Coriander, Chinese Parsley and Cilantro
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) is an annual herb in the family Apiaceae. It is also known as Chinese parsley, and in North America the stems and leaves are usually called cilantro. All parts of the plant are edible, but the fresh leaves and the dried seeds (as a spice) are the parts most traditionally used in cooking.
Most people perceive the taste of coriander leaves as a tart, lemon/lime taste, but a smaller group of people think the leaves taste like dish soap!
The leaves are variously referred to as coriander leaves, fresh coriander, dhania, Chinese parsley, or (in the US and Canada) cilantro.
The leaves have a different taste from the seeds, with definite citrus overtones. Cilantro juice is recognized as an aid to digestion.
Cilantro Juice for Digestion
Fresh Coriander Leaves
Fresh coriander leaves are an ingredient in Chinese, Thai and Burmese dishes such as chutneys and salads. They are used in Mexican cooking, particularly in salsa and guacamole and as a garnish and in salads in Russia and other CIS countries.
In Portugal, chopped coriander is used in the bread soup Açorda and in India, chopped coriander is a garnish on Indian dishes such as dal. As heat diminishes their flavour, coriander leaves are often used raw or added to the dish immediately before serving. In Indian and Central Asian recipes, coriander leaves are used in large amounts and cooked until the flavour diminishes. The leaves spoil quickly when removed from the plant, and lose their aroma when dried or frozen.
The dried fruits are known as coriander seeds. The word "coriander" in food preparation may refer solely to these seeds (as a spice), rather than to the plant. The seeds have a lemony citrus flavour and when crushed are described as warm, nutty, spicy, and orange-flavoured.
Large-fruited types are grown mainly in tropical and subtropical countries such as Morocco, India and Australia. They contain a low volatile oil content (0.1-0.4%) and are used extensively for grinding and blending purposes in the spice trade. Types with smaller fruit are produced in temperate regions and usually have a volatile oil content around 0.4-1.8%, so are highly valued as a raw material for the preparation of essential oil.
Coriander is commonly found both as whole dried seeds and in ground form. Roasting or heating the seeds in a dry pan heightens the flavour, aroma, and pungency. Ground coriander seed loses flavor quickly in storage and is best ground fresh.
Coriander seed is a spice in garam masala and Indian curries which often employ the ground fruits in generous amounts together with cumin, acting as a thickener in a mixture called dhana jeera. Roasted coriander seeds, called dhana dal, are eaten as a snack. They are the main ingredient of the two south Indian dishes sambhar and rasam.
Raw coriander leaves are 92% water, 4% carbohydrates, 2% protein, and less than 1% fat. The nutritional profile of coriander seeds is different from the fresh stems or leaves. In a 100 gram reference amount, leaves are particularly rich in vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin K, with moderate content of dietary minerals . Although seeds generally have lower content of vitamins, they do provide significant amounts of dietary fiber, calcium, selenium, iron, magnesium and manganese.
The Amazing Versatility of Coriander
Outside of Asia, coriander seed is used widely in the process for pickling vegetables. In Germany and South Africa the seeds are used while making sausages. In Russia and Central Europe, coriander seed is an occasional ingredient in rye bread (e.g. Borodinsky bread) as an alternative to caraway. The Zuni people of North America have adapted it into their cuisine, mixing the powdered seeds ground with chili and using it as a condiment with meat, and eating leaves as a salad.
Coriander seeds are used in brewing certain styles of beer, particularly some Belgian wheat beers. The coriander seeds are used with orange peel to add a citrus character. Coriander seed is one of the main traditional ingredients in the South African Boerewors, a spiced mixed-meat sausage.
Coriander is listed as one of the original ingredients in the secret formula for Coca-Cola!
Coriander Roots and Aphid Control
Coriander roots have a deeper, more intense flavor than the leaves, and are used in a variety of Asian cuisines, especially in Thai dishes such as soups or curry pastes.
In the Salinas Valley of California, aphids have been one of the worst pests in the lettuce fields. The USDA Cooperative Extension Service has been investigating organic methods for aphid control, and experimented with coriander plants and Alyssum plants.
When intercropped with the lettuce and allowed to flower, they attract beneficial insects such as hoverflies, the larvae of which eat up to 150 aphids per day before they mature into flying adults.
Coriander in the Garden
For anyone who loves Asian or Asian-inspired cooking, coriander is an absolute must have in your garden. This fast growing annual has a head a bit like Italian parsley and should be picked and used immediately.
There's nothing quite like growing your own herbs organically. You are welcome to download my free book Thinking Organically. Just click on the book name and tell me where to send it.
Warm: Early March and again in early September
Temperate: Early March and again in early September
Cool: Early September
Coriander is prone to bolt. This means the plant has a tendency to set seed prematurely, which can greatly affect its flavor and yield.
To prevent this happening and encourage masses of leaves, position your coriander where it will receive some shade in hot areas. This isn’t really necessary in temperate to cool areas unless you get hot summers.
Like most herbs, coriander will do well in a container or in the vegie patch. It loves nothing more than a rich, moist soil in a nice sunny spot (except of course in really warm areas).
If planting in pots choose an organic potting mix. These mixes are designed for container gardening and generally don’t have all the totally unnecessary synthetic fertilisers in them.
If you’re planting in your patch, working in some organic matter like compost prior to planting is a great idea. Feeding coriander was once rumoured to prevent it bolting, but this is unnecessary if your soil is full of organic matter like compost. A compost tea or liquid seaweed fertiliser is all I would recommend.
What about the Water?
Now, one thing that will make coriander bolt is an erratic watering schedule. A soil of organic matter and mulch layer will keep moisture in. Use your fingers to see how damp it is. This applies especially to coriander grown in containers such as pots (especially terracotta). Coriander left to dry out thinks its days are numbered and bolts, so monitor the soil moisture and water when needed.
Is it ready yet?
Coriander can be eaten all the time. I generally wait until the foliage is about 20 cm high as the flavor is best at this time. There are a couple of ways you can harvest your coriander. Either chop off the foliage as required or pull the whole plant out of the ground (a bit like you would a carrot) and use everything. The entire coriander plant can be used in cooking – leaves, stems and roots and they are easy to prepare.
Pests and the Rest
Coriander attracts very few pests, and is often used as a good neighbor in companion planting. This is due to the smell of the plant being unappealing to most insects. As we have learned, coriander bolting is probably the biggest issue. But even this can be prevented by following the instructions above or by choosing “slow bolt” varieties at your garden centre.
Don’t just use the foliage. The roots have an amazing and intense flavour as do the stems. And, after washing thoroughly, the roots will enhance your cooking enormously. If your plants do bolt and set seed just cut off the seed heads, take them inside and dry them out on a bit of baking paper. Once dry, the seeds can be stored and used for some entirely different kitchen flavours!
1 bunch coriander
20 ml peanut oil or olive oil
Juice ½ lemon
1 clove garlic
50 gm peanuts or cashews dry roasted in a frying pan if raw.
Blend coriander, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic in a food processor or mortar and pestle.
Add peanuts or cashews and blend to a lumpy puree.
Season with salt and pepper.
This pesto is oh so versatile. Use it in a stir-fry or with pasta. Smear it on fish before you bake or BBQ it. Layer it between slices of eggplant, capsicum and zucchini, then bake the stacks in the oven. Mash it with avocado for a new twist on guacamole.
Coriander Lime Dressing
This Coriander Lime Dressing has incredible flavor and only requires a handful of ingredients. It’s a fresh, creamy and balanced dressing that elevates any salad. All these ingredients need not be measured, just add according to taste.
1 bunch coriander
jalapeno (to taste)
fresh lime juice
salt and pepper
Place all ingredients except olive oil, into blender. Blend until smooth, then add olive oil gradually.