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substitute for cilantro

HBGigi Feb 4, 2011 10:31 AM

DH hates cilantro, says it tastes like soap. I've read that you can substitute Italian flat leaf parsley for cilantro but I'm seeing more and more recipes that call for cilantro where the cilantro seems to be the main flavoring ingredient/herb. Any suggestions for a substitute that gives the dishes more character than just plain parsley?

  1. s
    sparkareno Feb 4, 2011 11:02 AM

    I think it depends on what the dish is. I love cilantro but I see how people think it is soapy. If it is an Asian dish, maybe sub mint. Also, sometimes people who don't like cilantro don't mind it in combo--I make a pesto with cilantro/mint/basil and everyone loves it--even people who don't like it by itself.

    1. egit Feb 4, 2011 11:03 AM

      I don't think there's any real substitute. Culantro is a little harder to find, but you may try that-- see if DH can deal with it.

      Otherwise I'd probably say basil. Or maybe fresh mint. But they're definitely not the same as fresh cilantro.

      1. paulj Feb 4, 2011 11:30 AM

        What kind of character do you want?

        Parsley is widely used in Spanish cooking, but using it will give your dish a Spanish character, not a Mexican one. Similarly using basil in a tomato 'salsa' might give it an Italian character, more like a crostini topping than a chip dip.

        1. c
          cocktailhour Feb 4, 2011 01:43 PM

          For Asian, depending on the dish, I would use a combo of mint and basil. For Mexican, there really isn't a substitute. Parsley would work for color, but not flavor. I would be more likely to omit it. Maybe substitute finely chopped poblano for a different flavor profile, or minced green onion. again it depends on the dish.

          1 Reply
          1. re: cocktailhour
            christy319 Feb 4, 2011 03:58 PM

            Completely agree--basil or mint if it's Asian, and the dish will still be very tasty, but there's no subsitute for cilantro in Mexican food. Parsley is a terrible idea--I bet whoever thought of that didn't think beyond the appearance.

          2. chefj Feb 4, 2011 03:56 PM

            Rau Ram and Culantro AKA Thorny Coriander, , Saw-leaf Herb or Saw-tooth Herb are probable the closest in flavor to Cilantro.

            1. b
              Breezychow Feb 4, 2011 04:09 PM

              If the cilantro is just used as a topping or garnish, then you can substitute Italian flat-leaf parsley. However, if it's an integral part of the dish, there really is not any true substitute for it. Since it does have af a slight orangey-citrusey flavor/aroma - at least to those folks who aren't afflicted with the soap thing - maybe you could try a little grated orange zest in the dish along with flat-leaf parsley.

              1. e
                escondido123 Feb 4, 2011 08:20 PM

                People who think cilantro tastes like soap--I'm one of them--do not have the ability to taste another flavor in cilantro that basically negates the soapy flavor and allows the wonderful flavors to shine through. In some recipes, you can substitute some coriander seeds (also known as cilantro seeds) since their flavor is totally different. For the fresh green flavor, you can sometimes sub in parsley or basil. For me. after many years dealing with fresh cilantro, I have come to realize it is not so soapy if cooked ahead of time. But truly, put fresh cilantro in a dish and for me it will taste like Dawn.

                1. s
                  soupkitten Feb 4, 2011 08:31 PM

                  sometimes you can go with a bit of green onion with lime and lime zest as an okay sub, but there isn't really a (good) sub imo.

                  1. coll Feb 5, 2011 02:31 AM

                    In the summer, I grow Vietnamese Cilantro which is not a true cilantro, but I find it imparts that kind of taste, without the undertones. One of my must have herbs.

                    Oh I see someone mentioned it above, under a different name http://www.mountainvalleygrowers.com/...

                    1. c
                      CeeBee Feb 5, 2011 04:09 AM

                      I've used celery leaves as a sub for cilantro (I'm allergic) in some Mexican dishes. I thought it tasted quite similar.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: CeeBee
                        vvvindaloo Feb 5, 2011 01:03 PM

                        That is the the best idea I have heard yet for a cilantro sub. Not the same as cilantro, but still refreshing and brighter than parsley, with a hint of citrus. I personally love cilantro, but often find myself preparing something simple-like pico de gallo or guacamole-and having to either make two versions, or put up with groans...

                      2. Jay F Feb 5, 2011 04:31 AM

                        While there's no substitute for cilantro IMO, when I cook for a certain friend, I have substituted basil. If it's not something I can make basliicious, I just leave it out.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Jay F
                          Rella Jun 15, 2012 03:04 PM

                          I've not compared, but I have grown in garden and somewhat unsuccessfully in the Aerogarden hyrdo-thingie and bought cilantro in the below forms, but for those who say cilantro tastes of soap, are some forms soapier than others?

                          garden grown cilantro
                          hydroponic grown cilantro
                          supermarket cilantro
                          supermarket organic cilantro
                          cilantro in a package in the supermarket that hasn't been subjected to a water bath
                          cilantro as a potted plant from a nursery where it hasn't been planted yet
                          cilantro grown in a hothouse (home)

                        2. h
                          HBGigi Feb 5, 2011 07:01 AM

                          Thanks everyone for all the input. I will certainly try the coriander seeds and will also look for Vietnamese cilantro and try that on him. I was interested in both a sub for Asian dishes as well as Mexican dishes since we like both. So far I have subbed basil in the Asian dishes but I've just left it out in Mexican dishes and they really were flavor lacking.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: HBGigi
                            paulj Feb 5, 2011 09:04 AM

                            I wonder if people who dislike cilantro also dislike culantro
                            The culantro is usually described as similar tasting, but stronger. I find it labeled by its Vietnamese name, ngo gai

                            1. re: paulj
                              VeggieHead Feb 5, 2011 06:42 PM

                              Cilantro has an almost identical flavor profile of cilantro; however, the flavor does not linger as long. The texture of the two are completely different, though. Culantro is not nearly as tender. Those who dislike cilantro aren't likely to enjoy cilantro. My MIL who is Mexican hates cilantro, so I always have to split batches of salsa, guacamole, and Pico de Gallo.

                              1. re: VeggieHead
                                escondido123 Feb 5, 2011 08:17 PM

                                If cilantro tasted like soap to you, you would also dislike it. This is not just a picky eater thing.

                                1. re: escondido123
                                  paulj Feb 5, 2011 10:03 PM

                                  I wonder whether culantro tastes soapy those individuals as well.

                                  1. re: paulj
                                    chefj Feb 7, 2011 02:42 PM

                                    They are not really related to each other so I would think not.
                                    I believe that the "soapy flavor" is one of those biological oddities like the effect of Asparagus on some but not others, or Slenda tasting metallic to some people.

                          2. monpetitescargot Feb 5, 2011 11:55 PM

                            it really does depend on the dish since cilantro is used in so many different fashions and in so many cuisines. what's going to be your guiding light is your own palate in the end. experiment. it could be fun. it may also be worth it to grow a couple interesting, more hard-to-find alternative herbs yourself.

                            also, as someone else said, basil doesnt fit the same flavour profile, precisely, but it often will complement many of the same dishes cilantro does, especially in many asian cuisines. fennel fronds or tarragon may work as well in certain dishes.

                            i, too, love the celery leaf rec.

                            1. l
                              lagringa32 Jun 15, 2012 02:42 PM

                              I you're making cooked latin food, I'd blow off cilantro all together in favor of culantro (recao) if you can get it. IMHO, its not "soapy" like cilantro, but it does have a similar flavor. Besides... it'd make your latin cooking more authentic. :)

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: lagringa32
                                paulj Jun 15, 2012 03:04 PM

                                Are you sure that this substitution works? That people who dislike the soapy taste of cilantro, don't detect the same soapiness in culantro?

                                I wouldn't discourage someone from trying it, but I wouldn't build up their hopes either.

                                I raised this question earlier in this thread

                                1. re: paulj
                                  lagringa32 Jun 15, 2012 05:53 PM

                                  It's worth a shot (if you are somewhere that its readily available)! Personally I'm kind of "meh" about cilantro, but I like culantro. If its being used raw, though, its a lot tougher than cilantro.

                              2. paulj Jun 15, 2012 03:10 PM

                                Harold McGee on why some dislike cilantro

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: paulj
                                  Rella Jun 15, 2012 03:18 PM

                                  I don't fit the pattern: I love watermelon, but the smell of a certain handcleaner that smells very much like watermelon makes me want to wretch.

                                  Let's see - now let's do the science - what do they call it 'reverse engineering'?

                                2. BananaBirkLarsen Jun 15, 2012 03:43 PM

                                  How about trying Mexican oregano? Completely different flavour from cilantro, but it could be used in a lot of Mexican dishes that are bland without cilantro. Although I've never seen it for sale in its fresh form.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: BananaBirkLarsen
                                    Rella Jun 15, 2012 04:07 PM

                                    Neither have I seen it fresh. I did a search a couple of years ago for seeds, but I couldn't even find seeds for growing it myself.

                                    Also, I've heard that it growns well in hot dry climate, of which ours is not, here in the Shenandoah Valley, except for a few short months.

                                    1. re: Rella
                                      BananaBirkLarsen Jun 15, 2012 06:22 PM

                                      I would think that here in central California we would have the perfect climate, since 3/4 of the year is hot and dry and there is a large community of Mexican ex-pats and I can find just about every other type of produce you could possibly want to use in Mexican cooking. And yet, no fresh Mexican oregano. Go figure. (or maybe I'm just not looking in the right place)

                                      1. re: BananaBirkLarsen
                                        paulj Jun 15, 2012 08:57 PM

                                        It seems to do best in Texas

                                  2. Gemi53161 Nov 16, 2013 12:17 PM

                                    What about Bayleaf

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Gemi53161
                                      paulj Nov 16, 2013 12:39 PM

                                      wrong texture :)

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