What is Cilantro?: A Deep Dive into this Aromatic Herb

What is Cilantro: Explained

You may have seen it in the grocery store, or heard of it somewhere, but what is cilantro? Is it the same as coriander? Though they come from the same plant, their taste and use are quite different.

In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at what is cilantro, its origins, and its uses in cuisine around the world. Whether you’re new to cooking with cilantro or an experienced chef looking for inspiration – let’s explore all that this flavorful herb has to offer!

What is Cilantro? Brief History & Origin

Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) is a herb that belongs to the parsley or Apiaceae family. Native to the Mediterranean region, it has been used since ancient times as a garnish, seasoning, and herbal remedy in many cultures.

The leaves, also known as culantro or Chinese parsley, are widely used throughout Latin America and Southeast Asia in dishes such as guacamole and salsa. They have a unique aromatic flavor due to their high concentrations of essential oils including carvone, linalool, and geraniol which give them their distinctive taste. When added fresh to foods immediately before eating they provide a zesty flavor with hints of citrus and pepper.

The history of cilantro goes back centuries; according to some records dating back more than 3000 years ago it was already being cultivated in Northern India for use both medicinally and culinary purposes alike. From there it spread through South East Asia where much evidence suggests use in food production started even earlier than thought possible! As trade routes expanded so did cilantros’ popularity, eventually reaching Europe through Trade with Arabs by 900 CE. From here its popularity only continued growing until today when you can find cilantro in almost any grocery store around the world!

How is Cilantro Grown?

Cilantro is a relatively easy herb to grow, and it can be grown in both indoor and outdoor settings. It prefers cool weather and partial shade, making it an ideal herb to grow in the spring or fall. When planting cilantro seeds, it is important to keep the soil moist until the seedlings emerge. Once they do, it is important to thin them out to allow for proper spacing and airflow. This will help prevent issues like rot and mildew. When it comes to harvesting cilantro, it is best to do so before it flowers. This will allow you to get the most flavor from the leaves and stems. Cilantro can be harvested by cutting off individual leaves or by cutting the entire plant at the base.

How Do the Leaves of Cilantro Look Like?

The leaves of the cilantro plant are flat and serrated, with rounded edges. They grow in groups of three along delicate stems that can range from 6 to 24 inches in height. The leaves have a bright green color and a slightly waxy texture. The stem and leaves of the cilantro plant are both edible and are commonly used in cooking. When the plant flowers, it produces small white or pink blooms that eventually give way to small, round seeds. The seeds of the cilantro plant are also used as a spice in many cuisines.

What is the Aroma & Taste of Cilantro Leaves?

The aroma and taste of cilantro leaves are quite distinctive and can vary from person to person. For most people, cilantro has a fresh, citrusy, and slightly herbal scent that is similar to parsley. When used in cooking, the herb adds a bright, pungent flavor that is slightly nutty and earthy. However, some people perceive the taste and aroma of cilantro to be soapy or even metallic. This is due to a genetic variation that causes some individuals to detect a specific aldehyde compound found in the herb as an unpleasant flavor.

Nutrition Information on Cilantro

Cilantro is a popular herb used in various cuisines around the world. It not only adds flavor to dishes but also offers several health benefits. Here’s some nutritional information on cilantro:

NutrientAmount per 100g
Fat0.5 g
Carbohydrates3.7 g
Protein2.1 g
Vitamin A6748 IU
Vitamin C27 mg
Vitamin K310 μg
Folate62 μg
Potassium521 mg
Manganese0.1 mg
Nutrition Information on Cilantro

Are Coriander & Cilantro the Same Thing?

The confusion between coriander and cilantro is understandable; many people use the terms interchangeably, but there is a distinct difference. Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) is actually a spice derived from the leaves, stems, and seeds of an herb usually used in cooking. It has a sweet citrusy aroma, with hints of nutmeg and pine, and can be found in most grocery stores either pre-ground or whole. On the other hand, cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) refers to just the fresh green leaves of this same plant. The intense flavor it provides makes it popular for adding raw to tacos, salads, and salsa as well as curries and stir-fries.

On its own merit, each ingredient stands out differently in recipes due to their unique taste sensations as they both impart different flavors when cooked or added raw to dishes. In summary, cilantro and coriander are derived from the same plant, but they have different flavors and culinary uses.

Cilantro vs Parsley: Key Differences

While cilantro and parsley may look similar, their flavors are quite different and they are used in different ways in cooking.

Cilantro has a fresh, citrusy flavor with hints of parsley and mint. It is commonly used in Mexican, Southwestern, and Southeast Asian cuisine, and is often used as a garnish or in salsas, guacamole, and other dips and dressings. Cilantro is also a common ingredient in many spicy dishes due to its ability to balance out heat with its cool, refreshing taste.

Parsley, on the other hand, has a clean, herbaceous flavor with lemon and pepper notes. It is commonly used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine and is often used to add brightness and freshness to dishes such as tabbouleh, pesto, and salads. Parsley is also a popular garnish for soups, stews, and meat dishes.

In terms of appearance, cilantro has flat, fan-shaped leaves with serrated edges, while parsley has curly leaves that are more pointed. Additionally, cilantro leaves are typically smaller and more delicate than parsley leaves.

What Are the Health Benefits of Cilantro?

what is cilantro and what are it's health benefits

Here are 5 of the most important health benefits of cilantro:

  • Cilantro is a powerful detoxifier – Cilantro contains certain compounds which make it a great detoxifying agent, helping to draw out heavy metals such as mercury, lead, and aluminum from your body’s cells. Studies have suggested that regularly consuming cilantro can reduce levels of lead by up to 71%.
  • Improved digestion – The anti-inflammatory properties present in cilantro help to improve digestion, reduce bloating, reduce cramping, and even relieve other abdominal-related issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The volatile oils present in cilantro also help stimulate good bacteria growth within the gastrointestinal tract which helps promote healthy gut flora balance.
  • Promotes cardiovascular health – Several studies suggest that regular consumption of cilantro can help lower cholesterol levels due to its phytonutrient content, including quercetin and kaempferol flavonoids among others. Additionally, there have also been reports that regularly consuming this herb helps regulate blood sugar levels due to certain enzymes present within its leaves.
  • Anti-cancer effects– Recent research suggests that various components found in cilantro provide chemoprotective effects when it comes to fighting cancerous cell development; meaning that they may be able to inhibit tumor formation before it happens effectively protecting you against cancer-related illnesses.
  • Reduces inflammation – Compounds such as diallyl disulfide in cilantro act naturally throughout our bodies promoting healthy circulation by reducing inflammation and providing protection against oxidative stress alongside other ailments like joint pain/ arthritis flare-ups since they also serve as natural analgesics!

How is Cilantro Used in Cooking?

Cilantro is a versatile herb that can be used in many different ways to add flavor and freshness to dishes. Here are some common uses of cilantro in cooking:

  • Salsa: Cilantro is a key ingredient in traditional Mexican salsa, adding a bright, citrusy flavor to the dish.
  • Guacamole: Cilantro adds freshness and complexity to this popular avocado-based dip.
  • Curry: Cilantro is often used to flavor Indian and Thai curries, adding a unique and complex flavor profile to the dish.
  • Rice dishes: Cilantro is commonly added to rice dishes like biryani and fried rice, adding a fresh, herbaceous flavor.
  • Soups and stews: Cilantro can be added to soups and stews during the cooking process to add a burst of flavor and freshness.
  • Salads: Cilantro can be used as a garnish or added to salads to add a punch of flavor.
  • Marinades and dressings: Cilantro can be blended into marinades and dressings to add freshness and complexity to these sauces.
  • Tacos and burritos: Cilantro is often used as a garnish on tacos and burritos, adding a fresh, herbaceous flavor to these popular dishes.

Is it Okay to Use the Stem of Cilantro in Cooking?

Yes, it is perfectly fine to use the stem of cilantro in cooking. The stems of cilantro are small, tender, and edible parts of the plant that have a similar flavor and many of the same nutrients as the leaves. In fact, some chefs even recommend using the stems, as they contain a lot of flavor and can add depth to dishes. However, any larger or thicker stems should be removed as they may have a woody texture and be less flavorful. Overall, using the stems of cilantro is a great way to avoid food waste and add extra flavor and nutrition to your meals.

What Are Some Other Uses of Cilantro Besides Cooking?

Here are some other uses of cilantro beyond cooking:

  • Natural deodorizer: Cilantro has a natural fresh scent that can help neutralize bad odors. You can place a small bowl of chopped cilantro in your refrigerator, car, or closet to help absorb odors.
  • Skincare: Cilantro has anti-inflammatory properties that can help soothe skin irritations and reduce redness. You can make a DIY face mask by blending fresh cilantro leaves with honey and applying it to your face for 15-20 minutes before rinsing off.
  • Herbal tea: Cilantro tea is a popular herbal remedy that’s believed to aid digestion and promote relaxation. Simply steep a handful of fresh cilantro leaves in hot water for 5-10 minutes and strain before drinking.
  • Insect repellent: Cilantro contains an aromatic compound called linalool, which is known to repel insects. You can crush some fresh cilantro leaves and rub them on your skin or place them in a muslin bag and hang it near open windows or doorways to keep mosquitoes and other bugs away.
  • Potpourri: Dried cilantro leaves can be added to potpourri blends to create a fresh, herbal scent. Simply mix dried cilantro leaves with other herbs such as lavender, rosemary, or mint, and place them in a decorative bowl.

Is Cilantro Safe for Everyone’s Consumption?

Cilantro is generally considered safe for most people when consumed in food amounts or used in cooking. However, there are some groups of people who may want to avoid or limit their consumption of cilantro due to potential risks.

Firstly, people who are allergic to cilantro should avoid consuming it as they may experience symptoms such as hives, rash, itching, and swelling. In severe cases, anaphylaxis can occur, which is a life-threatening allergic reaction. Secondly, cilantro has blood-thinning properties that may interfere with blood clotting. As a result, people with bleeding disorders or who are taking blood-thinning medications such as warfarin should consult their healthcare provider before consuming large amounts of cilantro.

Thirdly, cilantro has been observed to lower blood pressure, which may be beneficial for some people but can be harmful for others. People who have low blood pressure or are taking medication to lower their blood pressure should avoid consuming large amounts of cilantro. Lastly, some people may experience gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, stomach pain, and nausea after consuming cilantro. If you experience these symptoms, it’s best to avoid or limit your intake of cilantro.

How to Buy Best Quality Cilantro?

When buying cilantro, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure that you get the best quality herb. First, look for bright green leaves with no signs of wilting or yellowing. The leaves should be fragrant with a fresh, citrusy aroma. Avoid cilantro with blackened or slimy leaves, as this can indicate decay. If the cilantro is sold in a bunch, look for stems that are firm and unblemished.

Finally, consider purchasing organic cilantro to avoid exposure to pesticides and other chemicals. When buying pre-packaged cilantro, check the expiration date and make sure that the package is sealed and free from damage or punctures. Overall, purchasing fresh, high-quality cilantro is key to getting the most flavor and nutritional value from this versatile herb.

How to Store Cilantro?

Cilantro is a delicate herb that requires proper storage to ensure maximum freshness and flavor. To store cilantro, start by trimming the stems and removing any damaged leaves. Gently wash the cilantro leaves and pat them dry with a clean towel or paper towel. Next, wrap the cilantro in a damp paper towel and place it in a plastic bag. Make sure to seal the bag tightly to preserve moisture. Alternatively, you can store cilantro in a jar of water with a plastic bag loosely draped over the top to prevent wilting. Place the cilantro in the refrigerator and use it within a week for best results.

Can You Freeze Cilantro?

Yes, you can freeze cilantro to preserve its freshness and flavor for later use. Freezing cilantro is a simple process that can be done in two ways. The first way is to place the leaves in a plastic freezer bag and remove as much air as possible before sealing it shut. The second way is to puree the cilantro leaves with a little bit of water or olive oil, and then freeze the puree in an ice cube tray. Once frozen, the cubes can be stored in a freezer bag for up to 6 months. When you’re ready to use the frozen cilantro, simply remove it from the freezer and thaw it at room temperature.

How Long Can Cilantro Be Stored?

The storage life of cilantro depends on how it is stored. If stored improperly, cilantro will only keep fresh for 2-3 days before wilting. However, with proper storage, cilantro can be kept fresh for up to two weeks in the refrigerator. If you want to store cilantro for longer, you can freeze it. Proper storage is key to extending the shelf life of cilantro and ensuring that it stays fresh and flavorful for as long as possible.

How to Make Cilantro Powder? (Step-by-Step Instructions)

organic and fresh cilantro placed on a wooden board

Making cilantro powder at home is a simple process that involves drying fresh cilantro and grinding it into a fine powder. Here’s how to make cilantro powder at home:

  • Wash and dry the cilantro: Rinse the cilantro leaves and pat them dry with paper towels. Remove any thick stems.
  • Dry the cilantro: Place the cilantro leaves in a single layer on a baking sheet and dry them in the oven at a low temperature (around 150°F) for several hours until they are completely dry and brittle. Alternatively, you can dry them in a dehydrator or by hanging them upside down in a well-ventilated area for several days.
  • Grind the cilantro: Once the cilantro leaves are dry, use a spice grinder or food processor to grind them into a fine powder. You can also use a mortar and pestle if you prefer a more hands-on approach.
  • Store the cilantro powder: Transfer the cilantro powder to an airtight container and store it in a cool, dry place away from sunlight. Properly stored, cilantro powder can last for several months.

Some Must-Try Recipes With Cilantro

Here are some unique recipes that use cilantro as a key ingredient:

1. Cilantro Lime Chicken Tacos: Marinate chicken in a mixture of lime juice, garlic, cilantro, and spices, then grill or bake until cooked through. Serve the chicken in warm tortillas with avocado, diced tomatoes, and additional cilantro.

2. Cilantro Lime Rice Bowls: Cook rice according to package instructions, then stir in lime juice, cilantro, and salt to taste. Serve the rice in bowls with black beans, grilled chicken or tofu, sliced avocado, and a dollop of salsa or sour cream.

3. Cilantro Pesto Pasta: Blend cilantro, garlic, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, and olive oil together in a food processor until smooth. Toss the pesto with cooked pasta and serve with additional parmesan cheese and chopped cilantro on top.

4. Cilantro Lime Shrimp Skewers: Thread peeled and deveined shrimp onto skewers, then brush with a mixture of lime juice, olive oil, cilantro, and spices. Grill the shrimp until cooked through and serve with additional cilantro and lime wedges for squeezing over the top.

What Are Some Substitutes for Cilantro That You Can Use in Cooking?

  • Parsley: Parsley is a popular substitute for cilantro, especially in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine. It has a similar appearance and texture but has a milder, less pungent flavor.
  • Basil: Basil is an herb that is commonly used in Italian cooking and has a slightly sweet, peppery flavor. It can be used as a substitute for cilantro in some dishes, particularly those with tomato-based sauces.
  • Mint: Mint is another herb that can be used as a substitute for cilantro, especially in Southeast Asian dishes. It has a fresh, cooling flavor that complements spicy and savory flavors well.
  • Dill: Dill is a herb that is commonly used in Scandinavian and Eastern European cuisine and has a slightly sweet, tangy flavor. Like cilantro, it pairs well with fish and seafood dishes and can be used as a substitute in some cases.
  • Arugula: Arugula is a leafy green that has a peppery, slightly bitter flavor. It can be used as a substitute for cilantro in some dishes, particularly those with Mexican or Southwestern flavors.

These substitutes provide an alternative flavor profile to cilantro and can be used in various recipes depending on the desired taste.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why does cilantro taste like soap to some people?

Some people have a genetic variation that causes them to perceive cilantro as having a soapy or metallic taste. This is thought to be due to a sensitivity to certain chemicals in the herb.

What are some creative ways to use cilantro?

Cilantro can be used in a variety of dishes, from salsas and guacamole to stir-fries and soups. Some unique ways to use cilantro include blending it into salad dressings or smoothies, making cilantro butter for grilled corn or vegetables, or using it as a garnish for cocktails.

What is Cilantro called in Asia?

Cilantro is known by different names in different parts of Asia. In China, it is known as xiangcai, which translates as “fragrant vegetable.” In Thailand, it is known as pak chi, and is an important ingredient in many Thai dishes. In Japan, it is known as pakuchi, and in the Philippines, it is known as wansoy. In India, cilantro is also commonly used and is known as dhania.

Bottom Line

To wrap up, cilantro has been an important herb for thousands of years. From the Ancient Egyptians to modern-day cooks, it’s an integral part of cuisine around the world. Whether you love its strong flavor or despise it, its versatility is clear and undeniable. Indeed, cilantro offers many remarkable benefits beyond just its use in the kitchen – from detoxifying foods to perfuming cosmetics. After reading this article, you now know all about what is cilantro and how it brings so much flavor and so many advantages to the cooking culture.

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