Cilantro is a true love it or hate it herb. Some say it tastes like soap, others can't get enough of it. We are a house divided.
Cilantro, whether you can't live without it or you have the genetic disposition to despise it, is prevalent throughout the world. It is key in both South American and Asian recipes, bringing a deep, spicy nuance to veggies, meats, and so much more. It is a finicky herb that grows well in pots outdoors in the summer or on a sunny windowsill indoors, but needs just the right amount of water (enough, but not too much)-it is a permanent part of my herb garden!
Cilantro is also known as Chinese Parsley (beware haters), and offers the perfect illustration of the difference between and herb and a spice.
The leafy greens sprigs are the herb that we know as cilantro, and the dried seeds of the same plant are the spice called coriander. Popular for centuries in Asia and Europe, cilantro is best known here in the US as the final addition to Mexican or Thai inspired dishes. The leaves look extremely similar to those of flat leaf or Italian parsley (supermarkets often separate them for the benefit of the haters out there), but cilantro's flavor packs far more depth and personality.
In addition to its unique flavor, cilantro has many benefits. It is very anti-oxidant rich, which is not only good for you, but serves to help keep other foods fresher by hindering oxidation. For that reason, cilantro is great to pair with avocados and in salsas to keep them fresh. There is also a compound in the leaves and seeds of the coriander plant called dodecanal, that has ben found to have a strong anti-bacterial affect against Salmonella.
Cilantro is a good source of Vitamin A & C and is high in anti-oxidants including beta-carotene and lutein. It also contains Vitamin K and small amounts of other essential minerals.
Studies are currently being done to use cilantro as a natural water purifier and it has been found to suppress the accumulation and toxicity of lead and other heavy metals. For that reason, cilantro is great to add into smoothies as well as juice cleanses.
If you are a cilantrophobe though, it isn't your fault. There are even online societies out there for you (up to 14% of the population) in support of your genetic distaste for the magnificent herb. Research has shown, that you actually share a olfactory-rececptor gene that picks up on the smell of the aldehyde chemicals that are found in cilantro, and used to make soap. Most of us don't however, and true coriander/cilantro allergies are rare.
When cooking with cilantro, be sure to add it raw or at the end of cooking as it is a tender herb similar to basil or mint. Or, if you are like our family, serve cilantro on the side to be enjoyed by the cilantro enthusiasts and no one has to suffer. One thing is for certain, grow your own fresh cilantro whether in a pot or in your herb garden- it is a great herb to have on hand, and much cheaper when it is home grown!