Coriander is a member of the carrot and parsley family. It can be used as both a spice, and an herb.
When used as an herb, it is often referred to in North American English as “cilantro.”
It is an annual plant that, left untended, can grow 1 to 3 feet tall (300 cm to 1 metre.)
The bright green, fragrant leaves look like flat-leaf parsley. Both the leaves, stems, roots and seeds are used in cooking. The seeds are used as a spice, the leaves as an herb. The roots are also used in some Asian cooking.
The seeds don’t have the same taste as the leaves. The seeds start out green and turn brown. They have to be harvested as soon as they are ripe because they start falling to the ground.
In Europe, it is mostly the seeds that are traditionally used, except for Portuguese cooking which also uses the fresh leaves. The leaves are used widely in South America, the Middle East, and in South-East Asia.
The leaves are best used raw, as the flavour is destroyed after a bit of cooking. If using in cooking, add leaves at the last minute as the taste is destroyed by heat.
Fresh coriander leaves go extremely well with spicy ethnic cuisine such as Indian, Mexican or Thai.
The seeds and leaves have totally different flavours, and are not a substitute for each other.
1 bunch coriander leaves = 1 cup whole = 3/4 cup, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander leaves = 3g
1/2 cup whole coriander leaves, loose packed = 1/4 cup coarsely chopped loose packed= 50g
1/2 cup finely chopped including stem, packed firmly, wet = 50 g
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons), finely chopped, packed firmly = 2 oz ( 60 g)
If you have a bunch of coriander with stems still on, store it in a glass of water in the fridge, changing the water every other day.
To freeze the leaves, chop, stuff into an ice cube try, and cover with water. When frozen (a few hours), tip out into and store in a sealed freezer bag. The leaves should keep for at least 3 months in the freezer. When thawed, use for dishes that involve cooking as opposed to using for a garnish.
Not worth drying it; it will come out tasting vaguely like tea.
The roots can be frozen as well. Just wrap well in tin foil.
Coriander seems to have been used as early as 5000 BC. It is mentioned in Egyptian writings.
The Romans used it. Pliny the Elder mentioned coriander, saying the best was Egyptian. Cato recommended the chopped fresh leaves as a garnish to stimulate appetite.
The Romans spread coriander throughout Europe, including Britain. At one point in time, it was heavily grown in Essex, England (recorded at the Maplesteads on the Suffolk border.) The coriander crop would be rotated with caraway and teazels.
Cilantro seeds and leaves were used in cooking in Europe right up into the medieval period.
Though now very popular in Mexican and South American cooking, coriander wasn’t present in the New World until the Spanish introduced it. British settlers were growing it in the New World by 1670 in Massachusetts.
Coriander leaves were used to flavour beer before hops came into common use; some beers, such as Belgian Wit beer, still use coriander.
Literature & Lore
To some people of European descent, coriander leaves will taste fresh, tangy and a bit citrusy. To others, it genuinely tastes and smells like soap.
Alan Davidson, in the Penguin Companion to Food (2002), speculates that the word “coriander” may come from the Greek word for bed-bug, “koris” (though many dictionaries disagree with this) and notes that some have compared coriander’s aroma (the leaves and unripe seeds) to “the smell of bug-infested bedclothes.”
The aroma of fresh coriander is due to variants of fat molecules called aldehydes, which are also found in soap, and in the body fluids of some insects.
In Indian cooking, “dhaniya” refers to the seeds; “kothamalli” refers to the leaves. In Italian, “coriandolo” refers to the seed, “cilantro” refers to the leaves. Some people feel that the same distinction should be made in English, with “cilantro” referring to the leaves and “coriander” referring to the seeds. Though English often makes such distinctions between different forms of the same food (witness plums when fresh, prunes when dried), such a distinction is not universal in English with coriander. The words Coriander and Cilantro appear to be used interchangeably when used for the leaves, though the seed is almost always referred to as “coriander.” If anything, because of its association with Mexican cooking, North America is tending to start calling the leaves by the Spanish name, “cilantro.”
Called “Poivre des pauvre gens” in Acadian French.
McGee, Harold. Cilantro Haters, It’s Not Your Fault. New York: New York Times. 13 April 2010.
Davidson, Alan. The Penguin Companion to Food. London: The Penguin Group, 2002.
Weiss, E.A. Spice Crops. Wallingford, Oxfordshire: CABI Publishing Series. 2002. Page 243.