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I've seen the American English "cilantro" (British English "coriander") translated into Spanish as both cilantro and culantro. What is the difference? Are they synonyms used interchangeably, or is the difference regional? If it is a regional difference, where is each word used?

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It's also called "coriander" in American English, but usually refers to the dried seeds, rather than the fresh leaves, and is usually ground and used as a spice. –  Flimzy May 11 '12 at 0:47
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@Flimzy: Ah, interesting. I'm not much of a cook. –  jrdioko May 11 '12 at 0:48
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7 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

According to the Wikipedia articles 1, 2, 3, there are three related species:

Eryngium foetidum (en: culantro, Mexican coriander and long coriander; es: coriandro, cimarrón, culantro or recao), is originary from the tropical Americas (probably from Mexico), and has different common names including:
Eryngium foetidum
«samat» (Guatemala), «cilantro de monte» (Venezuela), «culantro de pata» (Honduras), «culantro» or «chicoria» (Nicaragua, Panamá, Cuba), «cilantro ancho» (República Dominicana), «recao» (Puerto Rico), «culantro mexicano», «culantro habanero», (México), «culantro coyote», «alcapate» (El Salvador), «sacha culantro» (Perú), «orégano de Cartagena», «cilantro habanero» (España), «culantro cimarrón» (Colombia), «culantro coyote» (Costa Rica).

I don't recognize the leave or the name, but that's probably because I am from Bogotá (relatively cold weather in the mountain) where the Old World coriander (see bellow) is more common.

Coriandrum sativum (en: coriander, cilantro, Chinese parsley or dhania; es: cilantro) is probably originary from the Mediterranean.
enter image description here
While «cilantro» is the most common name in all the Spanish speaking world, the name «culantro» is also used in Perú and Honduras.

Note that the English name “coriander”, the Latin coriandrum and the Spanish «culantro» are cognates (word with a common etymology) (from Greek κορίαννον koriannon). Also the word «cilantro» has the same etymology but has driven further away from the Latin word.

The third related herb is:

Petroselinum crispum (en: parsley; es: perejil) - however there seems to be less ambiguity in the name.

While the three of them are from the same family Apiaceae (or Umbelliferae), this family also include carrots, celery, arracacha, anise, and dill among many other, and aparently the New World (E. foetidum) and the Old World (C. sativum) corianders are not to closely related taxonomically.


As for your question: while there is some synonymy, they are not the same species: «cilantro» is mostly used for Old World's Coriandrum sativum, while «culantro» is mostly used for New World's Eryngium foedidum.

And yes: there are regional differences and both words can refer to either of them in different countries.

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Perejil is different.

Perejil = parsley (petroselinum crispum); looks the same as cilantro, but has a much milder, more neutral taste. (Parsley lacks the distinctive "soapiness" of cilantro that people seem to have such strong feelings about.

cilantro = (Amer. English) cilantro/coriander (Coriandrum sativum). Looks like parsley but with a stronger, slightly soapy flavor. Older generations often call it coriander, as it's known in Britain. Younger generations in the U.S. often know it as an ingredient in Thai, Mexican, Latin American, Indian, Vietnamese, etc., cuisine and usually call the leaves "cilantro," although the seeds and the ground spice derived from them are still usually called "coriander" in U.S. English.

culantro = (Eryngium foetidum), a different plant with different-shaped leaves. All three (parsley, cilantro/coriander, and culantro) are related to one another, and culantro's flavor is often described as a much stronger version of cilantro. In some dishes they can be interchangeable, but often they are not.

Their names, however, are somewhat idiosyncratic in Spanish, varying a lot from one region to another and sometimes going by different names entirely.

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I heard this plant being named cilantro or culantro in different countries across South America:

enter image description here

While the name of its seeds is "coriandro" (a very fragant spice):

enter image description here

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Cilantro is a different leaf than culantro. I'm in south America and we use culantro. Cilantro is harder to find here and culantro grows wild. Culantro has a stronger flavor but about the same taste as cilantro. They both look completely different. Hope this helps.

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I have never heard of that but I found this. Hope it helps (emphasis mine):

Culantro is a completely different plant from cilantro. Although the two are cousins, they look nothing alike and are quite easy to differentiate by appearance.

Culantro, Eryngium foetidum, has long, serrated leaves and sports a blue flower when permitted to bolt. It is the leaves of culantro that are popular in Caribbean and Asian dishes.

Culantro is also often called spiny cilantro and is not as widely available as cilantro. Check with your market's produce manager if you do not see any in with other fresh herbs.

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Thank you for the answer, however just linking to an external site is not considered a valuable answer. Can you summarize the article in your own words? –  Flimzy May 11 '12 at 3:14
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Hmm, but the RAE says culantro is the same as cilantro. –  jrdioko May 11 '12 at 4:36
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As far as i know both are common names for Coriander sativum but that's exactly why scientific names are so important, the same common name can refer to different plants just going to the next town. –  Laura May 11 '12 at 6:30
    
@Laura: Indeed; Wikipedia says about Eryngium foetidum: "In the United States, where it is not well known, the name culantro sometimes causes confusion with Coriandrum sativum". –  CesarGon May 11 '12 at 16:17
    
That is called Perejil in some countries in South America –  user983248 May 14 '12 at 0:53
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Hope this helps.

http://bonnieplants.com/products/herbs/culantro

In Puerto Rico we use this and in other parts of various islands. It is a wonderful woodsy herb and can EASILY take Cilantro's part... For 3 leaves in one stew it can easily replace a whole bunch of cilantro.Literally a whole bunch. Save yourself the cash and use the Culantro for a better flavor and fragrant delicious stew.I wish you good cooking !

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They are definetly different, since one has long stems with short 3-4 pointed leafs at the end. Mostly used in Mexican and South American foods (Cilantro) and the other has also a long stem but the leaf is in it (Culantro or Reacao) and is mostly used in Caribbean foods. The latest has a stronger flavor and smell after cooked while the first has a stronger flavor and smell when uncooked. The images for each would be the ones provided by Carlos Esquenio Thompson. Americans are mostly used to Cilantro since it comes raw in Mexicans tacos and food cooked by them. While Culantro is most difficult to see in the States. I do used it in all my cooking and the strong smell was questioned by mexicans I used to rent from. The smell the same but again, one smells and tastes stronger when raw, the other when cooked. The Culantro taste, uncooked, is more like almost eating dirt while when cooked has a strong flavor. Meanwhile, cilantro can be eaten in both ways and taste delicious no matter if cooked or not.

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