By Chelsea Fisher
Cilantro is a leafy herb and seed popularly used in Mexican, Asian, and Indian cooking. As with other herbs, cilantro can add great flavor and complexity to a dish without adding salt – a definite health bonus. Cilantro brings more to the table than just flavor. According to The American Institute for Cancer Research cilantro contains many different types of phytochemicals including beta-carotene and quercetin both of which have been widely studied for their cancer-fighting prowess. Studies have also shown it to have anti-bacterial properties. Cilantro is high in vitamins A and C and is a good source of calcium and iron.
According to a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, coriander leaves and seeds may have an insulin-like activity and insulin releasing activity, which may help prevent diabetes. Coriander is also a traditional component of curry powder along turmeric, ginger, and cayenne pepper. These spices likely have many health benefits that we are only just beginning to understand.
If a friend professes not to like cilantro, don’t try to change their minds. Some people experience a soapy rank taste when eating cilantro rather than a pleasant herbal flavor. This bitter sensation has recently been chalked up to genetic differences in taste.
Cilantro comes in two forms: a green, fragrant, leafy herb, and the spice known as coriander, which comes from its seeds. Here in the Americas, only the spice carries the name coriander, while everywhere else, it is the name of both the herb and the spice.
Coriander is used extensively in South Asian cooking both the leafy plant, and the whole and ground forms of the spice. You’ll find that ground vs. whole coriander has a surprisingly different taste, so be sure to use the specified type. Store all spices in a dark cupboard in an airtight container.
Fresh cilantro spoils quite quickly. Make sure it’s very fresh when you buy it with no wilting or browning leaves. To extend its freshness, cilantro can be kept in the refrigerator upright, lightly covered with a plastic bag, and with the roots in a small amount of water.
If you are cooking for a cilantro hater, there’s no converting them. Try substituting a 50/50 mix of Italian parsley and mint for the cilantro.
Cilantro is flavor. Try adding whole stems, roots and all, to add taste to beans and stews. It is also one of the great culinary ‘finishing’ herbs. Adding a little chopped cilantro at the end of cooking will lift the taste of curries, beans and salads alike. We use cilantro, this way in a wide variety of our dishes like our Senegalese Peanut Stew or Bacalao Fish Stew. Although from the same plant, coriander and cilantro are not interchangeable in recipes, however they do work nicely together as in our Thai-Style Tempeh Curry, and our Spicy Indian-Style Chicken Burgers. We even add a pinch or coriander to our Homemade Ketchup. Doesn’t get more versatile than that!