Mexican green onions go by a few different names. The most common names for this vegetable are cilantro, culantro, and Mexican coriander. They are all slightly different varieties of the same plant species, but share a similar taste and appearance.
The quick answer is that Mexican green onions are most commonly referred to as cilantro or culantro. Cilantro is the Spanish word for coriander, so Mexican green onions are sometimes called Mexican coriander as well.
What is Cilantro?
Cilantro is the leaf of the Coriandrum sativum plant. It is an herb with lacy, green leaves that are similar in appearance to Italian parsley. It has a strong, pungent flavor that is described as a combination of citrus, sage, and mint.
Cilantro is used in many Mexican, Indian, Middle Eastern, and Asian dishes. It is a key ingredient in salsas, curries, soups, and stir fries. The leaves are used fresh or dried, while the stems, roots, and seeds are used as the spice coriander.
Here are some key facts about cilantro:
- Scientific name: Coriandrum sativum
- Other names: Chinese parsley, coriander leaves, Mexican coriander
- Flavor profile: Citrusy, sage-like, minty
- Cuisine: Mexican, Indian, Middle Eastern, Asian
- Uses: Salsas, curries, soups, stir fries
What is Culantro?
Culantro is a herb that is closely related to cilantro but is a different plant species. Its scientific name is Eryngium foetidum. It has long, serrated leaves that look like elongated cilantro leaves. Culantro also has a stronger taste and smell compared to cilantro.
Culantro is used heavily in Caribbean cuisine, particularly in Panama, Puerto Rico, and Trinidad. It is also popular in Southeast Asian cooking. Culantro has a more pungent, earthy flavor with woody undertones. The leaves are often used raw or fresh, as the flavor diminishes once cooked.
Here are some culantro facts:
- Scientific name: Eryngium foetidum
- Other names: Shadow beni, recao, spiritweed, ngo gai
- Flavor profile: Strong, earthy, pungent
- Cuisine: Caribbean, Latin American, Southeast Asian
- Uses: Salsas, sofrito, adobo, curry
Comparison of Cilantro and Culantro
While cilantro and culantro have some similarities, there are a few key differences between them:
|Delicate, lacy, small
|Thick, serrated, elongated
|Strong, earthy, pungent
|Mexico, India, Middle East, Asia
|Caribbean, Latin America, Southeast Asia
As shown in the table, the biggest differences between the two herbs are their scientific classification, leaf shape, and flavor profile. Culantro has a stronger, earthier taste compared to the brighter cilantro. They also tend to be used in different regional cuisines.
Are Cilantro and Culantro Interchangeable?
Cilantro and culantro are often used interchangeably in recipes because of their similar flavors. However, there are some key considerations when substituting one for the other:
- Culantro has a much more intense, concentrated flavor. Use less culantro than you would cilantro.
- Cilantro’s flavor diminishes when cooked, while culantro retains its flavor during cooking.
- Adjust other seasonings like lime juice, vinegar, or salt to balance out the stronger culantro flavor.
- Add culantro at the end of cooking versus at the beginning to preserve its flavor.
Keep in mind that the overall flavor profile may change depending on the substitution. Taste as you cook and adjust seasonings accordingly. In some dishes, cilantro and culantro are not interchangeable due to differences in flavor intensity.
What About Mexican Coriander?
Mexican coriander is simply another term for cilantro that grows in Mexico. It has the scientific name Coriandrum sativum like other cilantro. Sometimes the term “Mexican coriander” refers to a variety or cultivar of cilantro native to Mexico that has slightly different genetics.
However, Mexican coriander is still biologically the same plant as regular cilantro. It can be used interchangeably without any major differences in taste, texture, or appearance. The term “Mexican coriander” is likely used to specify the provenance of the cilantro and differentiate it from cilantro grown in other regions.
In summary, Mexican coriander is essentially the same as cilantro and carries the same flavor characteristics. It does not have the same strong, earthy taste of culantro that sets that herb apart from regular cilantro.
Origins and History
Cilantro is native to the Mediterranean region and southern Europe. It has been used in cooking for over 3,000 years, with the first recorded evidence of cultivation by ancient Egyptians. Over time, cilantro spread to regions across Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Culantro is native to tropical regions of Central and South America. It has grown wild and been used in Caribbean, Latin American, and African cuisines for centuries. Unlike cilantro, culantro most likely originated in the New World.
Once European explorers reached the Americas in the late 15th century, culantro started being transported back to Europe. Its use spread across various colonies in Africa and Asia as well. Both cilantro and culantro were firmly established as staple herbs by the 16th century.
Availability and Growing Regions
Cilantro is now grown widely around the world thanks to its popularity in various cuisines. Major growing regions include:
- United States (California)
- Middle East
Culantro also has expanded from its native tropical regions to other warm climate areas:
- Central America
- Southeast Asia
- United States (Florida, Hawaii)
Both herbs thrive best in warm conditions with plenty of moisture. Cilantro bolts and goes to seed quickly in heat, while culantro is more resilient. They can be grown as annuals or perennials depending on the climate.
Nutrition and Health Benefits
Cilantro and culantro both provide antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals when consumed fresh. Some of the key nutrients include:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin K
In terms of health benefits, studies show cilantro may help:
- Lower cholesterol
- Reduce blood sugar
- Detoxify heavy metals
- Fight bacteria and fungi
Research on culantro is limited, but it likely carries many of the same benefits as cilantro due to similarities between the plants. Using both fresh herbs is an easy way to add nutrients and plant compounds to your diet.
Cilantro and culantro are staple ingredients in various regional cuisines around the world. Here are some of the most common culinary uses for each herb:
- Pico de gallo
- Thai curries
- Salad dressings
- Marinades for meat and fish
- Salsa verde
- Pickled papaya salad
- Beef or fish stews
Both herbs work well added raw at the end of cooking. Their bright, fresh flavor livens up any dish. Cilantro and culantro also pair nicely with ingredients like tomatoes, onions, citrus, avocados, beans, corn, chili peppers, and chicken.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is cilantro the same as culantro?
No, cilantro and culantro are two different herbs that belong to different plant species. They have similar appearances and flavors but culantro has a stronger, more pungent taste.
Is Mexican coriander the same as cilantro?
Yes, Mexican coriander and cilantro are the same herb. Mexican coriander is just a term used to specify that the cilantro is grown in Mexico.
Can you substitute cilantro for culantro?
You can substitute cilantro for culantro but you will need to adjust other ingredients in the recipe. Use less cilantro than culantro due to its more delicate flavor. Also add more acidic or salty ingredients to compensate for culantro’s earthy flavor.
Why does cilantro taste like soap to some people?
This is caused by a genetic variant that makes some people hypersensitive to the aroma compound aldehyde in cilantro. About 4-14% of the population carries this gene variant that makes cilantro taste unpleasantly soapy.
Does culantro taste like soap too?
For the most part, no. While culantro and cilantro contain some of the same aroma compounds, culantro has lower levels of aldehydes. People who dislike cilantro due to soapy taste generally tolerate culantro just fine.
While cilantro and culantro seem very similar at first glance, they are actually quite distinct herbs belonging to different plant species. Cilantro offers a bright, citrusy flavor perfect for salsas and chutneys. Culantro has an intense, earthy taste that shines in Caribbean and Latin dishes.
Mexican coriander is simply a term for cilantro grown in Mexico – it does not differ much from other cilantro varieties. Both cilantro and culantro can provide antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals through their fresh leaves.
Understanding the differences between these two herbs allows you to use them properly in the kitchen. Next time a recipe calls for cilantro or culantro, you will know how to pick the right herb and bring out its best flavors.