Culantro: The Herb You Didn’t Know You Needed

Culantro: The Herb You Didn’t Know You Needed

Culantro is a herb that may remind you of cilantro due to its similar aroma and flavor, but the fact is that it’s a different plant altogether. Not only does it pack a stronger punch than cilantro, but its long, serrated leaves resemble those of elongated lettuce.

Also, unlike cilantro, which is typically used as a garnish, culantro is often added during cooking. You’ll often find culantro specified in recipes from the Caribbean, South America, Central America, and Asia.

In this guide, we introduce culantro by looking at its origin, characteristics, and applications across various recipes. If you want to learn more about culantro or purchase fresh and ethically sourced produce from FAVE Produce, you can check out our product pages. We have a wide selection of fruits, herbs, spices, and vegetables that we’re sure would be of interest to you.

What is Culantro?

Culantro (Eryngium foetidum), grows much like lettuce, forming leaves that grow into a rosette shape. A culantro plant can reach a height of about 1 foot, with leaves up to 2 inches wide at full maturity.

It belongs to the Apiaceae family, alongside carrots, celery, parsnip, parsley, and culantro, and has culinary and medicinal applications. Culantro leaves are known for their intense flavor and aroma and are commonly added during cooking.


Culantro originates from the tropical regions of the Americas and the West Indies, unlike cilantro, which has its roots in the Mediterranean and was introduced to the Americas during European colonization.

Culantro is known by various names, such as saw-toothed mint, spiny cilantro, and long-leafed coriander. In Spanish-speaking countries, it is sometimes referred to as cilantro de hoja ancha. Furthermore, in places like the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, it is commonly called recao, while in certain Caribbean regions, it goes by the name chandon beni.

This shows that the specific names for culantro may vary depending on the country or region.

The Difference Between Culantro and Cilantro

Culantro and cilantro, although botanical cousins, have distinct characteristics.

Here they are:

  • Unlike culantro, which boasts long, rosette-like leaves, cilantro features delicate, scallop-shaped leaves growing at the ends of slender stems.
  • Cilantro is an annual plant, whereas culantro is biennial.
  • While both herbs share similar flavors and aromas, culantro is notably more potent than cilantro. Some people even suggest that culantro’s flavor is up to ten times stronger, influencing their respective uses in cooking.
  • Culantro can withstand high cooking temperatures, while cilantro is delicate and often added to dishes after cooking.

What Does Culantro Taste Like?

Culantro has a pungent aroma and a bitter, soapy flavor similar to that of cilantro, but with a stronger intensity. It is often described as having a scent similar to crushed stink bugs or bedbugs, which makes culantro a herb that divides opinions.

However, most people agree that the herb can improve the flavor of various dishes, regardless of its aroma and flavor.

How to Cook with Culantro

It is the leaves of the culantro plant that are highly valued for culinary purposes. They can be used in almost any recipe that traditionally includes cilantro, although it’s wise to use a smaller amount of culantro when substituting.

Interestingly, in certain Vietnamese beef noodle soup recipes, the roles of cilantro and culantro are reversed. Here, cilantro is cooked, while culantro is reserved as a garnish.

Example Recipes That Feature Culantro

In this section, we share some of the best culinary applications of the culantro herb.

Butter Lime Cilantro Rice

Here’s a delightful Oriental-style cilantro rice recipe serving two. It’s the perfect accompaniment to any dish featuring meats or fish that has been cooked with a soy sauce base.


  • 1 cup cooked jasmine rice
  • 2 ounces melted butter
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 ounce rice vinegar
  • Juice of 1/2 lime


  • Begin by finely chopping the cilantro.
  • In a bowl, mix together the melted butter, rice vinegar, lime juice, and chopped cilantro with the warm, cooked jasmine rice.
  • Stir the ingredients until they are evenly distributed throughout the rice.
  • Serve the cilantro rice immediately alongside your main dish.

Puerto Rican Sofrito

Sofrito is the backbone of Puerto Rican cuisine, and is often made in advance and stored in plastic containers or frozen in ice cube trays.


  • 1 small yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 4 green onions, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
  • 1 small head of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
  • 1 bunch of cilantro, tough ends trimmed and coarsely chopped
  • 1 bunch of culantro, tough ends trimmed and coarsely chopped (or additional cilantro)
  • About 3/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon sazón seasoning (or half a packet)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil


  • Mix the chopped onions, bell peppers, garlic, cilantro, and culantro in a large mixing bowl.
  • Blend one-third of the mixture at a time in a food processor with 1/4 cup water per batch until it’s finely chopped.
  • Transfer the blended sofrito to another mixing bowl.
  • Season with salt, olive oil, pepper, and sazón seasoning, then stir well.
  • Portion sofrito into small containers or ice cube trays.
  • Refrigerate for up to one week or freeze for up to six months (transfer frozen cubes to zip-top bags).

Note: This Puerto Rican Sofrito recipe can be used for up to 24 servings.

Vietnamese Noodle Soup (Pho)

The following Pho recipe can serve four people and paired with Pressure Cooker Chicken Pho.


  • 4 to 6 sprigs of mint or spicy Thai mint
  • 4 handfuls of bean sprouts
  • 1 or 2 limes, cut into wedges
  • Additional herbs: Thai basil, lemon basil, culantro, cilantro, rice-paddy herb (same amount as mint)
  • 2 green or red Thai chiles, jalapeños, Fresnos, or serranos, thinly sliced (diagonally if small)


  • Refresh the herbs by trimming the stems and soaking the mint, cilantro and regular basil in water.
  • Then fully submerge the Thai basil, culantro, and rice-paddy herb in separate bowls.
  • Pat the herbs to dry.
  • Keep the bean sprouts raw or slightly soften them.
  • Add the bean sprouts to the pho noodle boiling water and stir for a minute.
  • Drain them on a paper towel.
  • Place the chiles in a small dish on a large plate or platter.
  • Arrange the rest of the remaining ingredients on the plate and serve immediately.

Wrapping Up

In this guide, you’ll learn that:

  • Culantro is distinct from cilantro. It offers a stronger flavor and is used in Caribbean, South American, Central American, and Asian cuisine.
  • Culantro also differs from cilantro in leaf shape, potency, and cooking applications.
  • Its origins trace back to the Americas and the West Indies.
  • Despite its pungent aroma, culantro enhances dishes and is featured in recipes like Butter Lime Cilantro Rice and Puerto Rican Sofrito.