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Coriander and Cilantro: What's the Difference?

Gordon has been cooking and experimenting with food since childhood. He loves coming up with new and tasty culinary creations.

The plant above is known as coriander to some people and cilantro to others.

The plant above is known as coriander to some people and cilantro to others.

Are Coriander and Cilantro Two Different Things?

What are coriander and cilantro? Are they the same or two totally different things?

The short answer is: It depends on where you are. They mean the same things in some countries, while others treat them as two completely different components.

It is quite amazing that although people in the UK and the USA allegedly speak the same language, there are a great many discrepancies to be found, whether this applies to the spelling of certain words and/or sometimes even to the specific words employed to convey a particular meaning. Consequently, confusion can often reign supreme and lead to damaging—or even downright offensive—misunderstandings.

We have here stumbled upon a prime example in the words coriander and cilantro.

Origins of the Words Coriander and Cilantro

Do you maybe even know it by another name altogether?

  • The Latin name for the herb in question is Coriandrum sativum. So, as you can easily see, this is where the word "coriander" is derived from.
  • In turn, the word "cilantro" is the Spanish translation of this word (coriander).
Coriander seeds (UK) or just coriander (US).

Coriander seeds (UK) or just coriander (US).

The Meaning of Coriander and Cilantro by Country

In the United KingdomIn the United StatesIn India

Here, we would refer to the leaves and stalks of the plant as "coriander" while the the seeds are called "coriander seeds." Basically, the word "cilantro" does not exist in the UK.

In the US, the leaves and stalks of the plant are referred to as "cilantro," while the seeds are referred to as "coriander."

In India, where the herb is extremely popular in cooking, it is referred to as something different-sounding altogether—"dhania" (as if the issue needed further confusion!).

This is a mutton curry with fragrant rice. Coriander/cilantro is a very popular item used in Indian cuisines.

This is a mutton curry with fragrant rice. Coriander/cilantro is a very popular item used in Indian cuisines.

Confused? Hardly Surprising!

Just be careful the next time you follow a recipe that calls for coriander. You now know that some may be referring to the seed, while others may be calling for the green stalks and leaves of the plant. Determining the country of origin of the recipe may help.

I must admit that the first time I came across the word "cilantro" was only around 2005 while watching an American program on a UK food channel. I recall thinking that it looked vaguely like coriander, but I thought it must be a cousin of the plant instead. Or, perhaps, it was something that was native only to the United States. Fortunately, I did have access to Google by that time!

I am certain, however, that there must be people on both sides of the Atlantic—particularly of more senior years—using cookbooks written by folks on the opposite side of "the pond" and scratching their heads in wonder. Britons may wonder what on Earth "cilantro" is, while Americans are sure to concern themselves with why "coriander" looks so strange in the photograph accompanying the text.

I sincerely hope that this article has helped achieve my goal of clearing up this mystery for you!

British and American English Food Terms

There are many foodstuffs known by different names on opposite sides of the pond. Similarly, the measurement systems employed in the UK and the US are different as well, which can cause all sorts of disasters when following a recipe written on the other side of the Atlantic.

Before taking the next step in an unfamiliar recipe, be sure you have your "translation" right!

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© 2008 Gordon N Hamilton