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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Cilantro

Cilantro (Coriander):

About:

Coriander (Coriandrum Sativum) , also known as cilantro, Chinese parsley, or dhanic, is an annual herb in the family Apiaieae.  Coriander is native to regions spanning from southern Europe and North Africa to southwest Asia.  Cilantro is the Spanish word for Coriander.  Coriander grows wild over a wide area of the Near East and southern Europe.  What we call "cilantro" is the leafy part of the plant that produces the coriander seeds on your spice rack.  Coriander roots have a deeper more intense flavor than the leaves.  They are used in a variety of Asian cuisines.  They are commonly used in Thai dishes including soups and curry pastes. 

History: 

Coriander can be traced back to 5000 BC when it was cultivated in ancient Egypt.  It was mentioned in the Old Testament.  Coriander was used as a spice in Greek and Roman cultures.  Early physicians, including Hippocrates, used coriander for its medicinal properties, including as an aromatic stimulant.

Uses:

All parts of the coriander plant are edible, but the fresh leaves and the dried seeds are the parts most traditionally used in cooking.  Coriander is common in South Asian, Southeast Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, Caucasian, Central Asian, Mediterranean, Tex-Mex, Latin American, Portuguese,  Chinese, African, and Scandinavian cuisine.  

Coriander is considered as both an herb and a spice since both its leaves and seeds are used as seasoning condiments.  Cilantro should not be confused with culantro which has a distinctly different spiny appearance, much more potent volatile leaf oil, and a stronger smell.  The name coriander is from the Greek word "koris" which means "bug".  

My Story:

In one of the supermarket produce departments in which I worked the back room area opened to the sales floor.  Consequently, the customers could see everything that went on in the preparation area.   On one occaison I was called to the front of the store and the store director told me that a customer had complained that there was a "rancid" odor coming from the produce preparation area.  Come to figure it out, what the customer was smelling was the cilantro that we were soaking in the sink pror to putting it on display.  It was then that I came to realize that people either love or hate the smell of cilantro.  I personally love the smell of cilantro.  I think it gives a freshness to whatever it is added to. 

Nutrition:

The nutritional profile of coriander seeds differs from that of the fresh leaves and stems.   The leaves are particularly rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K, with a moderate amount of dietary minerals.    While the seeds have generally lower vitamin content, they provide significant amounts of dietary fiber, calcium, selenium, iron, manganese, and magnesium.  

Health Benefits:

Coriander contains phytochemicals which may delay or prevent the spoilage of food seasoned with it.    Chemicals derived from coriander leaves were found to have potential for antibacterial activity against Salmonella.  The essential oil produced from coriander has been shown to exhibit possible antimicrobial effects.    Recent animal studies have confirmed that coriander can stimulate the secretion of insulin and lower blood sugar.  In studies with rats coriander helped reduce the amount of damaged fats in their cell membranes and lowered  levels of LDL ("bad" cholesterol), while increasing HDL ("good" cholesterol).  Many of coriander's healing properties can be attributed to its phytonutrient properties. 

Selecting and Storing:

Cilantro is available all year long.   Select bunches of fresh cilantro  with leaves that look vibranatly fresh with deep green color.   They should be firm, crisp, and free from yellow or brown spots.   Fresh cilantro should be stored in the refrigerator.   Fresh cilantro leaves will last about 3 days.  Whole coriander will last up to week.  Cilantro may be frozen whole or chopped in airtight containers.  
Coriander seeds and powder should be kept in a dark, tightly sealed glass container stored in a cool dark and dry place.   Coriander seeds will last up to one year.  

Simple Ways to Enjoy Coriander:

  • Combine Vanilla soy milk with honey, coriander and cinnamon in a saucepan over low heat for a delicious beverage. 
  • Saute' spinach with fresh garlic and coriander seeds, mix in garbanzo beans and season with ginger and cumin.
  • Add coriander seeds to soups or broths.
  • Use coriander seeds in the poaching liquid for fish.
  • Add ground coriander to pancakes and waffles for a Middle Eastern flavor.
  • Put coriander seeds in a pepper mill to be used as a general seasoning. 
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