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Exploring Cilantro: The "Love It or Hate It" Herb

Updated on March 13, 2017
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Exploring food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes... one ingredient at a time.

The Truth According to Julia Child

(...and ten percent of the rest of us).

Julia Child was never one to mince words, was she? She was a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef, author, and an icon on American television as the first to produce and star in a cooking show. But despite her training and world travel, she never acquired a taste for cilantro. And she’s not alone—some people have strong feelings about it. In fact, there is a website devoted exclusively to the hatred of the dear herb. Like religion, politics, and spam-in-a-can, there is no easy path to conversion. But there is a real reason for this disagreement; the love of cilantro is more than just an acquired taste.

Never. I would pick it out if I saw it and throw it on the floor.

— Julia Child (when asked if she would ever eat cilantro).

It's In Your Genes

Cilantro is almost negligible when it comes to calories (just 1 calorie in ¼ cup), and it’s packed with Vitamins A and K, and potassium. That is the good news. However, if you are one of those who say that cilantro tastes like soap, don’t blame the cook, your mood, or a lousy childhood. Cilantro also contains “aldehyde,” a compound used in making perfume and plastics. But not all of us react to aldehydes in the same way. One in ten of us was blessed (or cursed) with the olfactory receptor gene OR6A2—a quirky little code on our DNA that tells our brains that aldehyde = soap.

But That's Not the End of the Controversy

Not only are there the "love it" or "hate it" factions. We can't even seem to agree on the name for this lovely green herb. In the United States the fresh leaves and stems are “cilantro,” and the dried seeds are “coriander.” In Europe both the leaves and seeds are named coriander. Some grocers call the fresh leaves Chinese parsley or Mexican parsley.

The mind spins.

Where Did it Begin?

It all began about 8,000 years ago, or so food historians believe. Seeds of cilantro (coriander) have been found in caves in Israel that date to approximately 6,000 B.C. And coriander is even mentioned in the Bible, in this verse about the Hebrew people led by Moses from Egypt to the Promised Land (which occurred about 1,450 to 1,500 B.C.)

The people of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey.

— (Exodus 16:31)

But, If You Love Cilantro

Be assured that your love encircles the globe. Cilantro is featured in cuisines of Asia, North Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America.

Recipes

Basic Fresh Tomato Salsa (Pico de Gallo)

This is a fresh, flavorful, not-too-spicy all-purpose salsa. Perfect as a dip for vegetables or as a sauce for nachos or tacos. My husband puts it on his eggs, and it can even be used as a simmer sauce for chicken.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes (about 5 medium)
  • 2 fresh jalapeño chiles
  • 1/4 cup onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro sprigs (tops only), chopped
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Slice tomatoes in half horizontally. Remove seeds with a small spoon and discard. (This is easy with large roma tomatoes that have just 4 seed-filled sections. Other tomatoes often have many little seed hiding places. For those I hold the tomato half over the sink and use my fingers to push out the seeds).
  2. Cut tomato into small (1/4-inch) dice and place in medium-sized mixing bowl.
  3. Wearing rubber gloves, cut chilies in half, remove seeds and finely mince. Add to tomatoes in bowl. (Please be careful when handling fresh chilies. Don’t rub your eyes, or mouth). When you have finished preparing the chilies, remove and discard the rubber gloves.
  4. Add remaining ingredients to bowl and stir; add salt and pepper to taste. Can be made one hour ahead and kept at room temperature. Cover and refrigerate leftovers, but plan to use within 24 hours.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups

Albondigas Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ pounds ground turkey
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ cup dry masa
  • 1 egg
  • 2 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 bunch cilantro (leaves only)
  • 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 3 quarts (12 cups) chicken stock
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano (leaves, not ground)

Directions

  1. Combine ground turkey, salt, pepper, garlic, chili powder, cumin, masa and egg in large mixing bowl. Form mixture into 1-inch (golf-ball sized) meatballs. Chill for 30 minutes while preparing vegetables.
  2. Heat broth in large pot; simmer vegetables in broth until very soft (about 20 minutes). Gently place chilled meatballs into broth. Simmer for 30 minutes. Garnish soup with oregano.

Moroccan Chickpea Soup

This hearty soup is vegetarian, and I promise that you won't miss the meat. If you don't have (or don't like) orzo you can omit it, or use broken angel hair pasta or vermicelli.

Ingredients

  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 large onion chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 cup carrots cut in matchsticks or coarsly shredded
  • 2 cans (14 oz each) vegetable broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cans (14 oz each) diced tomatoes
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. dried ginger or 1 tsp. fresh minced
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp. dried coriander
  • 1/2 cup orzo pasta
  • 1 can (15 oz.) chickpeas
  • 1 cup cooked lentils
  • 1/4 cup finely minced cilantro leaves

Directions

  1. Sauté onions in olive oil over medium heat in large soup pot until they begin to soften. Add the carrots, broth, water, tomatoes, and herbs and seasonings. Cover the pot and bring to a boil.
  2. Uncover, stir in the orzo. Cook, uncovered until the orzo is tender, about 6-8 minutes.
  3. Rinse and drain the chickpeas. Stir the chickpeas, lentils, and cilantro into the hot soup and continue to cook until heated through.

Peanut Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves and stems
  • 1 can (15 oz.) light coconut milk (not cream of coconut)
  • 1 cup peanut butter (see note below)
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 4 teaspoons rice vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons dark sesame seed oil
  • 1 tablespoon red chili paste
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger paste
  • 2 teaspoons garlic

Directions

  1. Process cilantro and coconut milk in blender until smooth; set aside.
  2. Place remaining ingredients in medium-sized saucepan and heat gently over low heat until peanut butter begins to melt. Whisk in cilantro/coconut milk mixture. Increase heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes to blend flavors and thicken slightly.
  3. Use immediately in stir fry or as a dipping sauce. Or, store in covered container in refrigerator for up to 5 days. The sauce will thicken when chilled, so you might need to add a bit of water to thin to desired consistency.

NOTE: You can use creamy or chunky peanut butter for this sauce (obviously chunky will include little bits of peanut). However, don't use a "natural" peanut butter, the kind that you find in health food stores. It will separate, and the last thing you want in your peanut sauce is an oil slick on top.

© 2017 Linda Lum

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    • Carb Diva profile image
      Author

      Linda Lum 7 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Sherry, I agree.

    • Sherry Hewins profile image

      Sherry Hewins 7 months ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      Salsa just isn't the same without it.

    • Carb Diva profile image
      Author

      Linda Lum 7 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Shauna - It's not all that scary (don't listen to Billybuc). Most people find it fresh and citrus-like. Give it a try and, if it works for you, I hope you'll try a few of these recipes.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 7 months ago from Central Florida

      I've never actually tasted a raw cilantro leaf. I'll have to try one and see what percentage I fall into!

    • Carb Diva profile image
      Author

      Linda Lum 8 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Flourish, I hope you give the peanut sauce a try, and if you do please let me know if you and your daughter liked it.

      I do tofu quite often when I have peanut sauce. Firm (or extra firm) tofu cut into small cubes (an inch square or less). Place them in a try nonstick pan and cook over low to medium heat until they are browned an all sides. Notice, I didn't say to add oil to the pan.

      Then use them in place of the meat in your stir fry. Load up on veggies (you can't have too many). I like whole wheat spaghetti or brown rice for the carb.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 8 months ago from USA

      I like the idea of that peanut butter sauce as a stir fry sauce and plan to try it. I'm trying to eat less meat these days along with my daughter. My mother and brother detest cilantro because they evidently have that gene. The rest of the family doesn't. They go on and on about their displeasure so it must be distinctive, much like my taste for dill.

    • Carb Diva profile image
      Author

      Linda Lum 8 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Hi Rachel - To be honest, I usually check out the competition but I didn't this time, so I don't know if there are any other hubs about cilantro. But I have written on just about every other herb in existence and couldn't leave this one out. I really like it and, unlike other herbs, nothing goes to waste. You can use the stems!

      Thanks for stopping by. I always appreciate hearing from you.

    • Rachel L Alba profile image

      Rachel L Alba 8 months ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

      I don't mind cilantro in south western dishes, but not in anything else. I do think it changes the taste of foods I'm used to. This is the first time I've seen anything on HubPages about cilantro. Thanks for sharing.

    • Carb Diva profile image
      Author

      Linda Lum 8 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Venkat - I am so glad that you stopped by. And thank you for reminding me that not all of my readers will be from the United States. I will update my article so explain who Julia Child was.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 8 months ago from Hyderabad, India

      Very interesting and informative article on how to use cilantro and its plus and minus points. I learned something new here.

      But, I had to first search for who is Julia Child. You have not mentioned who is she. So, I searched and found her to be a famous American chef. I know about Sanjeev Kapoor as the most famous chef till now who is an Indian. He comes in all TV shows here.

    • Carb Diva profile image
      Author

      Linda Lum 8 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, what can I say. I have a friend who detests the stuff, saying that it smells and tastes like soap. I'm at the opposite end of the spectrum, and I guess that you are as well.

      A greenhouse sounds like a wonderful investment; maybe I should look into that, but at some point you have to move the lovelies out into the real world (with the deer) and then where I live it's "game over."

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 8 months ago from Olympia, WA

      People hate cilantro? What an odd thing to hate. My goodness, I can come up with much better things to get ticked off about. :)

      I think it's time to get the herbs started. Next Saturday will be planting day in the greenhouse. I can't wait. In your honor I'll plant some cilantro. :)

    • Carb Diva profile image
      Author

      Linda Lum 8 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Eric, not to toot my own horn but the peanut sauce is really quite good. I could eat it with a spoon (...actually I do when I think that no one is looking). Shhh, don't tell anyone, OK?

    • Carb Diva profile image
      Author

      Linda Lum 8 months ago from Washington State, USA

      RTalloni - My goodness, I did not expect such rapturous writings about cilantro. So to hear that I'm not alone in the world.

      The Moroccan soup will certainly warm you up, and be warned that it makes a lot of soup. Unless you have an army you will be eating it for several days. But, I happen to be one of those who feels that some foods improve with age--spaghetti sauce and beef stew, for example. And a hearty soup is one of those as well.

      Thanks for your support.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 8 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      I am sorry but this article is just punishment. My wife hates the stuff-- until I chop it up and put it in my Salsa de Pico de Gallo. We just keep that in refrigerator at all times. I am working on a "no heat" batch so my little buddy gobbles up all the great nutrients with a smile.

      That is so interesting about our 10% solution. With my four children it is like the Narcissist Plant. But in our case all love cilantro, end of that issue.

      I am a pig at Thai places for my peanut stuff - now I can make it. You are an angel and my family thanks you.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 8 months ago from the short journey

      Poor Julia! How sad for her! Cilantro is so refreshing. It makes me feel like gravity is leaving, making me feel lighter. It makes me feel poetic. I could fill the bathtub with it and soak for hours thinking creative thoughts about what I could do with all the energy it infused into my being. When I can use it in cooking I almost like to cook. Silly to crow so about cilantro, I know, but love it I do. :) Thanks for the recipes. With a late winter storm moving in I just may try that garbanzo soup.