I probably say this about every spice but I really, really love Coriander. Did you know that coriander is both an herb and a spice? This is because both the fresh leaves and the seeds are used. In North America we commonly refer to the seeds (ground or whole) as coriander, while we refer to the fresh leaves as cilantro. While I tend to use both in my cooking I typically reserve coriander seeds and powder for dishes of a Mediterranean, Mexican, Indian, or Middle Eastern flair, where as Cilantro I’ll toss into just about anything. I use a ridiculous amount of Cilantro, and probably buy anywhere from 3-4 large bunches of it per week. I love everything about it from it’s unique flavor to it’s smell, and it works well in almost any dish.
Interestingly enough did you know that many people can’t stand the leaves because they experience un unpleasant soapy taste or rank flavor when eating them? This is due to an aromatic chemical compound within the leaves that is somewhat related to a chemical group found in the Stink Bug. Apparently the different perceptions of coriander leaves is genetic - like that whole Asparagus/stinky pee thing - with some people having absolutely no reaction to the chemicals whatsoever, while others can’t stand it. Glad I’m one of the people who can stand Coriander/Cilantro, because I don’t know what I’d do without it! But enough about all that, lets get to some history.
Coriander is native to a wide range of areas spanning Southern Europe all the way to South Asia, and since it grows wild in so many areas it’s hard for us to pinpoint exactly where it was first cultivated. There is however plenty of evidence to suggest that Coriander has been in use for a very, very long time. For example fifteen desiccated coriander mericarps were found in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B Level of the Nahal Hemel Cave in Israel which is potentially the oldest archeological find of coriander. Roughly half a liter of coriander mericarps were recovered from the tomb of Tutankhamun, and since the plant does not grow wild in Egypt archeologists interpret this as proof that coriander was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians.
Coriander also seems to have been cultivated in Greece since roughly the second millennium BC. A Linear B Tablet recovered from Pylos refers to the species being cultivated for use in perfume as well as for it’s culinary/medicinal properties Large quantities of the species being recovered at an Early Bronze Age layer at Sitagori in Macedonia could indicate cultivation of the species at that time..
If you want to get a little less Scientific coriander is also mentioned in the Old Testament of The Bible. It’s also said to have been used by the Romans to preserve meat and flavor bread, and it’s associated with Hippocrates who apparently used it as an aromatic stimulant.
Lastly coriander was brought to the British Colonies in North America around 1670, and became one of the first spices cultivated by early settlers.
Recent animal-based research has confirmed that coriander can control blood sugar, cholesterol, and free radical production. When it was added to the diet of diabetic mice, it helped stimulate their secretion of insulin and lowered their blood sugar. When it was given to rats fed a high fat, high cholesterol diet, coriander lowered levels of total LDL cholesterol and triglycerides while increasing the levels of HDL cholesterol. This effect appears to be caused by increasing synthesis of bile by the liver and increasing the breakdown of cholesterol into other compounds. Finally in rats coriander was also shown to reduce the amount of damaged fats in their cell membranes.
Interestingly in parts of Europe coriander has been traditionally referred to as an ‘anti-diabetic’ herb, and has been documented as a traditional treatment for Type 2 Diabetes.
A study published in the June 2004 issue of the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry suggests that coriander could be a natural way to fight Salmonella - which is a frequently and sometimes deadly cause of foodborne illness. Together US and Mexican researchers isolated the compound dodecenal, which laboratory tests showed is twice as effective as the commonly used antibiotic drug gentamicin at killing Salmonella.
Coriander - like many spices - also contains antioxidants, which can delay or prevent the spoilage of food seasoned with it. Though antioxidants were found in both the seeds as well as the leaves the antioxidant effect of the leaves proved to be greater.
Coriander has also been used as a folk remedy in Iran to treat anxiety and insomnia. While it’s long been used in Indian Medicine as a diuretic, as well as a carminative and digestive aid.
Lastly the essential oil produced from coriander has shown to have antimicrobial effects.
So it’s antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-diabetic, and antimicrobial - what more could you ask for?
I like cilantro in just about anything but some of my favorite ways to use it are in fresh salsa, guacamole, black bean soup, in grain salads like tabbouleh, in dal’s, in curries - especially spicy curries or coconut based curries - in chili, in cornbread, sprinkled over top of roasted potatoes or carrots, in lentil soup - or any soup - sprinkled over top of salad, in chutney, dressing’s, dip’s, and even on pasta. It’s great with lightly sauteed white beans, and goes pretty well with just about any Mexican, Latin American, Indian, Asian, North African, Mediterranean, or Tex-Mex style cuisine.
You can even make a holistic tea out of it by boiling the seeds - though I’ll be honest and say I have no idea what that might taste like.
There’s really so much you can do with cilantro that as long as you don’t have an aversion to it you should just start liberally using it in everything.