Struggling to match a herb to a name can often make you feel, well, like a herb. So how do you tell the difference between the forever confused cilantro and parsley? And how do you cook with them?


Cilantro, the Spanish name for fresh coriander leaves, (Confused? Here's a little explanation of cilantro, coriander, and the coriander seed.) is known for its bright, aromatic, citrusy smell and taste. Along with the dandelion, it was one of the first herbs to be grown by the American colonists. 

While not much is known about it's origins, coriander has been referenced in Sanscrit writings, its seeds found in Egyptian tombs, and even mentioned in the Bible!

Cilantro is a part of the carrot family and is also known as coriandrum sativum. Other common names are Chinese and Mexican parsley, all of which refer to the plant before it flowers and grows seeds.  


Parsley is also a part of the carrot family and has two main types. Curly parsley, petroselinum crispum, has smaller curled ruffled leaves. Curley parsley is mainly used as a garnish because of its bland flavor. Italian parsley, petroselinum crispum neapolitanum, has a brighter, almost light peppery flavor and is used almost as much as salt by continental cooks

Originating from the Mediterranean region of Southern Europe, parsley has been grown for over 2,000 years. Due to the fact that it thrived on the rocky hills of Greece, the name "parsley" is derived from petro, the Greek word for rock. 

Flat leaf parsley:

Curly parsley: 


The easiest way to distinguish between cilantro and flat leaf parsley is by smell. Cilantro has a brighter, stronger, aromatic scent. Parsley, on the other hand, will smell like cut grass. The difference in smell is extreme, so trust your nose! 

For those of you shopping with a stuffy nose, cilantro will typically be a little lighter in color and have leaves that more curved.

Parsley will be a deeper richer green, and when compared, have leaves that are more pointy. 


Look for cilantro that has tender stalks with fragrant, bright green leaves. Leave wilted yellowing leaves on the shelf. Keep in mind that if the herb does not smell, the herb does not have any flavor.

Cilantro is used in marinades, soups, garnishes, chilis, guac, salsa, and just about any dish one could use herbs in! Cilantro has long been used in Chinese cuisine and medicine. (Did you know coriander is an aphrodisiac?) This herb is also found in many curries/stews all over Asia, and is especially good with hot, spicy, and dishes that are a little oily!

Interestingly enough, how cilantro tastes to you is attributed to your genes. People who hate cilantro actually share a group of olfactory-receptor genes, called OR6A2. These genes pick up on the scent of the aldehyde compound in cilantro, the same compound that is also found in soap. This would explain why cilantro has a soapy taste for about 10% of the population. 


When purchasing parsley, look for perky intense green leaves. Avoid parsley that has yellow or wilting leaves and make sure to wash the herb thoroughly before use. (A thorough wash applies to cilantro as well.)

Parsley is often used in stews, sauces, pasta dishes, cheese spreads, vegetables, omelettes, and fish. In America, curly parsley is the most popular herb to use as a garnish. Flat leaf parsley can also add depth when making a delicious garlic/herb butter. The Europeans used parsley in a bouquet garni, and is also the basis of a fines herbes mixture.  

Did you know that parsley has a history of being associated with death? This is because of its poisonous relative, fool's parsley. According to Greek mythology, parsley grew from the blood of the forerunner of death, Archemorus. Interestingly enough, superstitious farmers refused to grow parsley during the medieval times because they believed the seeds took so long to grow because they went to hell and back seven times. 


From the photo above, can you point out which herb is cilantro and which is parsley?

ANSWER (Scroll down)




Cilantro is to the far left.

Parsley is to the far right.