India is a food-industry insider who enjoys cooking, eating, and sharing food-related insights with others.
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum of the Apiaceae family) is harvested daily for its amazing benefits, which range from medicinal to gourmet. It is easy to understand why the lovely bitter aromatic plant remains one of the most craved and coveted herbs on earth. But how does coriander relate to cilantro? With this question in mind, we will be discussing the misunderstandings surrounding these delightful entities and why "coriander vs. cilantro" is subject of controversy for many home cooks.
Coriander vs. Cilantro
Is coriander different from cilantro? Simply stated, coriander is usually the part of the plant that consists of the seeds and leaves, while cilantro (from the Spanish word) is just the leaf. The plant is an annual growing flora (you have to re-plant it every year) that originally sprung from southern Europe and North Africa to southwestern Asia. It commonly used in Middle Eastern recipes but has been finding its way into western (USA) cuisine with dynamic culinary results. I use coriander (cilantro) quite often and have grown to become one of its most loyal culinary fans.
When referring to coriander, I am talking only about the seeds. When I am speaking of cilantro, it is strictly about the leaves. This may not be the absolutely correct use of the two terms, but in my home kitchen, it works out just fine.
When Was Coriander Discovered?
We find coriander in the Bible (Exodus 16:31), and it has been uncovered in the tombs of ancient kings (Tutankhamen, from around 1332 BC). In another early appearance, the herb is said to have been found in Greece around the second millennium BCE. No matter how far back we trace its origins, coriander remains one of the favorite herbs traditionally eaten at Passover to this very day.
What Does Coriander Look Like
Coriander looks very close to how flat leaf parsley looks. It is not as durable as flat leaf parsley, as its leaves will bruise more easily. The plant grows with long thin stalks that have sparsely arranged tufts of lace shaped leaves along them. Because of the delicate structure, and the unique leaves it can have an almost fern-like appearance. The plant we most recognize as coriander in the USA is Mexican coriander or cilantro (Eryngium foetidum), and has a very strong aroma as well as taste. Some people find the strong elements of cilantro resemble soap or have a vivid perfume presence, while others simply can't get enough!
Medicinal Uses for Coriander
Coriander sativum's dried seeds are used as an herbal medicine. The seeds (ripe fruit) offer natural antispasmodic results, as well as being able to stimulate the appetite. When combined with a few other wonderful herbs like fennel, caraway, anise, and cardamon a nagging stomach ache, excess gas, and even abdominal distention don't stand a chance, as these medicinals work together to calm the digestive system.
Other Medical Uses for Coriander
- Because it contains antioxidants, coriander is helpful in preserving leftover foods by slowing the rate at which foods seasoned with the spice spoil.
- The spice has been attributed with helping lower cholesterol levels in mice studies.
- Certain chemicals found in the leaves of the coriander plant, have been noted to have an antibacterial effect on such harmful biological critters as salmonella.
- It is said to reduce anxiety.
- A diuretic tea is made from coriander seeds and cumin.
- Some studies (in mice) have found coriander to be helpful to those who suffer with diabetes.
- It has helped people who suffer from insomnia.
NOTE: Always consult your doctor when using any herbal medicines. When breastfeeding or pregnant, never use coriander in any larger quantity than you would as a culinary spice.
A Quick Harissa Recipe
Try this simple recipe to make a quick and easy harissa at home. It's a fun and delicious way to use those coriander seeds you've been wondering what to do with.
Harissa is a very spicy (can be extremely hot) chili-based paste or sauce. It is a popular component in North African recipes.
- 4 fresh chilies with stems and seeds removed (soak chilies 30 minutes if using dried)
- 1 clove of garlic
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ teaspoon ground caraway seed
- ½ teaspoon ground coriander seed
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- Combine chilies, salt, garlic, and olive oil in a food processor and blend until they form a paste.
- Add in the rest of the spices and blend. Place into an airtight container with a layer of olive oil on top. This should stay good for about a month in the refrigerator.
- To use the spicy hot paste, thin it with a little olive oil and lemon juice, or warm broth. Putting a tiny amount on eggs is very good, and it works fantastic with quinoa or couscous recipes. I have even spiced up hummus with a tiny dab of fresh harissa paste (it doesn't take much to make an impact).
Using Coriander in Foods and Cooking
The strong flavor and aroma of coriander has been used in culinary applications for centuries. The leaves and stems are used to season Middle Eastern, South American, Mexican, and Southeast Asian recipes every day, and most likely every meal. It can be added to stir fry, cold prepared salads, legume and bean dishes, and most often in cuisine calling for a tasty curry experience. Middle Eastern chefs often make an irresistible pungent gourmet chutney using the plant's leaves. Always add the leaf version of the plant at the end of the cooking process, as lengthy cook times will reduce the flavor to almost nothing.
How to Get the Best Flavor From Coriander Seeds
By toasting or roasting coriander seeds you will be intensifying their flavor. You can use the seeds in their natural whole form or grind them up. Either way, you can enjoy the mildly sweet flavor profile in just about any recipe. One of the more popular recipes for ground coriander seeds is harissa (see recipe above).
Are There Benefits to Grinding Coriander Seeds?
If you grind the seeds, not only will the flavor enhance your dish, but the fiber found in them helps to thicken broth, curries and stews. This is because the high fiber found in the ground-up seeds acts like a sponge and absorbs the liquids.
Make Your Own Spice Blend!
Coriander (Cilantro) Information Table
Citrus, floral, lemon, pungent, soapy
Chutneys, curries, marinades, poultry, salsas, seafood
Asian, Caribbean, Chinese, Indian, Mexican, Thai
Must be washed very well. Keep it moist. It can be frozen, but will change in color when thawed.
Short growing season. Snip the top regularly. Can be difficult to grow.
Yvonne Spence from UK on September 07, 2012:
I'm from the UK, so it's all coriander to me! And though I didn't taste it till I was an adult, I love it.
You've got a lot of interesting information here: for instance I didn't know it reduced anxiety and insomnia.
Angelo52 on September 07, 2012:
Great explanation and so well written. Cilantro is a tasty leaf use in many dishes. I was not aware of the medicinal use. Shared and voted up.
QualityContent on September 06, 2012:
Great hub but cilantro is so nasty. How do people eat this hideous herb? It ruins anything it touches.
Some people love it while I won't go near it. I love all herbs except that vile plant.
Marites Mabugat-Simbajon from Toronto, Ontario on September 06, 2012:
Hi K9, I've worked in a restaurant company before and our CEO had always used cilantro or coriander (which ever one) better than parsley. I didn't know until now in your hub that cilantro and coriander are one same leaf thing. I have coriander seed (whole ones) and powder and I like using it especially in making homemade burgers! I thought it was the coriander vs. parsley that confused me when I am in the market. But now, I have parsley in my backyard pots, so I know its difference from he coriander or cilantro, whatever, lol!
I do have insomia and my ma is diabetic. Cool, I can share this to my sister back in the Philippines so she can encourage her using some cilantro! So I can also use coriander powder added to my green tea? Just probably the same as adding ginger powder to the tea. Okay, let me heat up some water now. See ya and thanks! Voted useful and interesting!!
Cynthia Calhoun from Western NC on September 06, 2012:
MMMM, I grew up eating cilantro in my mom's Mexican dishes. This year, we're going to experiment planting it as a cover crop on our gardens. I hope it works. I had a friend to it last year. Beautiful, yummy hub! Now I have a craving. :P Voted up, tweeted, pinned and shared.
India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on May 02, 2012:
Jackie~ Like you, I use herbs in everything from cooking to cleaning! Glad you enjoyed the work. Thanks for sharing your remarks.
Miss Olive~ Thanks so much for the added tips on what recipes cilantro goes well in! I can't wait to try it in some charro beans, not something I would have thought to do. Very grateful for your comments!
Daisy~ You would not be alone regarding coriander. Many home cooks think it is a middle eastern spice only utilized in curry based foods. I love that we are seeing it used in so many western recipes these days! Thanks for reading and commenting!
Wesman Todd Shaw~ You always make me giggle! Thanks for leaving your humor with me today! Loved your Dragon hub by the way!
Scottcgruber~ I have to agree with you that cilantro can taste soapy. Some people like, yourself, find the taste repulsive, avoiding it at all cost. I think it's amazing how different a cooking ingredient can be from leaf to seed. And coriander vs cilantro definitely falls into this group! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with me here today!
scottcgruber from USA on May 01, 2012:
Interesting hub! I love the coriander spice and use it in everything from scrambled eggs to picadillo to tilapia to basmati rice. It's my go-to spice for tying all the other herbs and spices together.
Cilantro leaves, on the other hand, I cannot stand. The smell of them in the produce aisle makes my skin crawl, and the flavor is like metallic soap for me.
Wesman Todd Shaw from Kaufman, Texas on April 30, 2012:
I ...ugh...um...er...so there really is a difference? They aren't the same thing??????
I guess that is the entire ..um..one of the major points here.
...in such a case - I've only ever seen cilantro here in Texas, or when I lived in California...in a grocery store.
Daisy Mariposa from Orange County (Southern California) on April 30, 2012:
Thanks for publishing this very informative article.
I had heard of coriander, but didn't know anything about it. Living only two hours from the Mexican border, I'm very used to cilantro being an ingredient in local Southern California recipes.
Marisa Hammond Olivares from Texas on April 29, 2012:
K9, I live in South Texas and cilantro is VERY popular in many dishes. It is of course common in mexican food, but it is very popular with our Tex-Mex cuisine as well.
As for me, coriander is the seed and cilantro is the actual plant. Chopped cilantro is a great addition to charro beans, mexican rice, guacamole, pico de gallo, barbacoa tacos and more.
Interesting hub - thanks for sharing. Hmmmm now I'm hungry :)
Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on April 26, 2012:
Great write, I just can't learn enough about herbs and I sure am making them a big part of my diet. Thanks!
India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on April 26, 2012:
Shanna11~ I must admit that a few years ago, I too looked for cilantro seeds to plant! ;) Thanks for stopping by!
Cardisa~ I love the flavor and aroma of coriander, and when added to cumin and ginger, it becomes paradise! Always glad to find you in the comments section, my friend!
Ruchira~ Thank you for sharing your comments.
AJRRT~ Great minds think alike! I sure am grateful that you stopped by to comment on the hub!
HubHugs to all~
AJRRT from Sheffield, AL on April 26, 2012:
I normally only use cilantro (I'm like you, cilantro means the leaves only & coriander means the seeds only). After reading your article I will be using both. Voted up, useful & interesting.
Ruchira from United States on April 26, 2012:
yup, derived from the same plant but have different names 'cause of their origins...
Carolee Samuda from Jamaica on April 26, 2012:
I use the seeds in cooking. I love the flavor on meats and in soups as well. I use the leaves for salads. I especially love it in my Tabbouleh. Great article with lots of great information.
Shanna from Utah on April 25, 2012:
Ah, this makes so much more sense-- I always wondered why I never saw "Cilantro seeds" at the store. I always knew it would grow coriander, but I wondered all the same.
India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on April 25, 2012:
ambee12~ Most of the time when talking about coriander, it is about the seeds. When talking about cilantro, it is more about the leaves. But, you are right, they both are derived from the same whole plant. Thank you for your comments.
Munira from Canada on April 25, 2012:
Isn't coriander and cilantro one and the same thing?