What is Coriander?
Coriander is an incredibly versatile culinary plant. It's seeds, leaves and root can all be used to impart it's unique mild flavour.
What does Coriander taste like?
Coriander has a flavour reminiscent of pine and citrus with mild almost aniseed like notes. The leaves of coriander carry a slight bitterness along with this, while the seeds can have a slightly nutty flavour. To some people coriander can taste like soap, this is because of a certain gene that is present in the population,
What is Coriander used for?
Coriander seeds with their aromatic and citrus notes are a vital part of many cuisines today. Ground coriander can often serve to balance the more pungent and sweet components of a dish. If a dish is too spicy, adding some ground coriander seeds can tone down the heat to a manageable level.
In India the seeds can be prepared and eaten whole as a snack. When ground the seeds are often paired with cumin as a base for many curries.
Coriander is also a common flavorant in Mexican and other Latin American cuisine, where it’s fresh citric notes can help balance the hot chillies commonly found in their dishes. In European cooking coriander seeds are commonly used in pickling and preserving vegetables such as cucumbers. Dried or fresh coriander leaves make an effective garnish in many different cuisines.
Thai cooking is unique in utilising the strongly flavoured roots in the traditional red and green curry pastes as well as stir fried dishes like pad Thai, serving to balance the sweet, salty and sour notes of many Thai dishes.
We love coriander so here's some of our recipes making the most of this essential spice:
- Butternut squash & aubergine bhuna served with pilau rice and chapatis
- Thai red curry with green beans, aubergine and Shiitake mushrooms
Names and Origins
Coriander is native to southern Europe and West Asia where it grows wild. The leaves and seeds are used across many cuisines but the roots are also edible, providing a more intense flavour which is often utilised in Thai curries. The name coriander is thought to derive from the ancient Greek word koriannon which is itself perhaps derived from the word kóris, meaning bed bug, which refers to the sweet slightly foetid aroma the unripe plant can give off, not dissimilar to that of bed bugs. The Latin name is Coriandrum sativum, meaning cultivated coriander. In the US, the leaves and stems are called cilantro when used as a herb.
The plant has been found in association with human settlements perhaps as far back as 7000 BCE , with more concrete references being found in Egyptian and Biblical texts. It was said to be grown in the hanging gardens of Babylon. By 2000 BCE coriander was widely cultivated in Greece as both a herb and a spice. In the middle ages it was used as a component of love potions and other folk remedies.
Despite originating around the Mediterranean, coriander has become utilised in cuisines worldwide and is now grown in many different countries. Today India is by far the largest producer of coriander, producing over 70% of the global crop. Mexico, Syria, Iran and China also produce notable quantities.
The plant grows wild across much of the Middle east and west Asia. It is a fairly fragile plant which grows up to 50cm tall with broad leaves and small white flowers at the top. The fruit is a small dry seed which can then be toasted to develop its complex flavours. Coriander is an annual herb which prefers moist but well drained soils.