Is it an herb or a spice? Am I a girl or a woman? I was a girl once, but now age and experience have made me a woman. This is very much the same with cilantro and coriander.
The bright green, fanning, lace like leaves with their brash, tangy, citrusy flavor and exuberant aroma are the youthful, immature stage of the plant. As the plant ages, it grows taller, more slender and elegant. Delicate umbel flowers develop and open.
As it reaches the age of wisdom, those flowers give way to seeds that impart knowledge dating back thousands of years and have the power to launch thousands of new generations.
Coriander is the culmination. The life’s work of the cilantro plant. Its enduring legacy. Or perhaps, the coriander/cilantro difference is just a retail device to distinguish leaves from seeds.
In fact, many cultures only have one word to describe both the leaves and the seeds of this ancient herb and spice. In the US, coriander came by way of European settlers as early as 1670. Yet, it was popularized on supermarket shelves for it’s utility in “Mexican” food.
I use Mexican in quotes because the truth is much of the cuisine deemed Mexican in the US could be Peruvian, Bolivian, Salvadorian, Ecuadorian, and more. In fact, the herb you find in dishes in Latin American countries might actually be a completely unrelated herb called Culantro.
Culantro can be shade grown even in tropical climates. Though, subject to bolting as days grow long, it is a bit more durable in the heat than cool season cilantro.
The most incredible thing to me though isn’t why we call these plants what we call them. It’s that nearly every country on earth has at least one name for this amazing edible treasure. That’s because it is so universally recognized for its culinary utility.
Grow it, eat it, love it, share it!
General Knowledge and Fascinating Facts
- History of Carrots, with mention of coriander
- The Long History and Many Uses of Coriander
- Scientists Harvest Antarctic Greenhouse Vegetables
- Coriander Production and Distribution
- Coriander Production Data Worldwide
- Coriander Crop Survey and Analysis 2016
- Coriander Cultivation Information Guide
- Cilantro Production in California
- Coriander Production and Management
- World Crops: Cilantro
- Herbs and Leaf Crops: Cilantro
Recipes and Uses
One of my favorite ways to use and preserve cool season cilantro is to ferment it. Coursly chop the leaves. Weight them. Add 2% salt by weight to the leaves. Stir until the leaves begin expressing liquid. Then, mash into a jar.
You can put fermentation weights and a lid on this. Then let it sit in a warm location out of direct light for 3-7 days.
Or you can tuck some washed, scavenged rocks in a plastic baggy and use those to weight your ferment in the jar. Then, fold the baggy over the rim of the jar and wrap with a rubber band. This creates your air lock. Once a day, remove the rubber band and fold up the sides to let the ferment off glass for a few seconds. Then, close.
After those 3-7 days, use your fermented cilantro on tacos, in salsa, as a garnish for soup, tossed in salads, or any other place where you regularly use cilantro.
Here are some of my other favorite uses from around the web.