Spice Hacks: Substitutes for Coriander, Cumin, Cilantro


When it comes to spices, three Cs reign supreme in the spice rack: coriander, cumin and cilantro. We’re not saying they’re the only spices that matter; they are, however, known for their unique taste and the flavor they add to your favorite dishes. Coriander and cilantro are popular additions to Mexican dips, Thai curries and Chinese stir-fry whereas cumin is notable for spicing up chili recipes, Indian curries, fajitas and hummus.

If you cook your food at home, you may often experience running out of these spices. The same can be said when you’re at a grocery store, getting ingredients for a recipe in mind when you realize they’re out of cumin, coriander or cilantro.

Fortunately, there is such a thing as cilantro, cumin and coriander substitute. Although each spice’s aromatic and citrusy taste is difficult to replicate, there are a few ingredients that can bring that will do.

So instead of scrapping a good menu due to the lack of spices, get to know the substitute for coriander, cumin and cilantro.

The Best Substitute for Coriander

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Coriander is a spice commonly used in dishes like salsas and soups, as well as Middle Eastern, Indian and Asian meals like hot pot, masalas and curries. One of the common misconceptions with coriander is that coriander seeds, ground coriander and cilantro are the same.

On the contrary, coriander and cilantro aren’t the same. They come from the same plant — Coriandrum sativum — but coriander refers to the seeds, which are often sold in whole-seed or ground form. On the other hand, cilantro refers to the leaves of the same plant. So when it comes to spice substitutes, one spice may be better off substituting for coriander instead of cilantro.

In terms of substitutes for coriander, caraway seeds are your best bet. This coriander substitute gives a similar earthy and anise flavor to your dish. Like coriander, caraway is available in both a ground powder and whole seed form. Plus, the taste is similar to coriander, making it tricky to tell the difference. In general, caraway has a hint of sweetness to it, but this ground coriander substitute won’t affect the taste of your saag paneer or Mexican dips.

Other popular substitutes for coriander include the following:

  • Garam masala. This spice is a must-have, especially if you’re cooking Indian dishes. Garam masala combines earthy flavors with the following spices: bay leaves, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, peppercorn and cloves.
  • Curry powder. This isn’t just a singular spice in and of itself; rather, it’s a blend of spices. Plenty of curry mixes include spices and herbs like chili powder, cardamom, cumin, turmeric and garam masala. Adding a dash of curry powder to any recipe that needs a touch of coriander will work wonders for your dish.
  • Cumin. If you have this in your spice rack, cumin doubles as a coriander substitute. Cumin and coriander have a similar nutty and spicy taste but cumin is more aggressive, which makes up for the flavor of coriander. So, don’t add too much of this coriander substitute to prevent going beyond your spice tolerance.
  • Ground fennel. It has sweet undertones that go well with root vegetables in dishes such as curries, casseroles and soups. You can also enrich the flavor of roast vegetables with fennel. This spice is sweeter compared to coriander. It also has a distinct licorice taste so be careful with adding fennel to your dish. Add less than the equal amount.
  • Whole cloves. Cloves are often used in marinades, sauces and herbal drinks like Indian chai tea. The natural aromatic scent of cloves makes it a perfect substitute for coriander. To make the most out of the scent of whole cloves, grind the spices using a mortar and pestle.
  • Cardamom seed. Another ideal ground coriander substitute is cardamom. It has a smoky and sweet overtone but has a stronger flavor compared to coriander so use it sparingly. Taste your dish first before you add more cardamom seeds. But if you want a stronger flavor, be liberal with this spice.

When it comes to using these substitutes for coriander, replace the amount of coriander called for in the recipe with an equal amount of the coriander substitutes mentioned above. Always do a taste test and adjust the quantity as needed.

The Best Substitute for Cilantro

As mentioned above, cilantro is the leafy part of the same plant where coriander seeds are from. Cilantro, which is the Spanish word for “coriander leaves,” is known for being the stuff you chop up and put in your guacamole. It is also widely used in Middle Eastern and Indian cooking, as well as in South American, Latin American and Mexican dishes.

If you’ve run out of cilantro, a substitute can save the day. Parsley is the most popular substitute for cilantro. This bright green herb is slightly bitterer but has the same fresh, flavorful notes as cilantro. Since parsley lacks the citrusy undertones, you’ll need to add lemon peel or lemon juice to elevate the flavor of your dish.

Other popular cilantro substitutes include the following:

  • Italian basil. It’s the perfect addition to any pesto dish or for any dish that requires an aromatic element and some sweetness. On the other hand, Thai basil is the perfect substitute for cilantro. It is closer in flavor to cilantro since it’s bitterer compared to Italian basil.
  • Papalo. It’s another decent substitute for cilantro, especially in terms of flavor. If you needed cilantro for a Mexican dish, papalo can save the day with its peppery taste, which is a cross between cucumber and cilantro. Similar to cilantro, you can chop up the leaves and garnish your dishes with it. Since papalo is more potent than cilantro, use 1/3 tablespoon for every tablespoon of cilantro.
  • Herb mixture. If you’re making a huge pot of stew, get creative with your cilantro substitute. If you have rosemary stem, a few tarragon leaves and some leftover parsley, chop them all up and throw them in a pot. Some of these herbs taste like cilantro whereas others don’t (rosemary) but the flavor is perfect for lentil soup.

The Best Substitute for Cumin

Cumin is a lemony and nutty spice that is used in many dishes and cuisines — from guacamole and chili to Indian curries. This spice is from the dried seed of the cumin plant, which makes it a distant cousin of the parsley family.

Available in ground and whole seed forms at any grocery store, cumin is a yellowish-brown spice that tastes smoky, earthy, bitter and sweet. It pairs well with other warm and earthy spices like chilis, coriander and cinnamon.

Ground coriander is a popular cumin substitute. It has the same lemony and bright flavor profile as cumin but on a milder note. If you plan on using coriander as a cumin substitute, use half as much ground or whole coriander.

But if you don’t have coriander in your pantry too, you can use the following substitutes:

  • Paprika. Similar to cumin, paprika is earthy and smoky but isn’t as citrusy. If you use large quantities of paprika, it will color your meal red.
  • Chili powder. Chili powder gives your dish an extra kick with additional flavors since the mix may contain oregano, paprika, ground cayenne, onion powder and garlic powder. This cumin substitute works well if you’re making baked beans but may not complement the flavors found in Indian curries.
  • Curry powder. Most curry powder blends contain cumin, which makes them a good substitute. Similar to chili powder, curry powder brings other flavors into the mix. They often include twenty ground spices and herbs, which include black peppers, turmeric, ground ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and fenugreek.
  • Taco seasoning. This spice blend brings a more complex set of flavors compared to cumin, plus heat. It contains onion powder, garlic powder, crushed red pepper flakes, salt and oregano.

Don’t lose sleep over missing spices! If you’re in a pinch, there are many great alternatives in your spice rack. When you run out of cumin, cilantro or coriander, the recipe will still taste fantastic with the substitutes mentioned above.

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