Described as having a pungent taste or soapy smell, cilantro is an herb that is widely used in many cuisines around the world. Cilantro is known by many names such as Coriandrum sativum and Mexican or Chinese parsley. Although the entire plant is sometimes referred to as coriander, this can be misleading because the name coriander is actually referring to the dried seeds of the plant, while the leafy part is actually cilantro.
Cilantro is native to southern Europe and the western Mediterranean region and is one of the oldest spices mentioned in history. It was originally grown around present day Greece and was cultivated by ancient Egyptians and Romans for culinary and medicinal purposes. References to this herb can also be found in Sanskrit texts and the Bible. According to The Epicentre, in ancient Greece, the name coriandrum, which comes from “coris” or the Greek word for bedbug, was used because they smelled similar.
Cilantro is an annual plant that grows best in dry climates, while tolerating full or partial sunlight. It requires well-drained soil and limited amounts of fertilizer because excess nitrogen can interfere with the flavor of the leaves and delay ripening of the seeds. Although it can grow to 2 to 3 feet, the leaves should be harvested when the plant is at least 8 inches tall to obtain the best flavor. Fresh cilantro should be harvested when the leaves are bright green in color with firm stems.
You can acquire a lot of nutrients from eating cilantro. It is rich in antioxidants and many of the minerals are necessary for proper bodily functions. For example, 9 sprigs or 20 grams of cilantro provides 104 milligrams of potassium, which aids in regulating blood pressure. Cilantro has 13 milligrams of calcium and 62 micrograms of vitamin K, which helps maintain strong bones. Cilantro is also a source of vitamin A and C, beta carotene and folate.
The leaves, seeds and roots of the cilantro are all edible. It is always used as a fresh ingredient in Indian, Caribbean, Asian, Mexican, Spanish and South American cuisines. Cilantro is used to add flavor to meats, soups, curries and chutneys. In Mexico and the southwestern United States it is a vital ingredient in salsas, salads and burritos. When using this herb for cooking remove any yellow or bruised leaves and store in the refrigerator in a plastic storage bag or wrapped in a damp paper towel.
In addition to culinary uses, cilantro also has medicinal properties. Studies indicate that it can prevent food poisoning due to a compound called dodecanol, which kills salmonella bacteria. Gourmet Sleuth suggests that cilantro also stimulates the appetite, aids the digestive process by encouraging the secretion of gastric juices and the seeds may help lower cholesterol.
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