Cilantro
Summary

 

In North America, “Cilantro” refers to the fresh, green leaves and stems of the coriander plant. Before we get into details about Cilantro, we thought we’d answer the burning question that’s implied by the preceding statement: Is Cilantro the same thing as Coriander? 

The answer is 97% “Yes!” The two come from one and the same plant but Coriander, the Spice, is made from the ground seeds/fruits of the coriander plant and the leafy Herb Cilantro is the leaves and stems of the growing plant itself. 

So now let’s get into it. Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) is the Spanish name for the coriander plant. Because of its use in Mexican Cuisine and Latin American Cuisine the Spanish name “Cilantro” has gained wider acceptance domestically when referring to the green fresh leaves of the coriander plant. Think about the difference between Coriander and Cilantro as you would Green Onions vs. Scallions (both are accepted) and you won’t go far wrong.

Going forward, Smart Kitchen™ will refer to the fresh greens as Cilantro and the ground seeds as Coriander. Just be aware that they may do it differently in another country or culture. If you want to learn more about Coriander just follow the link to our Coriander page.

Cilantro is part of the very large Carrot family (aka the Parsley family), Apiaceae, which includes a number of important herbs and spices as well as some vegetables.  Some familiar members of the Apiaceae family are Parsley, Dill, Chervil, Anise, Caraway, Cumin and Fennel and such vegetables as Carrots, Celery and Parsnips.

Cilantro may have been the first spice used by man and is certainly one of our oldest known herbs because it grew in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and is talked of in the Bible. 

Coriander seeds were placed in Egyptian tombs, including King Tut’s, and both the ancient Greeks and Romans used it extensively. In fact, the name Coriander is derived from the Greek word koris, which means bug. The plant was given the name either because it smelled like bed bugs (which goes to prove that its detractors have been around a long time), or because its dried seeds look a bit like small beetles. The Romans used it as both food and for medicine and brought it with them when they invaded Britain.

The Coriander plant was disseminated thousands of years ago from the Middle East to China, India and Southeast Asia. Later, the plant made its way to South America with the Spanish explorers, where it began to be used in place of the indigenous South American plant Culantro, which is a larger plant with a similar taste to Cilantro but with tough, spiky leaves. Confusion with culantro may have given it its name in Spanish.

Cilantro resembles the look and feel of Italian Parsley (Flat Leaf), but with a little more bite, and is, according to Tom Stobart in “Herbs, Spices and Flavorings,” the most widely used aromatic, leafy herb in the world. It is indispensable because no substitute can simulate its specific flavor.

Many of Cilantro’s aliases stem from its resemblance to Parsley. Cilantro is also known as Chinese Parsley, Japanese Parsley, and Mexican Parsley. Other names it goes by include: Coriander Leaves, Fresh Coriander and Green Coriander. The latter names obviously “stem” from the Coriander connection. You may also see Cilantro referred to as Koyendoro, Pak Chee, Yuen-Sai, in Asian Cuisine and Dhania in Indian Cuisine.

Though Cilantro was one of the first Herbs imported and cultivated in the US in Colonial times, it was not widely known or generally used here until the latter part of the 20th century.  With our growing interest in different cuisines in the last few decades, Cilantro’s popularity has skyrocketed, to the point where it’s easy to find in the US and is carried by most grocery stores.