Cilantro is one of the few herbs that is known and used all over the world. This tasty and bold herb is used in many different cuisines and has been for a very long time. Because of this, cilantro has become a staple herb found in many grocery stores, markets, and plant nurseries.
Although, because it grows all over the world, there are a couple different variations of cilantro that can be found and where you live will determine what kind of cilantro is best for you to grow.
All the types of cilantro are still coriandrum sativum, with just slight variations of growing preferences and characteristics. In general, most of the types of cilantro taste about the same, with just slight differences, although there are a few with bold and unique flavors.
Fresh cilantro leaves are often paired with lime in Mexican and Asain cuisine.
Cilantro or Coriander?
First off, I want to clarify what cilantro is. There’s often a lot of confusion about what is cilantro, what is coriander, and how they differ. That’s totally fair because the two are actually the same plant, but they go by many names.
So, the coriandrum sativum plant has very flavorful leaves and seeds, both of which are used in cooking all over the world. In English, cilantro refers to the leaves of the plant- that’s the green herb that you know. The seeds of the plant are coriander seeds, that you’ll see as spices or ground into powder.
The confusion comes because in many parts of the world the entire plant is called coriander, so the herb is also called coriander. The Spanish word for coriander is cilantro, which is what we’ve borrowed in English and call the leaves, but we still call the seeds coriander.
The seeds are very tasty and can be used fresh- while they’re still green- or more mature and dried, like in the photo below. In fact, the entire plant is edible! The stems are very flavorful and are great for sauces and the flowers are completely safe to eat and beautiful!
I know, it’s a bit messy. Just know that in this article we’re talking about cilantro as the leaves of the plant, the tasty herb to use in cooking and natural remedies.
Seeds of the plant, which are sold as coriander.
Get to Know Cilantro (and Coriander)
The different variations are native to different regions around the world, so each of them have slight changes in what they need to grow. Generally though, the plant is native to mild climates, which is why it can grow in many parts of the world as well as grown easily indoors.
Cilantro generally doesn’t do very well in heat, however it can grow in warmer climates. If you live in a warmer region, plant the seeds in late October so they grow throughout the winter and spring. If you live somewhere cold, you’ll want to plant them in late spring so they can enjoy the warm summer. Because cilantro does best in mild climates, extreme hot or cold won’t be good for them.
In general, cilantro can bolt fairly easily. Bolting is when the plant decides the seed, so it will send up a strong stalk which will flower, then produce seeds. At this point, the leaves start to lose their flavor and sometimes turn very bitter. This is a sign of the end of the plant’s life cycle, so if the cilantro starts showing flowers, you should harvest the leaves asap.
Cilantro usually starts to bolt in the summer, as the heat increases and the days get longer. If you live somewhere warm where it gets hot much before summer, the cilantro will bolt sooner. Even if it’s not very hot but your summer days are long, the cilantro will also be provoked to bolt. Fortunately, there are many bolt-resistant types of cilantro, as you’ll see below!
Here let’s go through the different types of cilantro so you can see which type is best for the climate you live in and which flavor profile you’re looking for!
Leisure is the most popular and commonly found type of cilantro. Most of the time, cilantro you see in the grocery store will be leisure cilantro. This type of cilantro has been specifically bred to be the popular variety, so it yields a large amount of leaves and is fairly slow to bolt.
Also, as the name implies, this variety is the easiest to grow and is fairly low maintenance. For this variety, follow the standard cilantro growing steps.
Standard leisure cilantro in bundles.
Despite the name, this plant does still grow cilantro leaves. As with all cilantro plants, this one grows tasty leaves that eventually bolt and grow seeds, to be harvested as coriander.
This variety, native to the Indian subcontinent, bolts rather quickly. This means the leaves aren’t available for as long and the seeds are produced quickly. Since this plant acts like this, the seeds have a much bigger role in Indian cuisine than the fresh leaves do.
Calypso cilantro has a similar taste to leisure cilantro, however it’s highly praised for its growing properties. Calypso cilantro plants are specially heat resistant, so they’re slow to bolt.
Because of this they produce large bushes of leaves. Also, the leaves grow back very quickly after being harvested.
The name Caribe is short for Caribbean and, as you can probably guess, refers to the variety of cilantro that has adapted to grow in the Caribbean area.
In fact, cilantro was first introduced into North America by the Europeans that came to these areas and brought with them their foreign plants and spices. Initially, the Caribbean area was too hot, but the cilantro plants adapted and now we have the Caribe cilantro that is perfect for hotter climates.
If you live in the southern U.S. and are planning to plant cilantro outdoors, you’ll definitely want to look for Caribe cilantro seeds.
Caribe cilantro used in caribbean jerk tacos.
This cilantro goes by several names, but actually refers to the same variety of cilantro. You may hear Low Standing cilantro, California Long Standing, California Santo, or a combination of these.
Santo cilantro is one of the strongest varieties of cilantro, as it has been bred to be bolt-resistant. This means that it takes longer to bolt and therefore the leaves stay ready for harvest for a longer period.
California grows the largest amount of cilantro in the U.S., so that’s why you might hear California cilantro. While there isn’t one specific kind of cilantro that grows in California, because the Santo best fits this climate it’s the cilantro that is most often grown there.
This variety is also very bolt-resistant, making it great option for any herb garden. Santo and Jantar are said to be the two slowest to bolt varieties. These two are often used for growing to be sold in stores or markets because their leaves will be fresh and tasty the longest.
If you’re a big fan of cilantro, these varieties might be a better pick for you so you have a longer supply of fresh cilantro. Also, if you live further north where the days are long in the summer, you may want these slower to bolt varieties so they can sustain the increased sunlight.
Fresh cilantro with spicy tacos and lime juice.
This variety of cilantro is different just by its taste. The Marino leaves have a slightly spicier taste, with a little bit of pepper-like kick rather than the fresh, citrusy taste of most cilantro leaves.
This variety is also a fairly strong grower and is slow to bolt, like the average Leisure cilantro variety. It doesn’t have any distinguishing features with its leaves and doesn’t have any specific needs for growing.
Take a guess what this cilantro tastes like! This variety of cilantro is known to have a particularly strong citrus flavor that is usually less obvious in the other varieties, similar to lemon thyme. Apparently the seeds are also incredibly flavorful, holding all that lemony flavor compact inside them.
This type of cilantro requires colder climates and can withstand frosty winters. Because of its preference for colder conditions, it will not grow well in the southern areas with short winters and intense sun. A perfect substitute if you don’t have space for a lemon tree!
Delfino cilantro is the only type of cilantro that looks very different from all the other types. It resembles dill or carrot greens more than parsley like most cilantro. This means that the leaves are more fern-like with thinner tips.
Delfino cilantro also has a much softer taste than the regular cilantro taste, so it’s more palatable for people who don’t like the strong kick of cilantro. Just as with the other types of cilantro, the leaves and seeds are edible. For the Delfino, the seeds are also a bit less strong.
The Moroccan cilantro has a slightly different flavor profile, but in general the growing process and gardening needs are the same as with the other types of cilantro.
This variation has less flavorful leaves, said to be milder in the cilantro flavor and have a bit more citrus flavor. However, where the leaves lack flavor the seeds make up for. The seeds supposedly have a much stronger flavor than any other type of cilantro.
This type of cilantro isn’t slow to bolt and will bolt when provoked by hot weather. Because this type creates seeds faster and with much more flavor, this would be a great variety if you really love and prefer the coriander seeds versus the fresh cilantro leaves.
Yes, culantro not cilantro. This plant is actually eryngium foetidum, not the same plant as coriandrum sativum. It also looks quite differently, as you can see in the picture. The long leaves of this plant resemble the greens of a dandelion more than the leaves of cilantro.
This plant is a kind of variation of the cilantro plant that grows in Mexico and Central America, which is why it’s sometimes called Mexican cilantro or Chadon Beni. Culantro is much more heat resistant than cilantro, which is why it grows in these areas.
It has the same flavor as cilantro leaves, but so much stronger. It is recommended that with these leaves, you should add them in while you’re cooking, so the flavor can be equally distributed and is toned down a bit. This is a huge component of Costa Rican cooking.
Since it’s a different plant, Culantro doesn’t create seeds like those of coriander.
Vietnamese Cilantro (Phak Phai)
This is another plant that is technically not the same as cilantro, but has similarly delicious leaves. The Vietnamese cilantro is persicaria odorata, and looks more like a vine than an herb. This plant is native to Southeast Asia and therefore prefers tropical, humid climates.
This plant has darker leaves with smoother edges, so it doesn’t resemble cilantro very much, but it can mimic the flavor very well. In fact, there are some who swear by Vietnamese cilantro and say it’s better than the real thing.
Fortunately, this plant is quite slow to bolt. So, if you prefer the taste of its leaves, you’ll have plenty to harvest!
Uses of Cilantro
Cilantro is such a great plant to grow because you can eat any and all parts of the plant! There’s nothing like having fresh herbs on hand and with cilantro you’ll have a plentiful source.
The most common use of cilantro is the leaves and that’s probably the form that you’re familiar with. The leaves of the plant have a really fresh, slightly citrusy flavor, depending on which type. Although, it’s said that the stem has the most amount of flavor and that it’s best in sauces and stews.
Also, because cilantro has such a strong scent, it’s a great companion herb. Once the cilantro bolts, it produces flowers that will attract pollinators too!
Bowl of fresh veggies, topped with cilantro.
The cilantro leaves are pretty gentle, so you don’t really want to cook them. For maximum flavor, it’s best to add them directly on top of whatever you’re eating to get the full taste. You can cook them, it will just diminish the flavor a bit. That being said, you could add a whole bunch of cilantro to a sauce or soup and the flavor will definitely come through.
Then, of course, you can use the seeds. Once the plant bolts, white flowers will bloom along with small green seeds that look like beads. You can eat these right away, as they’re packed with a nice floral flavor.
Or, you can wait until the seeds are more mature, once they turn more yellow, and harvest. With the seeds you can crush or grind them to use as a spice. You can also keep the seeds so that you can start growing the next round of cilantro!
Picking the Right Type
So, now that you’ve seen all the different types of cilantro, you’re a cilantro expert, right? Well, it’s alright if you’re still not exactly sure. Each of these types differs just a bit, so there isn’t really a clear distinction between what will work for you and what won’t.
Honestly, this is because there isn’t a clear line of what cilantro needs to be where. That’s part of the reason why it grows all over the world! It really can be planted anywhere.
Fresh cilantro garnishing tacos.
The main thing you need to keep in consideration is weather. Cilantro is generally considered a cold climate plant, despite its associations with Mexican and Southeast Asain cuisines. It’s not that cilantro will shrivel up in the heat, but it will bolt sooner and you won’t have as much fresh cilantro leaves. So, if you prefer the coriander seeds anyways, no problem!
If you live somewhere warm, you can still have fresh cilantro, you’ll just need to sow the seed in late summer and allow it to grow during the fall and winter months- which it’s happy to do!
That being said, it’s not like cilantro will thrive in snow. It prefers cooler climates but if where you live gets seriously chilly and has regular snow, you definitely want to plant cilantro in the summertime. For example, cilantro grown in Oregon and Washington does very well in the summer.
So, just consider the climate you’re living in. If you live somewhere hotter, it would do you good to get a more bolt resistant variety to extend the amount of fresh leaves you have. Also, if you’re already growing cilantro, try one of the varieties that has a slightly different taste, like the Moroccan or Lemon cilantros to add some diversity to your garden! In fact, why not try them all!
Cilantro really isn’t picky as a plant and once it starts growing, it will yield a nice bush of fresh cilantro for you. So, why not try a few different varieties and see what fits best for you?