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Substitutes For The Soapy Taste Of Coriander

Confession time, I am the main author and head gardener here at Homegrown Herb Garden, but I can’t stand the taste of coriander. Like 14-21% of people from East Asian, African or Caucasian origin, I find the flavor is soapy.

Studies show that our genetic make up pre-determines how we receive the taste of coriander. I have olfactory receptors that allow me to more closely perceive the aldehydes in the coriander leaves. People without these genetic predispositions receive the flavor of coriander without the aldehydes and taste a lemony, refreshing taste.

The way I see it there are two main routes to solve this problem; firstly avoiding releasing these strong flavors too much and secondly replacing coriander with a suitably fresh and zingy option!

Substitutes For Coriander In Cooking

Fresh coriander / cilantro is the main culprit for the soap like taste. So we will focus on replacing that as a garnish or as leaves added whilst cooking.

  1. Fresh Parsley is a perfect straight up one to one swap. Every time a dish calls for a handful of coriander leaves, substitute in a handful of fresh parsley, flat leaf or curly. Be mindful that parsley grown outside as a perennial can have a thicker stem and therefore may need to be chopped more finely.
  2. Basil can be a great substitute for coriander as it has those fresh notes. Although a few varieties may be a little stronger and you may like to cut down on the quantities used in cooking. roughly half a cup of chopped cilantro = a third of a cup of chopped basil.
  3. If you are trying to avoid cooking with coriander, try using lemon thyme instead. You will find it has a much deeper earthy flavor, but the citrus kick is still there to enjoy. Go careful on the quantities and if you are intending to use the stalk and all method you may want to create a bouquet garni with other herbs that you may like to remove later on as well.
  4. If you are making a salsa a great substitute is mint leaves. Obviously we grow our own and wide variety are available to buy from specialist herb nurseries. If you want the citrus perkiness of coriander still try a pineapple mint or even a strawberry mint. Chop it as you would the coriander and be prepared for a slightly different response from guests, but it still acts to cool down the palate in between the spices of a chili.
  5. Lemon balm is a great substitute for coriander as it has the citrus flavor and soft leaves, ready to be a garnish or added to the dish whilst cooking. Really easy to grow and it will live forever in the right conditions!
  6. Dried Dill can work really well in dishes. It is not as strong an aniseed flavor as the fresh kind and can be added when a dish is cooking. Not great as a garnish substitute though as it needs the cooking process to bring out the gentle flavors.
  7. Lemon verbena is a strong citrus flavor, probably the strongest herb you can find. The thick leaves are not suitable as a garnish, but serve well in a dish whilst it is cooking, as long as you remember to remove so you can make them up to a sachet d’epices. A good substitute for the citrus aroma and taste of coriander.

Ways To Reduce The Soapy Flavor Of Cilantro

  1. The aldehydes are released most strongly in herbs when we crush the leaves, this means that avoidance of crushed, mashed or finely chopped coriander leaves can help to reduce the problem. However this then means when a person like me eats a dish I will encounter a larger amount of the offending herb in one concentrated mouthful. So I do not advocate this option as you do not know how sensitive someone else’s aversion really is.
  2. Avoid eating the stems. The leaves have flavor in them, but it is not as intense therefore coriander leaves will still taste soapy to those who detect it, but not in such concentrated amounts.
  3. Mix fresh coriander leaves, chopped with parsley leaves. This way you will receive the fresh kick without the over bearing soapy flavor that some of us perceive cilantro to have.
  4. By only cooking cilantro leaves in dishes that have a lot of other stronger flavors you will avoid it becoming overpoweringly soapy. Add towards the end of cooking and you will see it is overtaken by spices and herbs that have had a longer time to develop in the cooking.
  5. Try the micro herb version of coriander. It will have all of the nutrients but a little goes a long way so you only need a few slivers to get you the flavor profile without the big punchy soapy aldehydes. It means that the enzymes are present but have yet to really receive all of their sunlight hours to develop their intense flavor. On a real bonus it takes around 14 days to grow cilantro as micro herbs.
  6. Raw cilantro leaves are also thought to be strong in flavor, so do not eat it raw. Cook it in with any dish. As a child I remember my poor mother deploying this tactic and being the only family member who then found the entire dish tasted like soap. If you have the genes that make the soapy flavor of cilantro come through, this option wont be enough.
  7. Use only the coriander seeds as these have a totally different enzyme make up. There is no taste of soap in the seeds, more of a lighter citrus flavor. The ‘seeds’ of coriander are actually dried fruit, so they release an oil which allows the flavor to develop. Toasted with other spices and herbs this can form the basis for many Indian dishes.
  8. Avoid using coriander all together. Instead try other fresh herbs in our cuisine. I have only got a small pot growing indoors and never mix it outside in our larger herb garden beds. This will mean that you can grow a fresh herb garden without fear of offending those of us with the soap gene! So for fresh coriander leaves I grow inside, but I do still use the coriander seeds. These do not have the same enzyme and offer a great aroma when toasted and crushed.
  9. Finally a lot of people recommend getting used to it. Try adding coriander leaves to a variety of dishes to see how you cope with it. But seriously you really don’t have to get used to something you don’t like unless you have way too many encounters with the dreaded herb. I have way too many family members who cook with coriander to avoid it, so I just get on with it and try to be glad that so many people want to cook for me. Even if it is using soapy cilantro!

What Next?

You can try to get used to coriander, or you can avoid it in your own cooking! Whichever you decide, try to give yourself plenty of great flavors to take its place. There is so much you can do with herbs in cooking and I hope you have found some solutions today!

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