Cilantro
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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.


Season

Cilantro is a fast growing annual Herb. It grows from seed to plant in about 40 to 60 days. Successive plantings, starting in early spring (weather permitting) through late fall provide North American markets with an abundance of Cilantro throughout most of the year. Winter Cilantro crops are grown in California and Mexico to supply us through the cooler months. 

Availability

Cilantro is available year round.

Cultivation

Coriander/Cilantro can be easily grown from seed. It is an annual plant that grows to about two feet tall. It will grow anywhere in the world that has a growing season of 100 days or more and matures in approximately 40 to 45 days. It quickly goes to seed, so if you are looking for a steady supply of leaves throughout the growing season, plant seeds in succession with about 2 or 3 weeks between each planting. True to its appearance, it is a little fragile and susceptible to frost, so wait a few weeks after the last frost before planting. It likes full sun. The plant can be harvested any time after it reaches 6 inches in height. You can either snip the stems off near the base or uproot the plant completely. There’s a slim chance it will regrow if you cut rather than uproot it. The seeds can be harvested two or three weeks after the plant flowers (it has small, pretty umbrella-shaped clusters of pink and white flowers).

Production

Cilantro is grown throughout the world. 

Varieties

There are no major varieties of Cilantro plants, though breeders have developed specialty seeds to emphasize certain characteristics.  For example, specialty seeds have been developed to produce plants that bolt more slowly, making them better adapted to growing in hot climates.  There are also specialty seeds for varieties with large, strongly flavored leaves, as well as seeds that will produce plants with fine, feathery leaves that make a lovely Garnish.

Purchasing

The first issue when purchasing Cilantro is to thwart the evil designs of bored produce managers who often place the green leafy Cilantro right next to the green leafy Parsley. They are not identical twins but without some experience you would be forgiven for mistaking one for the other. If you pull out your observational skills, you will notice that the Cilantro is paler, than Parsley with feathery and fragile looking leaves.

If the shade of green of the leaf doesn’t automatically work for your comparison, try using your nose. Cilantro has more citrus and “pepper” in its scent than Parsley does. Parsley’s scent is more akin to that of grass. If all else fails, reading the produce signs, and asking the produce person are also ways to go.

Once you have your sights set on a bunch of Cilantro, look for bright colored leaves with no browning or yellowing.  Some stores sell fresh Cilantro with its roots intact.  If you can find it packaged this way, by all means buy it, and leave the roots on when you store it.  The plant will last much longer attached to its roots. 

Storage

Fresh Cilantro is a delicate Herb and should be stored in the refrigerator. One good way to store it is to wrap it in a paper towel to keep it dry and place it in a plastic bag. You can also stand the plant upright in a glass 1/3 full of water and cover the glass loosely with a plastic bag. Stored either way, it will last at least 1 to 2 weeks refrigerated.

Culinary Uses

Cilantro, the leaves (and stems) of the coriander plant, are described by different diners as variously sweet, sour, lemony, citrusy and floral. When cooked, the leaves quickly lose their aroma and part of their taste.  As a result, Cilantro is often used Raw, frequently as a Garnish

With the growing influence of Mexican cuisine in America, Cilantro has become much more popular in the States. It is still used for traditional Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes such as Salsas and Guacamole and is frequently used as a Garnish. 

In Brazil, they like to use Cilantro and Green Onions together to make Sauces. Often the two are sold together as Cheiro-Verde, referring to the color (green) and the aroma.

In India, Cilantro is used as both a Garnish and in a variety of cooked dishes. Cilantro is also an important ingredient in many Indian Chutneys

Cilantro is used in many Southeast Asian cuisines, and particularly in Vietnamese food.  In both Mexico and Southeast Asia, the rule holds true that the leaves are either served Raw (or cooked only briefly) in order to preserve as much of their flavor as possible.  In Vietnam, it’s added in the last few minutes or used as a Garnish with many Soups and Curries, and the popular Noodle dish Pho is rarely served without it.

Consider this paragraph the full disclosure portion of the Cilantro Resource.Though Cilantro is used worldwide, it also has a very large group of detractors. It seems there’s no middle ground with Cilantro, you either love it or hate it. Most of us know at least one person who detests Cilantro and says it smells bad and tastes “soapy.” There are theories, but to our knowledge no proof, that this may be a genetically inherited dislike, and a certain taste bud passed from one generation to the next will determine how you feel about Cilantro. To be honest, Cilantro does taste slightly of soap. However, the “soapiness” is simply an element of its taste and a positive rather than a negative. For those of us who love it, its strong, distinctive flavor is delicious, and irreplaceable. There is no good substitute for Cilantro’s unique flavor.

Portion Size

Allow 1-2 t of Cilantro per person.

Substitutes

Coriander, Dried Cilantro, Dried Coriander, Dried ParsleyParsley

Nutritional Value

Nutritional Value USDA
CORIANDER (CILANTRO) LEAVES,RAW
Amount Per 100g
Calories 23
%Daily Value*
 
0%
Total Fat 0g
0%
Saturated Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 0g
0%
Cholesterol 0mg
2%
Sodium 46mg
11%
Potassium 521mg
1%
Total Carbohydrate 3g
8%
Dietary Fiber 2g
Sugars 0g
Protein 2g
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Nutrition

Because Cilantro (and Coriander) has been used by humans for so long, it has a reputation for being useful for fixing just about everything under the sun in folk medicine, Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine, etc.

Broadly the health claims tend to fall into the following categories: Digestion (nausea, upset stomach, bad breath, loss of appetite, gripe, diarrhea, gas), Inflammation (hemorrhoids, toothaches, joint pain, aches), Infections (Salmonella, infections, ), Hypertension, Hyperglycemia, Mood Disorders (depression, anxiety, insomnia), Anti-Allergic (Hay Fever, other allergic reactions), Eye Care and Menstruation.

Smart Kitchen is a cooking site and vetting many of the medical claims go beyond the scope of our mission. If you are interested in the claims, we found the scientific survey of the current literature “Coriander (Coriandrum sativum L.): A Potential Source of High-Value Components for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals- A Review” dense but helpful.

Medicinal Cilantro is typically used in folk medicine as either a topical oil or a hot tea. Different parts of the Coriander plant (Cilantro plant) have different component parts and different benefits. The exciting bioactive ingredients are not (generally) present in significant quantities in a Pinch of Coriander or a sprig of Cilantro though a pinch or sprig can’t hurt.

Gluten Free

Yes

Low Fat

Yes

Low Calorie

Yes