Ina Garten's Herb Alternative For Cilantro Haters

Cilantro is very much a love-it-or-hate-it kind of herb. Some adore the bright, slightly citrusy flavor the fresh herb brings to Mexican, Indian, or Middle Eastern dishes — while to those with an olfactory genetic quirk, it just tastes unbearably soapy (or like dirt). If you're in the latter camp, then Ina Garten has a simple switch that still adds a vibrant boost of flavor when cooking, but without the distinctive cilantro taste.

Cilantro, a fragrant herb from the Apiaceae family, is one of the foods Ina Garten flat out doesn't like. And it's not necessarily just a question of taste; a 2012 study by the journal Flavour indicates that it's a very particular genetic variant that has to do with how we smell and perceive food that causes the soap or dirt taste. Some are more sensitive to the aldehydes, a chemical compound in the leaves that has a soapy aroma. So for recipes such as her chicken chili, Garten simply switches the fresh cilantro common in the dish for fresh basil instead.

Basil makes a good substitution for cilantro as it is such a fragrant and full-flavored herb. But there are also several other options if you're looking to ditch the cilantro but still want to enhance the taste of recipes with something just as compatible.

Ina Garten switches cilantro for basil to boost flavor

If you're looking to switch out the cilantro for a herb that you prefer the flavor of, then it's worth bearing in mind that different recipes use the herb in different ways. There's a big difference between a sprinkle of leaves as a garnish, and a dish such as chimichurri where cilantro is a key ingredient.

Ina Garten uses fresh basil in her chili, which — although sweeter tasting than cilantro — has a similarly strong aroma and flavor. Different types of basil can be used in place of cilantro, and Garten uses traditional basil, which brings a full-flavored punch though with a sweeter and less tangy edge than you'd get with cilantro. The roughly chopped, fragrant leaves can be used both during cooking or as a garnish.

If you can find it, Thai basil makes an especially good substitute in dishes such as curries or stir-fries thanks to its slightly spicy, citrusy, licorice-like notes. It's zestier and less sweet than basil you're likely familiar with — Italian sweet basil, so works well as a switch for cilantro. But depending on what you're cooking, there are a number of alternative herbs beyond basil that can be used if you don't like cilantro, or have run out and need a substitute. And that includes both dried and fresh options.

Other substitutes for cilantro, both fresh and dried

Culantro makes a great alternative to cilantro — though has an even more pronounced flavor, so it's not a great option for the genetically quirky, like Ina Garten. But in many recipes, cilantro can be swapped for equal amounts of other aromatic fresh herbs, such as grassy flat-leaf parsley, dill, or tarragon, either individually or as a blend. Since cilantro is from the parsley family, and the two even look pretty similar, parsley makes a particularly good switch. Try adding the fresh herbs towards the end of the cooking time to retain as much flavor as possible.

Of course, if you love the zesty brightness of cilantro, but not the soapy taste, then try using fresh lemon or lime juice to replicate the citrusy notes. This works especially well for recipes where cilantro is used as a garnish though it does mean you miss out on the attractive green appearance of the herb in the finished dish.

If a recipe calls for coriander seed or ground coriander, then there are alternatives that work just as well, too. For a dry ingredient that's a spot-on substitute for cilantro, try using an equal amount of caraway, which also comes from the same parsley family. If you don't have any caraway seeds, then cumin and fennel can also work just as well.