The green herb, cilantro (also knwon as coriander and Chinese parsley), has been cultivated in Egypt, India and China for thousands of years.
Cilantro even get a mention in Sanskrit text and the Bible. You can thank the Spanish conquistadors for introducing it to Mexico and Peru, where it became an essential part of Latin cuisine. Cilantro went on to become a familiar flavoring in Asian, Caribbean, Middle Eastern and Indian foods.
It's easy to confuse the appearance of cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) with flat leaf Italian parsley, but one sniff will set you straight. You can eat the entire plant leaves, stems, seeds and all. While fresh cilantro is available in many supermarkets, it also grows quickly and easily in a pot. Like many herbs, cilantro has a reputation for being an antibacterial. This makes sense when you consider the tradition of sofrito, a cooking base that stars tomatoes and herbs like cilantro used in a number of cultural cuisines. Before refrigeration, such herbs might have helped fend off foodborne illness.
Cilantro offers many health-protective benefits. Two separate studies traced cilantro's antimicrobial properties to specific plant compounds and its essential oil. Among a number of compounds that scientists isolated from cilantro, dodecenal shows particularly effective bactericidal activity against Salmonella, a common cause of food borne illness.
Cilantro - or coriander - has served as a traditional treatment for diabetes and cholesterol. Now researchers have found that coriander extract incorporated into the diet of diabetic mice reduces hyperglycemia. Cilantro also may possess anti-inflammatory action.
The health protective benefits of cilantro may be due to their rich phytonutrient profile that scientists are beginning to identify. These include carvone, geraniol, limonene, borneol, camphor, elemol and linalool; the flavonoids quercitin, kaempferol, rhamnetin and epigenin; and phenolic acid compounds like caffeic and chlorogenic acid. Many of these plant compounds have shown beneficial effects such as protecting cells from oxidative damage.
Selecting and Using Cilantro
You can usually find fresh cilantro year round at your supermarket. Select cilantro that is crisp and deep green, without signs of wilting or yellowing. Before you store cilantro, rinse it well and place it moist (but not wet) in a plastic bag for up to one week in the refrigerator.
Enjoy cilantro by the handful. The zesty flavor of cilantro blends well with a number of spicy and crunchy foods. Try it in salads, slaws, stews, soups, stir-fries, curries, Mexican dishes, marinades, dips and pestos. If you've got a bunch of cilantro, don't let it go to waste - let it make your dishes sizzle with aroma, flavor and health benefits.
One-quarter cup fresh leaves equals:
- Calories: 1
- Vitamin A: 270 International Units (5 percent DV)
- Vitamin C: 1.1 milligrams (2 percent DV)
- Vitamin K: 12.4 micrograms (16 percent DV)
- Beta-carotene: 157 micrograms
- Lutein and zeaxanthin: 35 micrograms
DV = Daily Value
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