Coriander is a small seed with an earthy, citrusy flavor. The coriander plant is also referred to as cilantro or Chinese parsley. Both the leaves and seeds of the coriander plant are commonly used in cooking, and coriander seed sometimes finds its way into Belgian-style beers.
Coriander has a unique spicy, nutty flavor with notes of lemon and orange. Fresh coriander seeds generally exhibit higher levels of those bright, fruity flavors, while older coriander seeds have more of a peppery, spicy flavor. Most of the coriander you will find in grocery stores is the peppery, spicy kind. The best way to get fresh coriander seed is to grow the herb yourself and harvest the seeds. These fresh seeds will be positively bursting with citrus flavor.
What's the difference between coriander and cilantro? It just comes down to what part of the herb is used. In cooking, coriander usually refers to the seeds, while cilantro refers to the leaves of the plant. However, you can use the words interchangeably and still be correct. For example, you could put coriander leaves on your tacos or cilantro seeds in your homemade spice rub.
If a recipe calls for coriander, and you don't have any on hand, don't panic -- there are several good substitutes out there.
Substitute one teaspoon of caraway seeds for one teaspoon of coriander.
Caraway seeds are what give rye bread its unique, spicy flavor. The plant that produces caraway seeds is in the same family as coriander, so it's a good place to start when you're looking for a replacement. Caraway seeds have notes of anise, citrus, and pepper and are close in flavor to coriander.
Substitute three-fourths of a teaspoon of cumin for one teaspoon of coriander.
Cumin is a spice that shares many of the earthy flavors of coriander. Since it's easy to find, cumin is higher on this list than cilantro leaves.
Substitute one teaspoon of fennel seeds for one teaspoon of coriander.
Fennel is sweet with warm licorice or anise notes. Fennel is a solid substitution for coriander because both contain the compound anethole, which gives them a subdued, sweet flavor. Fennel can also be mixed evenly with cumin and caraway seeds to create a spice blend that tastes like coriander.
Substitute three-fourths of a teaspoon of garam masala for one teaspoon of coriander.
Garam masala is an Indian spice blend that contains coriander. It also contains bold spices such as cloves, cinnamon, peppercorn, cardamom, bay leaves, and cumin, all of which can change the taste of your dish. Several of garam masala's ingredients are good coriander replacements, but the others, like cloves, cinnamon, and bay leaves, will quickly throw your recipe off course.
If you have the ingredients, you can create a garam masala spice blend of your own that is very similar to coriander. Mix together these ingredients:
Substitute one-half of a teaspoon of curry powder for one teaspoon of coriander.
Coriander is one of the components in curry powder, so it may seem surprising that curry powder isn't higher on this list. However, much like garam masala, curry powder contains other ingredients that are very bold, and they can quickly change the taste of your dish.
Curry powder could also change the color of your dish, since it typically contains turmeric. Before using curry powder as a substitute, make sure that you're familiar with the flavors and colors it produces and that you're comfortable having those flavors and colors in the dish you're making.
Substitute one pinch of cilantro leaves as a garnish after cooking for one teaspoon of coriander.
If you don't have any of the replacements above, you could use cilantro leaves. They will provide the herbal, citrusy notes present in coriander, but otherwise, the flavors of coriander seed and cilantro leaves are different. Additionally, many people don't think cilantro leaves taste good, so the plant responsible for coriander seeds is at the bottom of our list.
When using cilantro leaves as a replacement for coriander, remember not to add the cilantro until the dish is done cooking. The flavors in cilantro cook off quickly and can be lost in the mix. Adding them as a garnish keeps the citrusy flavor intact.
Working with spices can be a lot of fun, and having to substitute them can help you discover new flavor combinations. Instead of leaving coriander out of the recipe entirely when you don't have it, try one of these substitutions and see how your family and friends like it.