Coriander/Cilantro – One plant. Two names, and some really divided opinion on how it tastes. History! Controversy! One of the world’s truly global spices is surprising in so many ways.
One plant, with two commercially popular 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.
All parts of the plant are edible, but the leaves and seeds are most commonly used culinarily. So, 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 how it tastes.
Some people love it. They find the aroma of cilantro fresh, and herbaceous, with notes of anise, and citrus.
Others 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 nose of less than 10% of the population.
A Costa Rican chef gave me a tip, a few years back, to pull only the leaves, and not the stems, with the fresh herb, to reduce that effect. In the dried, you can’t try that, as the smaller stems are chopped up with the leaves.
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:
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.
Coriander is popular, in part, because it’s really good for you. The herb is rich in antioxidants, and many of the minerals that the human body needs. It also has 13 milligrams of calcium and 62 micrograms of vitamin K, which helps maintain strong bones.
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