My general food knowledge has been largely influenced by Texas, where I live, and Australia, where my dad is from. In Texas, food is greatly influenced by Mexican cuisine. You can find fresh cilantro stirred into guac, chopped up in a salad, or sprinkled on top of pretty much anything. In Australia, and most of the rest of the English-speaking countries, an herb called coriander adds the same flavor to popular Asian dishes like soups and curries.

To me, these two ingredients have always seemed to add the same fresh, bright, citrusy flavor to anything they are thrown into. So why do they have different names? I've dissected the origins of both to see if there's actually a difference between cilantro vs coriander. 

As it turns out, the chopped herb in your salsa and the leafy, bright greens served with your warm bowl of curry are in fact the same thing. They're just the leaves of the coriander plant, most popularly used to flavor both Asian and Latin cuisine.

The Leaf

herb, vegetable, cilantro, coriander, parsley
Msu Spoon

The leaves we Americans call cilantro come from the Coriandrum savitum plant. From its home in the eastern Mediterranean, the herb was loved by the Greeks and it's also been a staple in Indian and Chinese cooking for hundreds of years. From there, the Spanish conquistadors introduced the herb to Latin America.

Today, the leaves are mainly used as a garnish or mix-in to the dishes of East Asia and South America. They add that irreplaceable flavor that many people find repulsive to some of the most popular international dishes you can find in America. From curry to salsa to soup, this controversial leaf has made its way into many popular dishes.

The Seed

Indian Masala photo by Pratiksha Mohanty (@pratiksha_mohanty) on Unsplash

on unsplash

In the US, coriander usually exclusively refers to the floral, flavor-boosting dried seed that's often added to meats, stews, and savory baked goods, and most would not associate the flavor it adds to the flavor cilantro adds. But, as you may have guessed, this common kitchen-cabinet spice comes from the same plant.

Though similar in taste to the leaves when fresh, the dried and ground seed loses that pungent flavor and is a milder and warm one, making it the perfect addition to any winter meal.

Coriander vs Cilantro

chili, coriander, chicken, beef, salsa, lime, cilantro, tacos
Ariela Basson

The word 'coriander,' introduced first in the UK, comes from the French word for the plant: coriandre. Though originally used mostly for its aromatic seeds, the influence of Asian cuisine made the leafy part of the plant to popular in Western Europe.

The word 'cilantro,' on the other hand, is the Spanish word for the plant. As the leafy part of the herb made its way into the US through Mexican cuisine, the Spanish name stuck with it. 

So Basically....

A Bowl of Pho photo by Sharon Chen (@sharonchen) on Unsplash

on unsplash

Whether you're enjoying it on top of a big bowl of Pho in Sydney or generously mixed into a taco in Austin, cilantro and coriander are one in the same. Though more commonly called cilantro when incorporated into Mexican cuisine, the herb can be called by either name when it comes down to it.

Next time find yourself in a cilantro vs coriander dispute, remember that the two are just different words referring to the exact same thing. They're that bright, citrusy herb that some despise and some can't live without.