8 Cilantro Substitute Ideas | Save the Salsa & Dinner!

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When preparing food in the kitchen, there’s a few reasons why you might find yourself looking for cilantro substitute ideas. Perhaps you don’t like the taste of cilantro. Maybe you’ve simply run out of cilantro and want to find a substitution.

It happens to us all. At some point in our lives, we are destined to run out of an herb or spice in the kitchen.

Consider a few cilantro substitute ideas to help save the salsa and dinner!

But first, let’s get to know cilantro a little better…

Bunch of Cilantro - what to substitute
Bunch of fresh cilantro

What is cilantro?

The scientific name for cilantro is Coriandrum sativum. Cilantro is part of the Apiaceae family, which also includes carrots, parsley, celery and even poison hemlock. Sometimes cilantro and coriander are used synonymously. With this unique plant, the coriander leaves are cilantro and the cilantro seeds are coriander. Both herbs are enjoyed from the same plant!

What does cilantro turn into?

Interestingly, cilantro turns into coriander when it goes to seed (bolts). At first, the plant grows leaves which are commonly used in salsa and other dishes.

What does cilantro taste like?

Cilantro tastes a bit citrusy according to many who’ve tried it. At times, cilantro may also taste a bit soapy or unpleasant. Either way, if you don’t care for the taste, finding good substitutes for cilantro can make all the difference in your meals and recipes!

What does cilantro smell like?

Is it Yanny or Laurel? It may seem silly to quote a viral internet video meme here, but Cilantro has a smell that appeals to some and turns off others. Cilantro generally smells lemony or a bit like lime, perhaps with a touch of earthiness. To others, it has a soapy, terrible taste and smell. Some like cilantro while others do not.

The reason for this may be more interesting than you’d expect! Apparently, there’s a cilantro taste gene – OR26A – that affects olfactory receptors, and ultimately, the smell of cilantro for some but not for others.

For more information on this, you can check out the research article, A genetic variant near olfactory genes influences cilantro preference, by Flavour Journal (Part of Springer Nature).

What is cilantro good for?

Enjoyed as fresh leaves or as a dried spice, cilantro shines in Latin American and Asian cuisine. For this reason, some refer to cilantro as Mexican parsley or Chinese parsley.

What goes well with cilantro?

Because of its already tangy notes, cilantro tends to pair well with lime. Cilantro works well with chicken, seafood like shrimp, and rice. The cilantro lime flavor brightens dishes using whole shrimp, boneless or bone-in chicken, and whole grain rice, among other entrees and sides.

Cilantro Replacement Tips:

When cilantro replacements are on your mind, consider a few easy tips to help you choose a great alternative.

  • Taste as you go. When possible, try the food as you’re making it.
  • Look at texture and appearance. The look and texture of the food can make an impact when you choose a cilantro substitute.
  • Replace cilantro (or not) based on your preferences. You may find that you prefer a stronger or weaker flavor to the dish. Try to achieve that, even with a cilantro substitution.
  • For really important recipes, get the real thing. If you aren’t sure that you can pull off a cilantro alternative, you’re better off with the real thing. Bite the bullet and head to the store if you can.

Love it or hate it, you can replace cilantro in a snap with these tips and simple swaps.

Mexican Food Tacos topped with Cilantro - Photo by ROMAN ODINTSOV from Pexels
Mexican Food Tacos topped with Cilantro – Photo by ROMAN ODINTSOV from Pexels

Best Cilantro Substitute Ideas

Finding cilantro substitutes doesn’t have to be an epic task in your kitchen. Simply see what you have in the fridge or cupboard to make the swap!

Here are some cilantro substitutions you can use in place of those tangy leaves in your recipes.

1. Parsley

Hailing from the same family with a similar look, parsley can be a great stand-in for cilantro. Parsley’s mild flavor lends itself well to almost any recipe. Meanwhile, the parsley leaf’s texture and shape is similar enough to fool most of your dinner guests.

When you’re cooking against the clock or just want a swap, give a strong look to parsley as one of the best cilantro substitutes.

2. Celery Leaves

Similarly mild in flavor and comparable in appearance, the tender tops of celery have what it takes to serve as a sub for cilantro. Simply remove the leafy greens from the top of your celery and use them as you would cilantro in a recipe.

3. Lemon Basil, Lime Basil, or Thai Basil (or Any Basil, Really)

Offering a spicy zing, Thai basil can be a good replacement for cilantro. Remember that the flavor edges more on anise than citrus. You can adapt the recipe in other ways to recover that citrus zing. Consider adding lemon basil or lime basil for this goal!

Even traditional sweet basil can replace cilantro, but just keep in mind the difference in leaf shape and flavor profile.

4. Spice Blends

Herb mixtures sometimes contain the missing seasonings, and other times, a unique mixture can elevate the dish. As such, seasoning blends can be a great choice for a cilantro substitute.

Mix up your own spice blend from fresh herbs if you like. Try a blend of parsley, basil, tarragon, dill, and/or oregano. You can also add other items from this list.

5. Dill

With a fresh, citrusy taste, dill can work as a substitute for cilantro. However, dill leaves are shaped nothing like cilantro, so if looks matter, keep looking.

6. Lemon Mint (and others)

With so many varieties of mint, it’s easy to enhance the flavor profile of different recipes with a simple swap. Try lemon mint as an alternative to cilantro that retains some citrusy flavors. You can also try spearmint and others. Keep in mind that mint generally has a strong taste, so less is probably more in most cases. Consider halving the amount called for when using mint instead of cilantro.

7. Carrot Greens

Also suitable as a great substitute for parsley, carrot greens would do just fine as a sub for cilantro as well. The tops of carrots are often discarded in cooking, but you can use them to your advantage when you don’t like cilantro or simply have none on hand.

8. Lemon or Lime Juice

When adding fresh herbs as a substitute for cilantro, don’t just stop there! If you love cilantro in all its glory, you may also want to consider adding a few drops of fresh lemon or lime to replace that citrusy tang.

Cilantro Substitute for Salsa

When you need a cilantro substitute for salsa specifically, some of the best options include:

  • Parsley – Very similar in appearance and leaf shape, parsley is a good substitute for cilantro in salsa.
  • Carrot Greens – Swapping carrot greens into salsa adds texture and mild flavor to the recipe.
  • Basil – Tomatoes and basil already pair nicely together, so substituting basil for cilantro in salsa can work.
  • Mint – Fresh mint leaves in place of cilantro will add a strong hint of flavor to the salsa.
  • Dill – You can make a dill pickle salsa or simply add dill as a swap for cilantro.
  • Chives / Green Onions – The oniony flavors play nicely with salsa and would be a fine addition when you don’t have cilantro or don’t prefer it.
Cilantro salsa substitute ideas  - cilantro ingredients with tomatoes, peppers, and onions
Cilantro salsa substitute ideas – cilantro ingredients with tomatoes, peppers, and onions (Photo Courtesy of Angele J / Pexels)

The best thing about substituting for cilantro in salsa is that you can taste it as you go and make small batches to find the right combinations! Use small dishes to mix a pinch of this or that and find the flavor profile that works best for your needs.

Substitutes for Fresh Coriander Leaf (cilantro)

In summary, if you’re seeking fresh coriander leaf substitutes (cilantro replacements), consider these options:

  • Parsley
  • Celery Leaves
  • Fresh Carrot Tops (Carrot Greens)
  • Herb Mixtures
  • Dill
  • Mint, especially Lemon Mint
  • Lemon Basil, Lime Basil, Thai Basil, etc.
  • Lemon or Lime Juice
Cilantro Bunch tied with a rubber band
Cilantro Bunch tied with a rubber band

Final Thoughts: Best Cilantro Substitute Ideas

Cilantro is a unique herb that works well in a variety of cuisines and menu items. Consider finding suitable substitutes for cilantro rather than running out to the grocery store when you realize you’re running low or totally out of it.

Since this herb is popular in quite a few dishes, you can pretty much make a case to grow it yourself!

I have a gardening friend on Instagram whose rabbits LOVE cilantro! It’s a popular herb to grow and she’s always looking for cilantro seeds to grow more for her bunnies.

I grew cilantro in the garden of 2020 and truthfully, I didn’t give it a big enough pot. It grew for a bit and then bolted. Soon we had coriander seeds, but the black swallowtail caterpillars got to the cilantro leaves before we could find a use for them.

We will try again next year!

Now you have many ideas of what to use in place of cilantro in a recipe.

To help you decide on a suitable sub, consider what’s most important – the flavor, texture, or appearance.

Don’t forget – for a hint of tang that’s commonly enjoyed among cilantro lovers, you can usually add a splash of lemon or lime to your recipe.

I hope these options help you avoid that emergency trip to the grocery story!

Do you grow cilantro or use it in a lot of your recipes? Have you got a favorite cilantro substitute idea to share?

Please hit us up in the comments with any questions, comments, or stories you’d like to share. We’d love to hear from you!

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