Plant cilantro seeds to harvest both a herb and spice. This annual herb is known officially as coriander just about everywhere outside of the Americas. We often think of the fresh leaves as cilantro, and the seeds (which are very easy to harvest) as coriander. Cilantro is the Spanish name for coriander. The plant is native to North Africa and Mediterranean Europe, and is a member of the carrot family, Apiaceae. Its close relatives include parsley, fennel, and dill, which is easy to see when the plant flowers, producing tall umbels of white flowers.
Cilantro is thought to have been cultivated in ancient Egypt, as it was another spice present in the tomb of Tutankhamun, but does not grow wild there. It is mentioned in the Bible (Exodus 16:31), and it has been unearthed in archaeological digs from Bronze Age Macedonia. It was introduced very early to North America via the English colonies in the 17th century.
Cilantro has a unique, sharp, almost citrus taste which some people consider soapy and unpalatable. Too bad for them, as the herb is used around the globe in masses of diverse cuisines, and flavours some of the world’s tastiest dishes. It is notably common in Latin American, Middle Eastern, Indian, and Southeast Asian cuisine. All parts of the plant can be used, from the roots to the seeds, although the seeds have a distinct taste all their own. Ground coriander seeds are an essential element of curry powder, mixed with ground cumin, and ground chili at its most basic.
The flavour of cilantro leaves dissipates quickly when heated, a bit like basil, so it is often added at the end of cooking, or as a garnish to add complexity to a dish. The stems can be used in stocks, and provide a nice background to the lime and fish sauce of Southeast Asian soups and sauces. The roots can be washed and chopped or pulverized as a marinade that complements coconut very well. Cilantro is high in vitamins C and A.
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