How to freeze cilantro

The trouble with cilantro is that you either have none at all, or you have too much.

You buy a bundle at the market and it wilts within a few days. It’s not like Italian parsley, which will stay green and alert for a week or more in a pot of water placed in a sunny window. So what do you do when your $1.29 buys you more cilantro than you’ll normally use in two months — but you have only two or three days in which to use it?

Freeze it!

That’s right. Freeze it. But don’t just throw it in the freezer — it will turn brown and icky in no time. Instead, follow these directions:

(1) Wash the cilantro in cold water, as follows:

(a) Fill a really big bowl or pot with really cold water. Grab the whole bunch of cilantro by the stems, like a bouquet of flowers, and plunge the leaves into the water. Swish it vigorously. Plunge it in and out. Shake it all about. Swish, swish, swish!

(b) Remove from the water and give it a few good shakes over the sink to shake off the excess water. Plop it down on a towel and spread it out. Blot dry the really wet spots.

(c) Now that it’s washed, remove the limp, yellowed, or icky bits. You have more than you’ll ever use, so just keep the good stuff. You’ll probably throw away 25% of the bunch. Get over it.

green!(2) Set aside the cilantro you plan to use right away. (Wrap it and put it in the fridge, or put it stem-down in a jar of fresh water and place it in a sunny spot.)

(3) With the remaining, tear the leaves from the stems and roughly chop them. Cram a spoonful of leaves into each of the molds of an ice cube tray. Cover with water, and freeze.

(4) When frozen, remove the cubes from the tray and put them into a zip-lock bag. Squeeze out the air and store in the freezer.

You now have instant access to green, crisp, sorta-fresh cilantro, whenever you want. It’s not great for garnishes, but it’s just fine for most recipes, including guacamole, soups, and any sauce that calls for fresh cilantro.

Note: cilantro and coriander come from the same plant, but they are not the same thing — although the words are often used interchangeably. "Cilantro" refers to the herb — the green leafy bits. "Coriander" refers the spice — the roots and seeds, which are usually dried.

28 thoughts on “How to freeze cilantro

  1. Good Lord – it’s like talkin’ dirty – nearly fresh cilantro anytime I want! You, my dear, are the man. Thanks for the tip.

  2. And Italian Parseley? You simply put it in a pot of water beside a sunny window and that’s it? Nice tips.

  3. Yeah, that’s it! One thing though: it has to be fresh and perky when you buy it. If you bring home limp parsley it will stay limp, but if it’s vivacious, just dunk it in water and give it light. Keep the water level up by adding/changing every few days.(BTW, this works for cilantro too, but not for nearly as long.)

    Maggie, happy to oblige! I didn’t believe this would work until I tried it!

  4. Another tip… when you thaw the frozen cilantro, don’t throw away the water (unless you’re adding it to guacamole or some such thing where you don’t want extra moisture). There is only about a tablespoon or two of water for each “cube” but some of the flavor has leached out of the herb and into the water. If it’s going in a soup or sauce, just throw the whole thing in!

    (More tips: don’t microwave to thaw — you’ll cook the herb and ruin it. Instead, just let it sit for half an hour, or put it in a small metal bowl set into a larger bowl of warm water.)

  5. Hi Ed–
    –alternately, you can blanch it and make cilantro pesto, with walnuts, garlic, and olive oil.
    –another tip of this nature: lemon grass gets old really quickly. if you chunk it up with some ginger and pulse it in your food processor, you can freeze it covered with saran wrap.

  6. Well, thank you Julia Child.
    You can also do the same thing with tomato paste.

  7. Indeed you can. Although I prefer to use tomato paste from squeeze tubes, as I usually need only a spoonful at a time.

  8. Those tomato paste tubes are the best invention since… I’m not saying it.

    Blork, I love you (sorry Martine). To make my life complete, can you do this with basil? My @%$# grocery store only sells those potted basil plants, and I can’t seem to keep them from dying within a couple of days. I’ve killed four this winter alone.

  9. Susan, you should be able to do this with almost any herb, but basil is particularly delicate. Freezing it like this should preserve the flavor, but it will likely not preserve the texture well. It might get a bit mushy — which shouldn’t matter for soups or sauces.

    I keep live basil in the window for a week or more at a time. Sometimes up to three weeks. The trick is (a) lots of light, and (b) keeping it properly watered. I used to OVER-water it, which would make it wilt almost immediately, but now I seem to have found the right balance. Basically, let it dry out almost completely, then add a bit of water (2 oz. max) then repeat in two days. (Depends on the dryness of your house, too.)

    Oddly, although I thought I had this down pat, I lost three or four basils in a row this winter. They died within a DAY. Sometimes that happens if they are exposed to too much cold as you’re carrying them from the grocery store.

  10. According to my mother-in-law the expert gardener, the reason those grocery store basil plants die so quickly is that there are too many plants in the small pot. If you thin them out they should live a little longer.

    For preserving cut basil, making a big batch of pesto and freezing it works very well.

    And yes, tomato paste in a tube is a wonderful thing, I just wish more places carried it.

  11. I’ve roughly chopped Basil in a food processor with a bit of olive oil and successfully freezed it in ice cube trays.

  12. I grow basil outside in the summer, and some varieties grow to over three feet tall. I cut it down in the Fall, pick and wash the leaves, let them air dry, then *loosely* pack the leaves in freezer bags and freeze. I have “fresh” basil all winter long. It’s not good for garnish, but it’s fine for Thai curries and stir-frys. (The frozen leaves turn black as they thaw, but I haven’t found it to be a problem for cooked dishes.)

    Tomato paste in a tube. Very cool. I use powdered tomato to make small amounts of paste.

  13. Kitchen Chick, thanks for the tip. I had tried freezing basil like that but was put off when they turned black. I’ll have to try it again though.

  14. I have great success with very quickly blanching the cilantro (while left on the stem), letting dry thoroughly on paper towel, then freezing it into cigar-shaped bundles . In the dead of winter, or autumn, or spring, I shave off bits with a potato peeler. Mmmm, cilantro…

  15. I was a bit of a put off at first, too, but I was determined to not waste all that basil I had grown. And after growing so much so inexpensively, I was even more put off at paying outrageous prices for small bunches at the grocery stores. Frozen basil works fine for any dish where fresh basil cooks and turns dark. I’m sure there are better methods for preserving basil (besides pesto), but I haven’t looked.

  16. All this cilantro talk reminded me of something I saw Jamie Oliver do once (yes, I like JO, and I’m not ashamed to admit it). He took a bunch of cilantro, dipped it in fruit juice, then in sugar, then put it in a very low oven to dry it out. Then he crushed it over ice cream. I really should give that a try sometime.

  17. You crazy mofos! What the hell are you doing freezing herbs?

  18. Two things:

    (1) I am a produce clerk at a major grocery chain. The Cilantro you bring home has everything to do with how it is presented and taken care of. Unfortunately, being the most difficult produce item to take care of and having little or no mark-up value to the store, means that most produce departments don’t even bother.

    Cilantro and Parsley arrive in a giant box of some 100 bunches with very little moisture (as opposed to other leafy items that require constant moisture from transport, to a ‘wet’ display rack). The problem is that these herbs require both moisture and cold air. However, not too much moisture as they will immediately go slimey. However, not enough and they will go limp.

    Most clerks simply take the bunches straight from the box to the display rack. They look good in the store for about 4hrs (probably 3/4s of the box is thrown out each day as new are rotated to the display).

    What should happen? The bunches should be crisped. You can do this too at home. Plunge the bunches into tepid (not cold) water leafy portion first. While immersed, turn your hand upside down so that, when you lift the bunch out it is the top of the leafy part that emerges first (this will ensure that the head of the bunch is evenly spread out allowing as much space between leafs as possible). Snip stems and sit in glass or cup (like flowers in a vase). Allow most of water to drip off (empty water from container) and place in fridge. You can recrisp your cilantro several times over, and it will last longer.

    (2) Why not use the whole head anyway? Most of the recipes I use it in that actually call for it as an ingredient (as opposed to garnish) call for cups of the stuff anyway. I never have any left over.

    Guess there is a third thing… add cilantro to your homemade hamburgers and meatloaf ‘gunk’

  19. How to store coriander

    We’re not just interested in technology around here. We have to eat too, and what with going to the Vic Market this morning, our attention has wandered towards really important stuff, such as what will we do with the coriander….

  20. Wow, so much comment on simple old lovely coriander. I have found that it keeps quite well and moist, if you kust wrap the bunch in newspaper and put it in the fridge.

  21. “Coriander” (or “coriander leaf”) can also refer to the leaves if, for example, you are speaking British English.

  22. First off, if we’re talking about the same thing here (possibly not, I may be about to make myself look like an ass, heh), tomato paste in a tube is *really* common in the UK. All our supermarkets stock it. We call it tomato puree over here, and it either comes in a tube or a small can. Double concentrate, and delicious.

    As for freezing herbs, I think that’s excellent :) very inventive.

  23. while i always prefer fresh herbs to frozen or dried, this sounds like a mighty fine way to preserve my bumper crop harvest of cilantro this year. thanks!

  24. This is valuable info. Although I received more info than I had hoped for, I read it to the very end and thougt it was a great help. Thanks very much.
    Don’t laugh, but what’s an url?

  25. Thanks Blork – great tips and a fun read from other contributors.

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