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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.
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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.