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How to see the difference between parsley, coriander (cilantro) and celery

Topics: Cooking  /  

The difference between coriander cilantro celery and parsleyFrom left to right: Coriander (cilantro), celery and flat-leaf parsley

For years I have been unable to notice the difference between flat-leaf parsley, coriander (aka cilantro) and celery, unless I tasted or sniffed them. Since they are all green, have about the same shape of leaf and usually come wrapped in plastic bags, I needed to find some unique visible characteristics of each them to distinguish one from the other.

So here is your little almost-identical-looking-herb identification guide. Each herb has different varieties that vary in shape, size and colour, so this guide only uses characteristics that are shared by all varieties of the herbs.

The difference in leaf shape between coriander and parsleyCoriander (left) has a more rounded leaf shape than both celery and parsley (right)

Coriander is probably the easiest to recognise, as its leaf shape is clearly more rounded than that of both parsley and celery. Also, the coriander (aka cilantro) varieties that I know usually have leaves a shade of green lighter than most parsleys and celeries. So if the shape of the leaves is not pointy, you can be sure that it is coriander.

To see the difference between the two pointy-leaved herbs, one should look at the stems instead of the leaves. Whereas parsley always has a smooth stem with a more or less circular section, celery stems have a jagged surface and a crescent-shaped section. Celery stems look like a small version of the celery stalks.

Celery and Parsley stems crescent-shaped and circularCelery stems (left) have a jagged surface and a crescent-shaped section, while parsley stems (right) have a more smooth surface and a more-or-less circular section

Extra: For those that want to see the difference between chervil (a not-so-widely available but very aromatic kitchen herb) and the herbs above, the following might help.

Chervil distinguishes itself by its smaller leaf size and the higher number of ramifications (branch junctions) on the route from the main stem to a leaf. Whereas parsley and celery plants always make a leaf after one, two or three (very rare) ramifications, almost all chervil plants branch out three to four times before making a leaf.

Chervil and parsley have different number of branchesChervil (left) has three to four “branches” before a leaf grows, while parsley (right) and celery usually only have one or two

Please use this identification guide on your market or in your own kitchen only. Do not use these characteristics for the identification of wild herbs as there are many Apiaceae that look just like parsley, but are deadly poisonous. Like this one for example, which supposedly killed Socrates.

  1. Sarah says: November 26, 20128:19 pm

    thank you! there are many times that I’ll buy celery leaves instead of parsley and then getting frustrated when it’s not what I had wanted.
    good day!

  2. cecille says: March 6, 20135:26 am

    thank u so much..! i didn’t know that im buying everytime the coriander leaves instead of parsley leaves coz ive heard that parsley is very good for cleansing our kidney…that’s y im looking for it.well then thanks a lot for this infos…

  3. The Main Ingredient says: June 14, 20132:03 am

    Very interesting and useful article…thank you!!

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