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Parsley and Cilantro Stems

By Cook's Illustrated Published November 2003

Can you use parsley and cilantro stems as well as the leaves?

Recently, we heard a wild rumor that the stems of flat-leaf parsley hold more flavor than the leaves. We decided to put this notion to the test, and, because most of us had also heard of using cilantro stems (a.k.a.Chinese parsley) in cooking, we included it in the test as well. After cleaning and drying several bunches of parsley and cilantro, we asked tasters to eat the herbs by the sprig, from the tender leaf to the fat tip of the stem. What did we find? Well, the stems do have more flavor, but that's not always good news. While the parsley leaves were fresh and herbal, we were surprised by how intense the flavor became as we traveled down the stems. By the time we reached the stem ends, tasters were complaining (loudly) about bitterness.

Cilantro, however, was another story. Sure the leaves were tasty, but the great flavor found in the stems caught us all off guard. Sweet, fresh, and potent the flavor intensified as we traveled down the stem but never became bitter. The moral? If a recipe calls for cilantro and a crunchy texture isn't an issue, use the stems as well as the leaves. But when it comes to parsley—unless you'll be using the herb in a soup or stew where its strong flavor won't be out of place—be picky and use just the leaves.