"What is Coriander" - Coriander is a herb with aromatic leaves and seeds widely used in culinary dishes for its citrusy, earthy flavor.
"What is Coriander" - Coriander is a herb with aromatic leaves and seeds widely used in culinary dishes for its citrusy, earthy flavor.

What is Coriander? Is Coriander Cilantro? 👇

9 min

“What is Coriander” is a common inquiry among food enthusiasts and cooks alike. Coriander, also known as cilantro in some regions, is a versatile herb renowned for its distinctive citrusy, earthy flavor.

If you’ve ever savored the zesty aroma of a curry, enjoyed a bowl of aromatic pho, or marveled at the vibrant colors of a salsa, you’ve likely encountered the enchanting allure of coriander.

Also known as cilantro or Chinese parsley, this feathery annual plant, scientifically named Coriandrum sativum, belongs to the parsley family (Apiaceae) and is a culinary superstar. In this delightful journey through the world of coriander, we’ll uncover its many facets, from its history to its diverse uses, and explore why it’s more than just a garnish.

“What is Coriander” – Coriander is a herb with aromatic leaves and seeds widely used in culinary dishes for its citrusy, earthy flavor.

What is Coriander and Why the Many Names?

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) goes by many names, reflecting its widespread popularity. You might know it as cilantro or Chinese parsley, but regardless of what you call it, this herb/spice has a rich history and a unique flavor profile. Native to the Mediterranean and Middle East regions, coriander has made its mark on cuisines worldwide.

A Feast for the Senses

The plant’s allure lies in its multifaceted nature. Dry fruits and seeds, which are also referred to as coriander, are prized for their ability to elevate the flavors of sausages, curries, pastries, liqueurs, and confectionery. Imagine the delicate balance of flavors in a curry or the aromatic depth in Scandinavian pastries – coriander plays a pivotal role.

On the other hand, its young leaves, known as cilantro, have a prominent place in Latin American, Indian, and Chinese dishes. Think about the freshness of salsa, the vibrant greens in pho, or the zestiness of a taco – cilantro is the secret behind these culinary delights.

In North America

In the United States and Canada, “cilantro” refers to the vibrant green leaves and tender stalks of the Coriandrum sativum plant. The term “cilantro” itself is of Spanish origin and is used exclusively for these leafy greens. On the other hand, the dried seeds of the same plant are called “coriander seeds.”

On the International Stage

Internationally, it’s a different story altogether. In many countries, including the UK and parts of Europe, “coriander” encompasses both the leaves and stalks of the plant, while the dried seeds remain as “coriander seeds.”

To eliminate any confusion, we’ll refer to the leaves and stalks as “cilantro” and the dried seeds as “coriander” throughout this article.

coriander seeds

Getting to Know Coriander Up Close

Physical Description

Let’s take a closer look at the plant itself. Coriander boasts a slender, hollow stem that can reach heights of 30 to 60 mm (1 to 2.5 inches). Its fragrant bipinnate leaves give it an elegant appearance. The small flowers, often pink or whitish, are arranged in umbel clusters. But what truly makes coriander stand out is its fruit.

The fruit of coriander is a small, dry schizocarp made up of two semiglobular fruits joined on the inner sides. This unique structure gives it the appearance of a single, smooth, nearly globular fruit, measuring about 5 mm (0.2 inches) in diameter. When you crack open these fruits, you’ll be greeted by their yellowish-brown color and a mild fragrance that’s reminiscent of a combination of lemon peel and sage. It’s no wonder they’re a prized addition to so many dishes.

The Essential Oil Magic

Hidden within these seeds lies a treasure – an essential oil containing between 0.1 to 1 percent of the oil. The principal component of this oil is coriandrol, which not only contributes to the distinctive aroma of coriander but also adds to its versatility.

History of Use: A Flavorful Journey Through Time

Records of coriander’s use date back to an astonishing 5000 BCE. The Romans had a knack for flavor, and they used coriander to enhance the taste of their bread. It wasn’t just a culinary delight, though; coriander was once valued for its aromatic and carminative properties.

Modern-Day Applications

Today, coriander’s role in medicine has evolved. While it’s no longer a primary remedy for ailments, it still plays a vital role in pharmaceuticals. Modern medicine employs coriander to mask the unpleasant tastes and odors of drugs, ensuring that patients can take their medications more comfortably.

Exploring the Flavor of Coriander

What Does Coriander Taste Like?

Though coriander is the seed of the cilantro plant, it tastes nothing like the herb. So if you don’t like cilantro, never fear; coriander is much different. When toasted, it can be described as a warming spice with a deep, nutty flavor. Coriander has a slight, almost citrus smell and finish. It’s incredibly dynamic because of its bright finish, especially when combined with other spices.

How to Cook with Coriander?

If you’re not familiar with the flavor of coriander, it’s an easy spice to experiment with. You’ve probably had coriander before and didn’t even know it. Coriander is very common in many cuisines, especially Indian spice, and is a central feature of mixes like garam masala. If you’re a fan of pickles, you’ve likely had coriander there too. It’s a popular spice in many types of pickle brines, especially in German and Eastern European cuisines.

You can add some whole coriander seeds to your favorite hot or cold brine to make quick pickles at home. Ground coriander is also a welcome addition to meat rubs, like the spice blend used to make pastrami, but pork takes coriander exceptionally well. Toss ground coriander with some veggies and roast them until browned with nothing more than a squeeze of olive oil and salt. Try adding a pinch of coriander and a squeeze of orange juice to your favorite vinaigrette recipes and top salads, roasted veggies, or even fish.

Coriander has lots of intense flavor and aroma locked in its little pod. In order to let those flavors shine, toasting the whole pods is necessary. Pour your whole coriander into a warm pan and lightly toast on medium heat for a few minutes until it smells fragrant and toasty. From there, you can use the seeds whole or grind them in a spice grinder and store in an airtight container for about two months. The longer it’s stored, the less intense it becomes, so it’s best to use it as soon as possible.

Where to Find the Best Coriander?

Most supermarkets and grocery stores carry at least one brand of ground coriander, but the pre-ground coriander isn’t nearly as pungent and flavorful as when you grind it yourself. So, if you see it whole, snag a bottle and grind it yourself at home, you’ll be rewarded with much more bang for your buck flavor-wise.

Some grocery store spices have been sitting around for a year or more. With coriander, this means it’s lost most of its signature flavor. Consider stopping by your local spice store or Indian market and picking up some coriander there; it’s likely fresher since specialized spice stores turn over their stock more quickly.

Coriander Substitutes

Coriander has a very unique flavor that can’t be exactly replicated. But, depending on the recipe, you can swap in some other spices to mimic a similar flavor. Coriander is frequently paired with cumin, so if you don’t happen to have coriander on hand, substitute with more cumin. Fennel seeds can be used as well, though they have a very intense flavor, so use about half as much. Coriander has a light citrus note, so a pinch of lemon zest can help properly replace the flavor.

Coriander seeds, coriander powder and fresh coriander on wicker surface

Nutritional Face-off: Cilantro vs. Coriander

Cilantro and coriander may share the same botanical roots, but their nutrient profiles couldn’t be more distinct.

Cilantro Leaves

Cilantro leaves boast higher levels of vitamins, including vitamins A, K, and E. However, they are comparatively lower in minerals. It’s worth noting that fresh cilantro is a hydrating herb, containing a whopping 92.2% water, which accounts for its lower mineral content.

Coriander Seeds

Coriander seeds, on the other hand, are mineral powerhouses, rich in manganese, iron, magnesium, and calcium. With a moisture content of only 8.9%, their mineral concentration is significantly higher by weight.

In a nutshell, cilantro shines in the vitamin department, while coriander takes the lead in the mineral race.

Taste and Aroma: A World of Difference

Prepare your taste buds for a delightful journey as we explore the distinct flavors and aromas of cilantro and coriander.

Cilantro’s Refreshing Zest

Cilantro is renowned for its fresh, citrusy flavor that adds a burst of brightness to dishes. However, here’s where it gets interesting: some individuals perceive cilantro as “foul” or “soapy.” This unique reaction is linked to a genetic trait, and the numbers vary across ethnicities. Could cilantro be the ultimate love-it-or-hate-it herb?

Coriander’s Warm Embrace

In contrast, coriander presents a warmer, spicier taste with a hint of citrus. Its aroma is a harmonious blend of warmth and nuttiness, making it a versatile spice. Unlike cilantro, coriander’s flavor seems to be less polarizing among different palates.

Culinary Applications: Cilantro and Coriander at Play

Now that we’ve tasted the essence of cilantro and coriander let’s explore how these herbs play their roles in the culinary world.

Cilantro Creations

Cilantro’s refreshing and citrusy notes make it a favorite garnish in various cuisines, including South American, Mexican, South Asian, Chinese, and Thai. It’s typically added just before serving to preserve its vibrant flavor.

Cilantro Dishes:

  • Salsa: The zesty Mexican side dish.
  • Guacamole: An avocado-based dip with a cilantro kick.
  • Chutney: A sauce of Indian origin infused with cilantro’s freshness.
  • Acorda: A Portuguese bread soup invigorated by cilantro.
  • Soups: Many soups benefit from cilantro’s aromatic touch.

Coriander Concoctions

Coriander seeds offer a different kind of magic, with their warm and spicy flavor profile. They find their way into dishes that crave a spicy kick.

Coriander Dishes:

  • Curries: Where coriander’s warmth adds depth.
  • Rice dishes: A pinch of coriander elevates the flavor.
  • Soups and stews: Coriander’s spice enhances broths.
  • Meat rubs: Coriander’s aromatic touch is a secret weapon.
  • Pickled vegetables: A delightful twist on preserving.

Can You Swap Cilantro for Coriander (or Vice Versa)?

In the culinary world, versatility is often key. But can you substitute cilantro for coriander, or vice versa? Well, it’s not that simple.

Due to their vastly different taste profiles, cilantro and coriander aren’t interchangeable in recipes. Furthermore, the use of the term “coriander” can be ambiguous, as it can refer to either the leaves or the seeds. When faced with a recipe calling for “coriander,” be sure to decipher which part of the plant it refers to before you embark on your culinary adventure.

In summary, cilantro’s refreshing zest and coriander’s warm embrace each have their place in the culinary tapestry.

Exploring Potential Health Benefits

Now, let’s dig into the potential health benefits that both cilantro and coriander bring to the table. While most of the evidence comes from studies involving test tubes or animals, the findings are intriguing and warrant further exploration in human research.

Inflammation Reduction

Both cilantro and coriander are loaded with antioxidants, known for their anti-inflammatory properties. These antioxidants may help combat inflammation by neutralizing free radicals.

One study even found that a cilantro extract’s antioxidants could fight skin aging, a process accelerated by free radical damage. Additionally, coriander seed extract showed promise in reducing inflammation and inhibiting the growth of cancer cells in various organs.

Heart Disease

Heart disease is a global concern, and both cilantro and coriander might play a role in reducing its risk factors. Cilantro extract demonstrated the ability to reduce the formation of blood clots, potentially lowering the risk of heart disease.

Coriander seed extract, on the other hand, significantly reduced blood pressure and encouraged the excretion of excess water and salt through urine, further contributing to blood pressure regulation.

Blood Sugar Regulation

Elevated blood sugar levels are a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Surprisingly, both cilantro and coriander seeds show potential in regulating blood sugar levels by enhancing the activity of enzymes that remove sugar from the bloodstream.

One animal study even found that coriander seeds led to significantly lower blood sugar levels. Cilantro leaves, in another study, proved nearly as effective as a diabetes medication in reducing blood sugar.

Infection Defense

Test-tube studies suggest that the antimicrobial and antibacterial properties of cilantro and coriander may help fight infections. Compounds from fresh cilantro leaves exhibited antibacterial properties against bacteria like Salmonella enterica, while coriander seeds fought bacteria commonly responsible for urinary tract infections (UTIs).

However, it’s important to note that these findings are based on in vitro studies, and more research is needed to confirm these effects in humans.

In summary, both cilantro and coriander have the potential to offer impressive health benefits, but further research involving human subjects is required to fully understand their impact.

Choosing and Storing Cilantro and Coriander

Before you embark on your culinary adventures with cilantro and coriander, it’s crucial to know how to select and store them for maximum flavor.

Cilantro Selection

When choosing cilantro, opt for leaves that are vibrant green and aromatic. Avoid any bunches with yellow or wilted leaves, as they won’t deliver the same flavor punch.

To keep cilantro fresh in the refrigerator, trim the stems’ bottoms and place the bunch in a jar with a few inches of water. Be sure to change the water regularly and check for any wilting leaves.

Coriander Seed Wisdom

For coriander, it’s best to purchase whole seeds rather than ground or powdered forms. Once coriander is ground, it quickly loses its flavor. To enjoy the full depth of its warm and spicy notes, grind coriander seeds just before use.

Incorporate these tips into your culinary routine to make the most of cilantro and coriander in your dishes.

FAQs About Coriander

What is another name for coriander?

Coriander is also known as cilantro or Chinese parsley, depending on where you are in the world.

How is coriander used?

Coriander is used in various forms. Its seeds, known as coriander, are used to flavor sausages, curries, pastries, liqueurs, and confectionery. Its young leaves, known as cilantro, are widely used in Latin American, Indian, and Chinese dishes.

How big does coriander grow?

Coriander plants typically reach a height of 30 to 60 mm (1 to 2.5 inches) with slender, hollow stems.

What is the history of coriander use?

Coriander has a rich history dating back to 5000 BCE when it was used to flavor bread by the Romans. It has a long tradition of culinary and medicinal uses.

What is coriandrol, and what role does it play in coriander?

Coriandrol is the principal component of coriander’s essential oil. It contributes to the unique fragrance and taste of coriander, making it a versatile and prized spice.

In conclusion, “What is Coriander” reveals the essence of a herb that has left an indelible mark on the global culinary landscape. Whether used to garnish a dish or harness its potential therapeutic properties, coriander continues to be an integral part of our culinary and health-conscious journeys, adding depth and flavor to our lives.

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