Benefits and Allergy to Cilantro and Coriander
Versatility of an Herb
If forced to choose just one seasoning ingredient, it would be cilantro. As long as I have this herb in the kitchen or a cilantro plant in the garden, I don't even need pepper, which is my second favorite seasoning. It is popularly known as an ingredient in Mexican dishes, but its use has spread to several others. In addition, I like to sprinkle it on any type of salad, from fresh spring greens to potato salad.
Cilantro is sometimes called Chinese parsley, but it originates with the coriander plant or the Latin Coriander sativum. The seeds of the coriander plant are ground to make powdered coriander, while the leaves of the plant become the herb cilantro. In addition to seeds and leaves, all parts of the coriander plant are edible.
Unique Flavors Of Cilantro
Coriander is an annual herb plant, meaning that it needs to be replanted each year.
A member of the plant family Apiaceae, the herb originated in the Middle East, southern Europe, North Africa, and parts of Asia. In those areas, the herb is popular in cuisine and medicine, but it is also used often in Mexican dishes.
The plant coriander grows to a height of nearly two feet, with leaves that resemble flat-leaf parsley and are rather feathery, and finer than parsley. In fact, some cook confuse curly parsley, flat-leaf parsley, and cilantro, especially the last two.
In most of the world, cilantro is known as coriander, but Americans call it cilantro. The world culantro is Spanish for the coriander plant, but some herb growers feel that cilantro (coriander) and culantro are two different plant varieties with distinct flavors. Look for them at farmers markets and specialty stores and try them both.
The flavor of the leaves deteriorates very rapidly after picking and the leaves are usually not cooked, because that leeches all the flavor from the cilantro. Cilantro is primarily used raw and whole-leafed, or chopped in recipes or as a garnish. It is flavorful in salsas, chutney, some curries, salads, and even with some fruits. Cilantro lime rice is a favorite dish of many and is often served in America's Mexican restaurants.
While its flavor is best in the raw state, cilantro is found to contain antioxidants that prevent the spoiling of foods that contain it. In other words, the flavor of cilantro may fade, but the total food dish stays fresher longer.
Store small amounts of fresh coriander leaves in the refrigerator after, making sure they are dry, in a container that will keep them dry and preferably in a refrigerator drawer away from light. Dried, crushed cilantro leaves are available as well, but are best purchased only small packets, as the dried leaves lose flavor quickly. Fresh cilantro should be used within 2-3 days or picked, as needed, from a garden plant.
Coriander seeds can be used in a variety of cooked dishes and comes powdered, in shaker bottles in the grocery baking aisle where spices are displayed. Whole seeds are also available and will retain their flavor longer than the powdered style (grind as needed). Keep either in an opaque container away form sunlight that can leech flavor.
In Indian cuisine, coriander is popular in curries and garam masala and is often used in tamden with the smokier cumin. Seeds can be toasted as a snack or boiled for a medicinal tea that fights respiratory problems.
Coriander seed is also found in small boxes of "pickling spices" in the grocery store. These spcies are used for pickling fruits and vegetables and in sausage making. The seeds can be combined in a number of combination with additional spices found in curry powders as well.
Coriander roots can also be used in cooking, presenting a deeper, darker flavor than the seeds.
Medicine and Allergies
Whole Foods is one supermarket chain that carries cilantro and coriander. The company recommends coriander for a number of health benefits based on current medical research.
Among these, coriander may aid in the control of blood sugar, cholesterol and free radicals. Coriander produces an oil that is rich in healing phytonutrient content. Coriander shows superior levels of more additional nutrients as well, inducing fiber, iron, magnesium, and manganese.
Coriander is a powerful natural antibiotic and can effectively kill Salmonella, while coriander seeds and cilantro leaves both contain a total of nine antibiotics.
In alternative and folk medicine, coriander and cilantro have been used to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and insomnia, as a diuretic, and as an aid to indigestion. A larger use for the herb is as a treatment for diabetes.
Coriander/Cilantro Herb Allergy
As with many other herbs, some individuals experience an allergy to coriander and cilantro. At least 34 symptoms of this allergy have been recorded:
- Abdominal pain and discomfort
- Breathing problems, other than Asthma
- Disturbed sleep
- Facial redness
- Facial swelling
- Itching - body skin
- Itchy eyes
- Itchy mouth
- Lip swelling
- Low blood pressure
- Red eyes
- Redness around lips
- Runny nose
- Sinus pain
- Skin flushing
- Sore eyes
- Swallowing problems
- Throat swelling
- Tingling mouth
- Tongue swelling
- Watery eyes
If you use cilantro or coriander, or the roots of the plant for cooking and experience any of the above symptoms, stop using the plant and consult your healthcare provider.
If the allergy is serious - especially it if involves breathing problems and swelling - go to the doctor's office or to the local Emergency Room for immediate help.
© 2010 Patty Inglish MS