Coriander seeds and Cilantro Leaves
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum L.) is an annual herb belonging to the carrot family. The name coriander comes from the Greek word koris that means bug. Coriander plant yields both the fresh green herb and the spice seed.
When ripe, the seeds have a distinctive sweet musty aroma that has been valued over the centuries in various world cuisines. Coriander seeds look like tiny beads with yellowish brown color and a distinctive fragrance and a pleasant and mildly pungent taste. Coriander seed is used in whole or ground forms. Green coriander (also called cilantro and Chinese parsley) is probably one of the most commonly-used flavorings in the world. The strong fragrance of coriander leaves is quite different from parsley’s, but the leaves are used in the same way as parsley in tropical cuisines of the world. Whenever possible, buy whole coriander seeds instead of coriander powder since the latter loses its flavor more quickly, and coriander seeds can be easily ground with a mortar and pestle. Since it is highly perishable, fresh coriander should always be stored in the refrigerator.
In India, both coriander seeds and leaves are extensively used in curries and spice mixes. It is used in Middle Eastern, southern Asian, as well as Latin American cuisines. It is popular in Chinese cuisine. In Thailand even the root of the plant is used. Although it is popular in the rest of Asia, it is practically unknown in Japan. Use of coriander seeds is more widespread in Europe compared to coriander leaves, the one exception being Portuguese cuisine. Portuguese settlers learned to use it from native Africans. It is used to flavor liqueurs in Russia and Scandinavia, as well as being an important flavoring agent in gin production. Coriander and cilantro leaves are fairly recent arrivals to the American kitchen.
Although cilantro and coriander seeds are most often associated with the cuisines of Mexico and Asia, the herb originated in the southern reaches of the Mediterranean. Coriander has been found in Egyptian tombs dating back 3000 years. It was cultivated in ancient Egypt for both medicinal and culinary purposes. The ancient Hebrews originally used cilantro root as the bitter herb in the symbolic Passover meal. The Romans used coriander with cumin and vinegar as a preservative which they rubbed into meat. Ancient Greeks and Romans took it to Europe and the Arabs introduced it to India and China. Coriander seeds were used in southern Europe since classical times.
Coriander is a very good source of dietary fiber and a good source of iron, magnesium, and manganese. It is considered good for the digestive system, reducing flatulence, stimulating the appetite and aiding the secretion of gastric juices. In certain parts of India it is traditionally used for its anti-inflammatory properties. In the United States, coriander has recently been studied for its cholesterol-lowering effects.
Some quick and easy ways to incorporate this healthy spice to Western cuisines are - Add toasted and crushed coriander seeds to soups and broths, sauté spinach with fresh garlic and crushed coriander seeds and use coriander seeds in the poaching liquid when preparing fish.