro.
When you use these herbs in recipes, the cooking method and other ingredients used may affect these herbs’ content of nutrients and other health-promoting compounds.
For example, cooking parsley and cilantro reduces the amounts of certain antioxidants but increases those of others (
When researchers looked at the effects of cooking methods on various herbs, including parsley, they found that simmering increased their antioxidant content, while stir-frying and grilling decreased it (
The amount of vitamin K you absorb from both herbs can also vary depending on how you eat them. Adding them to a recipe that has some fat, such as olive oil, avocado, or coconut milk, increases the amount of vitamin K your body absorbs (
Both herbs have a long history of use in traditional medicine. Animal and test-tube studies have suggested they may have many health benefits. However, scientists need to conduct more human-based research on these potential effects.
Both herbs add a pop of bright green to recipes. However, they have very different flavors, so you can’t always substitute one for the other in recipes.
Traditional Mexican, Asian, and Indian recipes often call for cilantro. Its distinctive fresh, spicy-citrusy flavor is a key to transforming mashed avocados into guacamole and diced tomatoes into pico de gallo.
Both the stems and leaves of cilantro are very flavorful. The leaves are very tender, while the stems are a bit tougher. Still, you can chop them and use every part of this herb.
You’ll get the most flavor from cilantro if you eat it raw rather than cooked or dried. Use it to flavor salad dressings or vegetable dips. If you want to add it to a cooked recipe, such as chili or a curry dish, add it at the very end or as a garnish.
Parsley tends to be a more versatile herb because of its fresh, mild, herbaceous flavor. It brightens up nearly any recipe and complements other ingredients like lemon or garlic.
It’s a staple in Middle Eastern recipes like tabbouleh, and it adds a pop of flavor to almost any soup, stew, sauce, or marinade.
Unlike cilantro, parsley retains most of its flavor when cooked. Thus, you can add it to dishes during cooking or use it as a garnish to add flavor and color.
The stems are edible, but some people find them tough or bitter and prefer to use only the leaves.
To store either of these herbs, cut the bottoms off the stems and place each bunch in a small jar with a few inches of water. Don’t wash the herbs until you’re ready to use them. Keep them in the refrigerator, and they should last at least a week.
Parsley and cilantro both add flavor and color to recipes, but they’re not interchangeable. Parsley has a mild, bright flavor that’s very versatile, while cilantro has a much stronger, citrusy flavor.
Parsley and cilantro are leafy green herbs that might look like twins, but they have very different flavors and culinary uses.
Parsley tends to be more versatile, while fresh cilantro brings a strong herbaceous, citrusy flavor to recipes.
They’re similar nutritionally, although parsley comes out ahead for its vitamin K content. Both are rich in antioxidants.
Incorporating more of either herb into your diet may help improve your health and liven up your meals.