Even a well-stocked spice cabinet may fail you when it comes time to gather the wide variety of spices required for a Thai or Moroccan dish. If your recipe demands coriander, you are not alone when your spice cabinet comes up short!
Luckily, there is no shortage of spices or spice blends that you can use in place of coriander. Check out the coriander substitutes below to learn how to use them and which will work best in your recipe.
For Complex, Multi Spice Dishes
- Garam Masala
- Most other spice blends
Lower Complexity, Single Ingredient Dishes
What is Coriander?
Coriander is the name given to the seeds of the cilantro plant. Don’t worry if you are one of the 14% of people with a mutation in the OR26A gene that makes you despise the soapy taste of cilantro!
Coriander (the plant’s seed) does not contain the same flavor compounds as cilantro (the leaf and stems), so it will not cause the same adverse reaction. Instead, coriander’s flavor profile is warm, earthy, and nutty, with a bright, citrusy quality and some sweetness lurking in the background contributed by a highly aromatic compound called anethole.
Coriander often makes up part of a spice blend, typically with other “warming” spices like cinnamon, cloves, or cumin. It is commonly found in Asian, African, and Indian recipes. Beer drinkers may be familiar with coriander as one of the main components (alongside orange peel) adding character to Belgian-style beers (specifically the witbier).
You can purchase coriander as a whole seed or as a ground spice. The ground spice tends to lose its flavor quickly, so you may want to replace it often or double the quantity your recipe calls for if your bottle is old.
For this reason, many people prefer to keep the whole seeds on hand and grind them with a mortar and pestle, spice grinder, or rolling pin if the recipe calls for ground coriander.
1) Caraway (seeds or ground)
Caraway is in the same botanical family as coriander, and so they contain many of the same flavor compounds. In reality, the two spices are so similar that some people find it difficult to tell them apart. Caraway seeds comprise the spicy, aromatic flavor you may recognize from rye bread.
Similarities: Caraway is slightly sweeter than coriander but is otherwise very similar. It is an excellent substitute in any recipe, but especially if you need the particular flavor profile of coriander/caraway to stand out.
Suggested Conversion: Substitute in a 1:1 ratio
Flavor Notes: Like coriander, caraway is slightly sweet, with overriding loamy and citrusy character.
Suggested Dishes: Curry, spiced African or Asian dishes.
2) Fennel (seeds or ground)
A non-root member of the carrot family, fennel’s overriding attribute is sweetness with a strong anise flavor. You may be familiar with fennel as one of the principal flavors of absinthe.
Similarities: Fennel also contains anethole, and so its backbone flavor note is reminiscent of coriander. However, it lacks the citrus notes that make coriander so well-disposed to blending.
Suggested Conversion: Use in a 1:1 ratio
Flavor Notes: Fennel tastes and smells strongly of licorice.
Suggested Dishes: Pork, Indian breads, sweet root vegetables
Earthy and nutty like coriander, cumin is the seed of a parsley-like plant native to the Middle East. Unlike coriander, it is intensely colorful and will add a yellow tinge to your dish.
Similarities: While cumin and coriander are very complementary, they do not taste the same. Both add a hint of heat and savory nuttiness, but while coriander is brighter with a lemony note, cumin has a smoky overtone.
Suggested Conversion: Use ¾ tsp of cumin for ever 1tsp of coriander your recipe calls for.
Flavor Notes: Smoky, minerally, nutty
Suggested Dishes: Sauces, dips, stews, curries
4) Garam Masala
Garam masala is one of many spice blends used to make curries or curry-like stews. While many of these contain coriander, Garam masala, specifically, is high in coriander (it also traditionally includes cumin, cardamom, bay leaves, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg).
Similarities: You can achieve coriander’s contribution from Garam Masala (or a similar spice blend) because the coriander makes up a significant proportion of the mixture. Be aware, if you are using this in combination with other spices, like cumin or fennel seeds, that you may want to slightly reduce these since you are also adding some in the form of the Garam masala. Don’t worry about doing any math--just cut back a pinch. However, if you like your food decidedly aromatic, don’t worry about it!
Suggested Conversion: Use this substitution in a 1:1 ratio
Flavor Notes: Garam masala will give the flavor notes of coriander as well as many other warming flavors (cinnamon, cloves) and some savory notes (bay, black peppercorn) for an overall effect that is balanced and slightly floral.
Suggested Dishes: Stews, curries, chicken, aromatic breads
Note About Substituting with Spice Blends
Garam Masala is not the only spice blend containing coriander, although it made the list because coriander plays an outsized role in Garam masala compared to other spice blends.
Several Indian curry spices, plus several Asian and Moroccan spice blends, contain some proportion of coriander, and any of these might be an appropriate substitute depending on the other ingredients of the recipe you are attempting.
When in doubt, trust your nose--give the spice blend a good sniff from a short distance away (about 3 inches from your nose), then hold it farther away (about 10 inches from your nose) and give it a second sniff (you’ll capture slightly different aromatic compounds each time). If it smells like it would combine well with your other ingredients, go for it!
Don’t feel trapped by the “category” of the spice blend. In other words, don’t be afraid to add a Moroccan spice blend to an Indian recipe. Both include many of the same spices, just in different proportions. If you need a coriander substitute for an Indian curry, and all you have on hand is Moroccan Baharat, you’re going to be just fine. Below is a partial list of spice blends that traditionally contain coriander.
Rogan josh masala
Thai red curry paste
Thai yellow curry paste
Thai massaman curry paste
Ras el Hanout
Don’t let one missing ingredient keep you from making a wonderfully aromatic curry or stew. Let the list above be your guide, and you are sure to be thrilled with the results.
Leave a note below if you have any questions or comments.