Coriander: love it or loathe it, but what is it?

What is Coriander?

What is coriander? Well, coriander and cilantro are actually the same plant, but the terms are used to refer to different parts of the plant depending on the region.

In many English-speaking countries, the term “coriander” typically refers to the seeds of the plant, which are used as a spice in cooking and have a warm, nutty flavor.

On the other hand, “cilantro” is the term used to refer to the leaves and stems of the coriander plant. Cilantro leaves have a distinct, pungent aroma and a fresh, citrusy flavor.

History & background

Coriander is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean region and has a long history of cultivation. Its use dates back to ancient civilizations, including the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. The ancient Egyptians used it in their cooking, as well as for medicinal purposes and, more gruesomely, in the embalming process.

Coriander spread to Asia, where it became an integral part of various cuisines. It is commonly used in Indian, Middle Eastern, and Southeast Asian dishes, adding flavor and aroma to curries, chutneys, and spice blends.

As mentioned, the term “coriander” started being used to refer specifically to the seeds of the plant. This is different from “cilantro” which is used to denote the leaves and stems.

Cilantro has a rich culinary history in many cultures. It is a key ingredient in Mexican and Latin American cuisines, where it adds a fresh, herbaceous flavor to salsas, guacamole, and various dishes. In Asian cuisines, cilantro is commonly used as a garnish for soups, salads, and stir-fries.

Both coriander and cilantro have been used for their medicinal properties in traditional medicine systems around the world. They are believed to have digestive benefits, antimicrobial properties, and may help with various health conditions. Additionally, cilantro holds cultural significance in different regions and is often associated with traditional festivals and celebrations.

Today, coriander and cilantro continue to be widely used and appreciated in global cuisine, adding distinctive flavors and aromas to a wide range of dishes.

What form does it come in?

Nowadays coriander comes in many forms including:

  • Whole seeds
  • Ground Powder
  • Fresh Leaves (cilantro)
  • Dried Leaves
  • Essential Oil
  • Coriander Paste

When dried the coriander seeds can be used whole in many cuisines. They have a round shape and a golden-brown color. Whole coriander seeds are often toasted or ground to release their aromatic flavors before use.

To make coriander powder you need to grind the dried seeds until they become a fine powder. It is a staple spice in many spice blends, curries, and marinades. Ground coriander is widely available in grocery stores and spice markets.

Cilantro (the leaves and stems of the coriander plant) is commonly used in its fresh form. The bright green leaves have a distinctive flavor and aroma. Fresh cilantro is often used as a garnish or added to dishes near the end of cooking to preserve its freshness.

Coriander essential oil is extracted from the seeds of the coriander plant. It has a concentrated flavor and is used sparingly in cooking, as well as in perfumes, soaps, and aromatherapy.

Coriander paste is made by grinding fresh coriander leaves and stems along with other ingredients like garlic, ginger, and spices. It is used as a base for marinades, sauces, and curries, adding a fresh and aromatic flavor.

It’s worth noting that fresh forms, such as whole seeds, fresh leaves, and coriander paste, generally provide the most vibrant flavors, while dried forms like ground powder and dried leaves offer convenience and longer shelf life.

Ground Coriander Powder

Ground Coriander Powder – use in soups, stews and marinades.

Perfect for Asian, Indian and Middle Eastern dishes.

This product is also organic, Non-GMO, gluten-free, no sugar or additives.

14 ounces of flavor in a resealable container.

Is Coriander good for you?

Yes, coriander is considered to be good for you and offers several health benefits.

It is a good source of various nutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin A, potassium, and dietary fiber. And it also contains antioxidants and small amounts of minerals like iron and magnesium.

It has been traditionally used to support digestion. It may help stimulate enzyme secretion, improve digestion, and alleviate symptoms like bloating and discomfort. The fiber content in coriander can also promote healthy bowel movements.

It contains certain compounds with anti-inflammatory properties, such as cineole and linoleic acid. These compounds may help reduce inflammation in the body and potentially benefit conditions like arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.

The antioxidants found in coriander, including flavonoids and phenolic compounds, may help protect against oxidative stress caused by free radicals. This antioxidant activity can contribute to overall health and may have protective effects against chronic diseases.

Some studies suggest that coriander may have hypoglycemic properties and could help regulate blood sugar levels. However, more research is needed to establish the extent of its effects in this regard.

It has been shown to have potential cholesterol-lowering effects in animal studies. It may help reduce total cholesterol and triglyceride levels while increasing levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol. These effects may contribute to heart health, but further research is required.

Flavor profile of Coriander

What is the Coriander flavor profile? Coriander has a complex flavor profile that combines citrusy, earthy, and slightly sweet notes.

The leaves (cilantro) have a fresh, bright, and citrus-like flavor. It is often described as being similar to a blend of lemon and parsley. This citrusy aspect adds a zesty and refreshing quality to dishes.

The seeds have a warm and earthy flavor with subtle hints of nuttiness. The earthiness contributes to a deeper and more aromatic dimension to the overall taste.

It also has subtle floral and herbal undertones. Some people describe it as having a mild floral note that complements its citrus and earthy characteristics. To be perfectly honest, whenever I first tasted coriander (cilantro) I hated it as I thought it tasted too much like perfume! But over the years as I have tried cooking many different styles of cuisine and I am happy to say that I am now a lover of coriander and cilantro.

The seeds can have a mild spiciness, although it is not overpowering. There is a delicate peppery quality that adds a pleasant and subtle kick to dishes.

It is known for its strong aroma, which is often described as fresh, pungent, and fragrant. The aroma is released when the seeds are crushed or ground, and it adds depth to the overall sensory experience of coriander.

The combination of these flavors and aromas makes coriander a versatile ingredient that can enhance the taste of various dishes. It is particularly popular in curries, salsas, salads, soups, and marinades, where it adds a unique and vibrant element to the overall flavor profile.

Cooking with Coriander

Coriander is a versatile herb and spice that can be used in various ways in cooking. Here are some ideas and tips for cooking:

  1. Fresh Leaves as a Garnish – sprinkle chopped fresh leaves on top just before serving.
  2. Flavorful Marinades – combine some ground powder with other spices, herbs, garlic, ginger, and citrus juices.
  3. Spice Blends and Rubs – it is a common ingredient in spice blends like curry powder, garam masala, and chili powder.
  4. Fragrant Rice and Grain Dishes – add whole seeds to rice or grain dishes while cooking to infuse them with a delightful aroma.
  5. Salsas and Chutneys – fresh leaves can be used in salsas and chutneys, providing a vibrant flavor.
  6. Soups and Curries – fresh leaves and ground powder are often used in soups, stews, and curries for their unique flavor. Add chopped cilantro leaves to lend a fresh taste, and use the ground powder or whole seeds as a spice in curries, lentil soups, or broths.
  7. Baking and Bread – ground powder can add a subtle warmth and complexity to baked goods like bread, biscuits, and savory pastries.
  8. Coriander Paste – can be quickly added during cooking to give a hit of warmth and flavor.
  9. Coriander oil – can be used as a flavoring agent in baking, confectionary and seasonings.

Remember to adjust the amount of coriander according to your taste preferences, as its flavor can vary from mild to strong. Additionally, it pairs well with other spices like cumin, ginger, turmeric, and chili, so consider combining it with complementary flavors to create delicious and well-balanced dishes.

Common uses

Coriander is widely used in various cuisines around the world. The abundance and availability of fresh leaves, dried leaves, seeds, and ground powder makes it a staple in most kitchens. Mexican cuisine, Indian dishes, Middle Eastern cuisine and Southeast Asian cuisine all use coriander and cilantro to add freshness, taste and colour. You can also use them in salsa, chutneys, salads and dressings.

But did you know that coriander has other uses?

  1. Herbal Medicine: Coriander has been used in traditional medicine for its potential health benefits. It contains antioxidants and has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Coriander seeds and leaves are used in various herbal remedies to aid digestion, alleviate stomach discomfort, promote detoxification, and support overall wellness.
  2. Aromatherapy: Coriander essential oil is used in aromatherapy for its calming and soothing properties. It is believed to help reduce anxiety, stress, and promote relaxation. The oil can be diffused, added to bathwater, or used in massage oils (diluted with a carrier oil) for its aromatic benefits.
  3. Digestive Aid: Coriander is known to have carminative properties, which can help relieve digestive issues such as bloating, gas, and indigestion. It is commonly used in traditional remedies and herbal teas to support healthy digestion.
  4. Culinary Preservative: Coriander seeds and leaves have natural preservative properties. They contain compounds that can help inhibit the growth of certain foodborne bacteria and fungi. Incorporating coriander into recipes or using coriander-infused oils can help extend the shelf life of certain foods.
  5. Culinary Crafts: Coriander seeds can be used in culinary crafts such as pickling, brining, or creating flavored oils and vinegars. These can add a unique and aromatic twist to dishes or be used for homemade gifts.
  6. Skincare: Coriander has been used in skincare products for its potential antibacterial and soothing properties. It can be found in facial cleansers, toners, and creams to help cleanse, refresh, and calm the skin.
  7. Insect Repellent: Coriander has been reported to have insect-repelling properties. The aroma of coriander leaves or essential oil is believed to repel certain insects. It can be used as a natural alternative to chemical insecticides.
  8. Animal Feed: Coriander seeds are sometimes used in animal feed, particularly for poultry and livestock. They can provide flavor and potential health benefits to the animals.

Other alternatives

Finally, if you are looking for an alternative to fresh coriander then you could consider using cilantro leaves, coriander seeds, coriander powder, cumin, or basil. Each can bring a slightly different flavor to your dish.

Have a look at our substitutes section for ideas on what other herb you can use in place of coriander.