WHAT IS IT?
Coriander seed is both a lead, and a bit player, in your culinary drama. As a fragrant, it’s amazing spice for everything from curries, to pie spice blends, to sausages, to beer. The seed is one of the oldest spices. The plant goes by two modern commercial names, and some serious controversy.
Another member of the parsley family, in North America, thanks to lots of Mexican restaurants, coriander leaves are referred to by their Spanish name, “Cilantro.”
“Coriander” is used to describe the seeds, which come to the continent by way of largely Asian cuisines. In the rest of the world, other than Spain, Mexico, and the United States, the whole plant has one name.
What’s the controversy?
Thanks to the human brain’s interpretation of the naturally occurring chemicals in the essential oils of the feathery green and citrusy leaves, there are two different “takes” on coriander leaves taste.
90% of people love them. They find the aroma of cilantro fresh, and herbaceous, with notes of anise, and citrus. 10% of people find it soapy, musty, and truly hate it.
This is due to a particular gene that affects the development of certain olfactory receptors, in the noses of the smaller group, that alters the experience of the smell.
Coriander seed does not have the problem associated with the leaves. So all of you “I don’t eat coriander,” soap-a-phobes can relax!
How coriander seed is prepared greatly effects its final flavor, and what ingredients it plays well with. When left whole, it is just as floral as cardamom: Full of citrus scent, light and sweet. Coriander’s flavor deepens the longer it cooks, but there is a tradeoff: Its unique florals degrade into the background.
Cracked, coriander changes a bit. It tends to become a sweet background note, not a distinct taste. Its flavor deepens, and becomes more subtle.
THE WHOLE, CRACKED, or GROUND DECISION
Why use ground over the whole seed, or cracked?
Ground coriander is more useful in spice blends, where it’s a supporting player in your spicing, not a distinct taste. That’s especially true in dishes like curries, or desserts like pies, where large seeds floating about aren’t all that useful to that integrated taste. It’s best to buy it ground when you use a lot of it, and can use what you buy in a timespan where it does not lose its potency.
Cracked coriander is wonderful where the spice takes on some visual element, as in a roast lamb, or with some vegetables. If you need a lot, then buying it pre-cracked makes sense. Otherwise, consider buying it whole, and DIY the other variations.
Whole coriander is great in a spice ball, which can infuse a soup, sauce, or curry with a flavor, but be removed prior to serving. One other advantage of whole seed is space in your aromata. You can use a spice grinder to fine grind the seed yourself, and a mortar/pestle to crack it, as most home chefs use fairly little of it.
Corriander is one of the most popular herbs in the world. It is native to a wide area of Western Asia and Southern Europe. It was first domesticated by the peoples living in what is modern Italy. Today, it cultivated commercially in most parts of the world, but the heavy users/exporters are:
- Costa Rica
- Mexico (Cilantro)
- The Netherlands
- North Africa
- The United States (Cilantro)
- Popular flavorant for beer;
- Soups and stews;
- Traditional ingredients in the South African mixed-meat sausage, Boerewors
- Used as a pickling agent
- Great with roasted potatoes
A FEW IMPROVISATIONAL RIFFS:
- Buttermilk biscuits infused with leeks and toasted cracked corianderl
- As part of the stock base for a clear chicken consumme, in my Corea’s Curried Wontons Soup
- An ingredient in a coarse rub, with preserved lemon, and cumin for a tagine lamb
- Toasted and rough ground with cinnamon, sugar, and a hint of cayenne for a very exotic cinnamon bun
Coriander (Cilantro) is one of the oldest spices mentioned in history. Early traces of its use date back to the ancient cultures of the Italian peninsula. It prospers best in warm, somewhat drier climates, as an annual plant. The Greeks probably formally began cultivating and trading it. It was popularly cultivated by ancient Egyptians, and the Romans, for culinary, and health, purposes. Spice traders moved it into Asia, where it became wildly popular in India, China, Vietnam, and elsewhere, as a staple spice.
The oldest traces of Coriander date back to the Neolithic period, found in the Nahal Hemar Cave in Israel. Early Bronze Age layer at Sitagroi in Macedonia, may be the first evidence of large scale cultivation. Greece cultivated it since at least the second millennium BC. Coriander discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamen, suggest that it was imported to Egypt, where it does not grow wild. One medical text pegs its use back to at least 1550 BCE.
- Chinese parsley
- lus an choire
- rau mùi
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