Cilantro… The World’s Herb

May1

Cilantro is said to be one of the world’s most widely used fresh herbs.

Cilantro. I’m predicting that in the next few days you’ll probably eat a dish prepared with this flavorful citrusy herb.

Why? Well, Cinco de Mayo is just a few days away, and cilantro has become the go-to herb for most of the Mexican food we eat this country. I won’t bother telling you that REAL Mexican food isn’t buried under a pile of this chopped green stuff because that might spoil your Drinko de Mayo fun.

That sounded a little ugly, didn’t it? Sorry. Let’s move on…

Cilantro, which comes from the coriander seed, was first grown in Greece… so it garnished gyros long before it topped those food truck tacos. Because it’s considered both an herb and a spice (since the leaves and seeds are used), cilantro/coriander is popular around the world. Think about that. You’ll find it in Indian food, Chinese food, Thai food and Central and South American food. Wow.

But cilantro is definitely an acquired taste. My daughter, Sistie, says it tastes grassy and green. I’ve heard others say it tastes like soap. I know a food scientist who thinks some people are born with a gene that makes them not like it. Maybe that’s why cilantro is not particularly popular in Europe and in the Mediterranean (but the coriander seed is used).

Cilantro is also known for its medicinal powers. I was once given a cilantro tea (when I was in the jungles of Nicaragua) to soothe a stomach ailment. It has been called the “anti-diabetic” herb (because it supposedly helps the secretion of insulin). Long ago in China, it’s was thought of as an aphrodisiac, (like in that West and South Asian collection of stories, “The Thousand and One Nights,” remember?).

Cilantro is mostly used as a garnish because it loses its flavor if it’s cooked for a long time. If you try to puree cilantro, its vibrant color and flavor quickly fade… unless it’s blended with oil (like in Chimichurri).

The best way to store cilantro is to cut off the lower stems, wash it really well, roll it in a damp paper towel and refrigerate it in a plastic bag. You can also snip off the bottom stems, make a bouquet, immerse it in a glass filled with a little water and cover it with a plastic bag.

Before you’re ready to chop cilantro, make sure it’s thoroughly dry or it will clump together. Gather the leaf ends together in a bunch and, using a sharp knife, thinly slice across the cilantro in one direction. Don’t randomly chop or you’ll bruise the tender leaves and they’ll turn black!

Oh, one other thing. Don’t buy dried cilantro. It’s worthless. That stuff really does taste like grass!


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posted under Extra Helpings

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Hi…
I’m Christina Chavez

I was a TV journalist for many years, but with a house full of kids I decided to come off the road, go to culinary school and follow my passion for cooking. Mama’s High Strung is all about food… everything from creative recipe ideas to some really cool kitchen gadgets and cooking tips. I live in Chicago, but I love to travel and write about my food discoveries! You can reach me by email: mama@mamashighstrung.com.