What is Coriander (Cilantro)?

Coriandrum sativum L.

Carrot Family: Umbelliferae (Apiaceae)

Also known as Cilantro, Chinese parsley, Coariandre, Coriander, Koriander.

Coriander is an aromatic herb of the parsley or carrot family whose leaves and roots are used as a herb and the seeds are used as a spice in whole or ground form.

It’s an extremely variable and branched annual herb, easily propagated by seed and growing to 50-160 (0.5-1.5m) high. It has small white or violet pink flowers arranged in an umbrella shape. The fragrance and aroma of coriander is due to presence of organic compounds called aldehydes.

All parts of the plant, including the roots are edible although the fresh leaves (cilantro) and seeds are most frequently used.

Although coriander seeds and leaves (cilantro) come from the same plant, they taste quite different. The leaves are described as pungently fragrant and the seed is described as warm and nutty with a citrus flavour, especially when crushed. The lemony citrus flavour is due to presence of the terpenes linalool and pinene.

Coriander Leaves 

The leaves have a pungent fragrance which seems to be either hated or loved by different people . I started eating coriander before I could walk or speak, so I’ve known it all my life and I really love it.

Coriander Seeds 

The so called coriander seeds are actually the dried fruits of  the coriander (cilantro) herb. They are globular in shape, are either small (1.5-3mm) in diameter or large (3-5mm) in diameter. They are botanically called a schizocarp.

The small fruited varieties are mainly grown in the temperate regions and are mainly used to extract essential oils and the large fruited varieties are mainly grown in the tropics and are used as a spice in whole or ground form.

Coriander seeds can be used in whole or in ground (powdered) form. They are used in various cuisines, worldwide.

Roasting the seeds in a dry pan enhances flavour, aroma and pungency. Ground coriander loses flavour in storage and is best roasted and ground or crushed, and used fresh.

What are coriander leaves used for?

Drying or freezing coriander leaves diminishes their flavour and aroma so coriander leaves are always used fresh. The leaves are also very perishable so should be bought in small quantities.

Coriander leaves are best used raw or added at the end of cooking because heat diminishes their flavour and fragrance.

Coriander Leaves-Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) myfavouritepastime.com

Fresh coriander leaves are a key ingredient in Mexcan, SE Asian, Chinese, Latin American,  and African cuisine. Both the leaves (cilantro) and seeds are used extensively in India for cooking, flavouring and garnishing foods.

The leaves can be used to flavour and garnish fish, seafood, meat, poultry,  salads, soups and stews.

Chopped coriander leaves can be added salsas, guacamoles, legume or rice salads, stir fries, hot cooked rice, grilled chicken, fish or beef.

Coriander leaves are not  used in extensively in Europe or Japan, except in Portugal.

What are coriander seeds used for?

Coriander Seeds (Coriandrum sativum) myfavouritepastime.com

Coriander seeds are pungently spicy yet sweet and slightly fruity. with have a pleasant spicy aroma so they can be used in sweet and savoury dishes like soups, curries, stews, roasts, casseroles, salad dressings, breads, cakes, or with poultry, meat, fish and pork.

Both the leaves (cilantro) and seeds used extensively in India for cooking, flavouring and garnishing foods.

Ground coriander is a component of many different spice mixtures including garam masala, various curries, mixed spice, curry powder, dhana jeera, harissa and pilau masala.

Ground Coriander Seeds (Coriandrum sativum) myfavouritepastime.com

Coriander seeds are also widely used in pickling vegetables.

In Germany and South Africa they are used to spice Boerewors sausage.

Coriander seeds can also be used in brewing certain styles of beer especially Belgian wheat beers in combination with orange peel.

They can also be added to savoury pickles, chutneys or casseroles and can be used in cakes and other baked goodies. Crushed whole coriander seeds are delicious for flavouring homemade burgers.

Notes on Botany

Because the species is extremely variable with regard to seed size and shape, content of essential oil and characters like height, branching and vegetation period, several subclassifications have been proposed. (PROTA)


Author: Liz

I love everything food: eating, cooking, baking and travelling. I also love photography and nature.

11 thoughts

        1. Oh of course garlic and cilantro go together. Strong minded and true to each other. Raw garlic is very strongly flavoured but once cooked the flavour mellows especially roasted garlic. Have a great week!

        2. So true my husband loves roasted garlic..:) When I cook I usually separate a bit of food for me when the recipe calls for garlic because I don’t eat it. 🙂

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