You've likely seen the green, leafy herb cilantro used as a garnish on tacos, salsas, curries, and other dishes. But cilantro, also known as coriander, Chinese parsley or dhania, is much more than a garnish. It has a long history of use in cuisine and traditional medicine.
What is Cilantro?
Cilantro comes from the Coriandrum sativum plant, which is part of the parsley family. The leaves of the coriander plant are called cilantro, while the dried seeds are called coriander. Cilantro has a bright, citrusy flavor that works well in South American, Mexican, Indian and Asian cuisines. All parts of the plant are edible, but the fresh leaves and dried seeds are most commonly used.
History of Cilantro
Some of the earliest uses of cilantro can be traced to ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, where it was used both as a spice and in traditional medicine. Cilantro seed has been found in ancient Egyptian tombs dating back as far as 3,000 B.C. In ancient Greece and Rome, cilantro was used to mask the smell of rotten meat and other strong odors. Later, its culinary use spread to Europe and then to the Americas via Spanish and Portuguese colonists.
Health Benefits of Cilantro
In addition to its versatile flavor, cilantro provides some health benefits:
- Rich in antioxidants like quercetin, kaempferol and apigenin which can help fight inflammation and oxidative damage
- Contains compounds that exhibit antimicrobial effects against certain bacteria and fungi
- May help remove heavy metals from the body like mercury, lead and aluminum
- High in vitamins A, K and C as well as minerals like iron, magnesium and potassium
How to Use Cilantro
Cilantro has many culinary uses thanks to its versitile, bright flavor. It features prominently in Mexican, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Caribbean and Middle Eastern cooking.
To prepare cilantro, thoroughly wash and pat dry before chopping the leaves just before use. This helps preserve the flavorful oils. Both the stems and leaves can be used in cooking.
Fresh cilantro goes well in
- Salsas, guacamole and pico de gallo
- Curries, noodle dishes and stir fries
- Meat marinades and rubs
- Tacos, fajitas and other Mexican dishes
- Salads, chutneys and dressings
The dried seeds, coriander, are commonly ground and used in baking, curry powders, pickling spices and marinades.
So next time you see that little garnish of cilantro on your plate, go ahead and sprinkle it on your food! It adds tons of flavor and good-for-you plant compounds. Cilantro deserves more than just to be a garnish.