Cilantro (Coriander) looks like parsley, but the taste is completely different. It’s that kind of taste that you may simply fall in love with or hate it from the first bite.
The plant is native to Southern Europe and Western Asia. Nowadays you may find it in all the Mediterranean area, the Balcans, Russia, India, Netherlands and USA.
People loved coriander since the Stone Age. It is shown by the fifteen grains discovered in the cave in Nahal Hemar, Israel, perhaps the oldest seeds in the world – 8000 years old.
Where did it take its name? We do not know. We only know that the Greeks called it koríannon/κορίαννον (probably a Mediterranean word) and the Romans borrowed it from them, slightly changed, Coriandrum.
Mediterranean doctors, priests and perfume creators knew its healing powers for the body and the spirit. That’s because the historians have discovered cilantro in Egyptian herborists’ papyri (the oldest dating from 1550 BC. BC.); in the tombs of the pharaohs (and that of Tutankhamen), as a beautiful and expensive gift to the gods; and in the flavored oils of the Mycenaean kings (it appears on the clay tablets from the house with sphinxes in Mycenae, together with fennel, cumin and mint).
In China the fresh leaves were used in cookery 1500 years BC and it was cultivated even in the hanging gardens of Queen Semiramis of Babylon. The Egyptians called it “grass of happiness” and assigned it with aphrodisiac properties. Greeks and Romans flavored their wines with coriander and used it for its therapeutic properties. The Romans are the ones who brought cilantro to the west of the Empire.
In the eighteenth century it was one of the ingredients in the “eau de toilette” created by the nuns of the Order of Carmelites in Paris. Also in the Middle Ages it was used in the preparation of two famous digestive drinks: liqueurs Chartreuse and Benedictine.
Cilantro is also known as “chinese parsley”.
Cilantro and parsley belong to the same herbal family, Umbelliferae, and the average lifetime is one year.
Greeks and Romans first used coriander for flavoring dishes. Later, they discovered it is effective in meat preserving and for making aromatic breads.
Coriander seeds’ nutritional profile is considerably different from that of the stems or leaves. The seeds have many nutrients – vitamins and antioxidants in the form of volatile oils (borneol, pinene, linalool, cineol, etc. ) and also fibers which help digestion.
Cilantro leaves contain flavonoids which strengthen the antioxidant powers of the plant.
It is also an excellent source of minerals like potassium, calcium, manganese, iron and magnesium. Coriander leaves have a high content of vitamins A, C , and K and B-complex vitamins.
Both leaves and seeds control the sugar level in the body, keeping cholesterol low and have antimicrobial properties. Coriander is rich in phytonutrients and volatile oils, but also phenolics. All these ingredients have properties that help the infections in the body heal faster.
Did you know that salmonella can be controlled or inhibited by using coriander? It is considered twice more powerful than any other antibiotic used to combat this bacteria.
Throughout history, cilantro seeds have been considered antidiabetic agents. Indians cherished them for their anti-inflammatory qualities and United States experts appreciate them for the effect of lowering cholesterol levels.
The advantage when cooking with coriander is that you may use not only leaves and seeds but even roots. The latter, more intense in flavor than the leaves, are mainly used in Thai cuisine.
Fresh coriander leaves are used in foods of southern Asia, in China or in the preparations of salsa and guacamole, both in Mexico. In Europe coriander consumption is declining in favor of parsley, but in Portugal this spice is still widely used in baked dishes, in particular.
Coriander seeds are a very important addition to the jars of pickles, in Europe. They are widely used in India as an ingredient in curry and garam masala. They can even be served fried, as a snack. The Germans use coriander seeds for sausages and the Russians put them in the rye breads.
It is used in pastry – meat, cheese or pumpkin pies, for the preparation of various sauces, but it also goes well with vegetables.
The seeds and leaves have completely different flavors and can not substitute each other. Drying the leaves may destroy some of their therapeutic qualities. However, they are listed as an ingredient of some Georgian and Iran spice mixtures, like “khmeli-suneli” and “ghormeh sabzi“.
The leaves can be stored by freezing, but they are more often used fresh. Cooking, even briefly, diminishes their aroma.
It is a common spice in Arabic cuisine where it is combined with orange juice to prepare lamb. It is used for seasoning dishes with chicken, grilled fish or some varieties of cheese.
Given its impressive medicinal qualities, cilantro is an extraordinary way of satisfying the need of natural, healthy eating.