Acquiring a Taste for Cilantro

Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum), or coriander, is in the same family (Apiaceae) as  anise, caraway, carrot, celery, chervil, coriander (including cilantro), cumin, dill, fennel, hemlock, Queen Anne’s lace, parsley, and parsnip. It is native to the Mediterranean and Asia Minor (now Turkey), and it has been used since at least 5,000 BC. .

Ancient herbalists used the crushed seeds and leaves in poultices and salves and considered them to be an aphrodesiac. The ancient Egyptians used coriander tea to treat ailments such as urinary tract infections and headaches, and coriander seeds were found in King Tut’s tomb.

The word coriander comes from koris, the Greek word for bedbug, because the unripened seeds as well as the leaves are said to smell like bedbugs. (We now know that the aroma of  cilantro comes from several substances, most of which are modified fragments of fat molecules called aldehydes. The same or similar aldehydes are also found in soaps, lotions, and the bug family of insects.) The early physicians, including Hippocrates, used cilantro for its medicinal properties, including as an aromatic stimulant.

The ancient Israelites were also familiar with coriander.  “The house of Israel called the name therof Manna: and it was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.” (Exodus 17:31). Coriander is also mentioned in One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of West and South Asian stories and folk tales compiled in Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age (8th century-1258 AD). In one of the stories, it was part of a mixture that supposedly helped a childless man to have children.

The Romans spread cilantro to Asia, and the Chinese have used cilantro ever since. The Chinese believed it to be an aphrodisiac and to produce immortality.  The Romans also took cilantro with them to Britain.

Cilantro was one of the first herbs (along with dandelion) to be brought to the Americas from Europe: The Spanish conquistadors introduced it to Mexico and Peru in the 1500s, and the British introduced it to North America in 1670. It was grown in many places, including the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Today, cilantro is used for both culinary and medicinal purposes from the Southwest U.S. through Central and South America, and in India, China, and Thailand, and it is widely employed in particularly savory dishes of many cultures both in modern as well as traditional cuisines.

Cilantro contains many phytochemicals that have disease-preventing and health-promoting properties. Cilantro contains no cholesterol; however, it is rich in fiber. Its leaves and seeds contain many essential volatile oils such as borneol, linalool, cineole, cymene, terpineol, dipentene, phellandrene, pinene, and terpinolene. The leaves and stem tips are also rich in antioxidant polyphenolic flavonoids, including quercetin, kaempferol, rhamnetin, and epigenin. Cilantro is rich in many vitamins, including vitamin K (100 grams provides 258% of the Daily Value), vitamin A (225%), vitamin C (45%), vitamin E (17%), folate (15.5%), riboflavin (12%), vitamin B6 (11%), pantothenic acid (11%), niacin (7%), and the carotenoids alpha and beta carotene and beta crypto-xanthin, an anti-inflammatory. It is also a good source of minerals like iron (22%), manganesepotassium (11%), calcium (7%), phosphorus (7%), and magnesium (6.5%). The leaves, root, and stem of the cilantro plant have antiseptic and carminative (anti-gas) properties.

Nutrients in 100 grams of fresh cilantro

Nutrient

 Value

DV

vitamin K 310 mcg

258%

vitamin A 6748 IU

225%

vitamin C 27 mg

45%

iron 1.77 mg

22%

manganese 0.426 mg

18.5%

vitamin E 2.50 mg

17%

folate 62 µg

15.5%

riboflavin 0.162 mg

12%

pantothenic acid 0.570 mg

11%

vitamin B6 0.149 mg

11%

potassium 521 mg

11%

niacin 1.114 mg

7%

calcium 67 mg

7%

phosphorus 48 mg

7%

fiber 2.80 g

6.5%

magnesium 26 mg

6.5%

thiamine 0.067 mg

5.50%

zinc 0.50 mg

4.5%

protein 2.13 g

4%

carbohydrates 3.67 g

3%

sodium 46 mg

3%

fat 0.52 g

2%

selenium 0.9 mg

2%

Calories 23

1%

cholesterol 0 mg

0%

carotene-α 36 µg
carotene-ß 3930 µg
crypto-xanthin-ß 202 µg
lutein-zeaxanthin 865 µg

Fresh cilantro is available year-round. If you can, buy fresh organic leaves instead of the dried herb, as they are superior in flavor and nutrition. Look for vibrant green leaves and firm stems that are free from spoilage or yellowing.

Wash cilantro in clean water to remove any sand or dirt, and discard any roots and old or bruised leaves. Store fresh cilantro in the refrigerator in a sealed container or wrapped in a slightly damp towel. Use it as early as possible, because it loses flavor and nutrients quickly if kept for longer periods.

Use cilantro in vegetables, soups, and sauces. Mediterranean cilantro pesto, prepared by using fresh cilantro, red pepper, garlic cloves, olive oil, pumpkin seeds with few drops of lemon juice  is a great addition on pasta, in sandwiches, or as a marinade. Freshly chopped and sautéed cilantro leaves are also a great addition to green salad.


This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this website to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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