Distinguish cilantro, coriander

Susan Selasky
Detroit Free Press

If there are ever confusing herbs, it’s cilantro and coriander. While both come from the same plant, they have different uses and tastes. Cilantro is the leaves and stems of the coriander plant. When the plant flowers, the seeds are called coriander seeds. Cilantro is also the Spanish word for coriander.

Fresh cilantro is used in many Asian and Mexican dishes — especially salsa. Both the soft feathery green serrated cilantro leaves and the stems are used in most dishes. In many Asian recipes cilantro might be referred to as Chinese Parsley or coriander leaves. At most grocery stores it will be labeled as cilantro.

Many people either love cilantro or loathe it. Those who loathe it find the flavor soapy, acrid or pungent. There are some references saying it’s a genetic thing with those who find cilantro’s flavor soapy. If you love it, as I do, the flavor is aromatic and citrusy with a slight peppery tone.

Use cilantro in salsa, spreads, pasta and noodles and more. It’s best to add chopped leaves at the end of cooking. Once you’ve used all the leaves with stems, don’t toss the bottom stems. You can finely chop them or use them in marinades, brines or poaching liquid. Sometimes you will find fresh cilantro with its root, which is used in many Thai dishes.

The only bummer with cilantro is that it doesn’t last very long. It’s best to store a bunch like you would a bouquet of flowers. Place the bunch stem-side down in a mason jar with about 2 inches of water. Loosely cover the leaves with plastic wrap. It will keep about 5 days.

Coriander seeds are like tiny tan-hued beads with ridges. They are used whole in pickling recipes or crushed or ground and used in many recipes including curries, rice dishes and soups. Coriander’s flavor leans more toward the warm spice category, like cinnamon with nutty nuances. To intensify the flavor of coriander seeds, toast the seeds first. Place the seeds in a dry skillet and heat over medium heat until they become fragrant. This will take just a few minutes, so watch carefully so the seeds don’t burn. Once you toast them, crush them using a mallet or bottom of a heavy skillet. Or pulse them a few times in a clean coffee grinder.

Try today’s recipe from our archives that uses fresh cilantro in guacamole as well as burgers.

Cilantro Pepper Jack Cheeseburgers

Pepper Jack cheese gives these a kick, but they’re cooled with a dollop of guacamole.

Makes: 8 (mini burgers)

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes


1 avocado, halved, peeled and pitted

1 teaspoon lime juice

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1 small fresh jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

2 tablespoons minced onion

1 roma tomato, washed, diced

Garlic powder to taste

1/4 teaspoon salt to taste


2 tablespoons canola oil

1/2 cup onion, diced

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 pound ground round, chuck or sirloin

2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

3 ounces Pepper Jack cheese, cut into small squares

8 small brown-and-serve rolls or favorite mini rolls

For guacamole, mash the avocado in a medium bowl with the lime juice and chili powder. Stir in the jalapeno, cilantro, onion, tomato and garlic. Season to taste with salt and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the canola oil. Add the onions and saute about 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Sprinkle with the brown sugar. Using a slotted spoon, remove the onions from the skillet and cool. In a large bowl, mix together the beef, chili powder, salt, black pepper and cilantro. Stir in the cooled onions.

Shape the mixture into 8 small patties, using about 1/4 cup of the beef mixture for each one.

Reheat the same skillet the onions were cooked in and cook the burgers until browned on each side and to desired doneness. Top burgers with cheese squares during the last minute of cooking. Serve on rolls topped with guacamole.

Nutrition information: 219 calories (45 percent from fat), 11 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 16 g carbohydrates, 16 g protein, 558 mg sodium, 42 mg cholesterol, 102 mg calcium, 2 g fiber.

Adapted from Tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.