Coriander also known as cilantro or Chinese parsley, is an annual herb in the family Apiaceae.
It is one of the oldest herbs and spices on record.
Coriander was mentioned in the Bible, and the seeds have been found in ruins dating back to 5000 BC.
Coriander is probably native to the Middle East and southern Europe, but has also been known in Asia and the Orient for millennia.
About half a liter of coriander mericarps was recovered from the tomb of Tutankhamen, and because this plant does not grow wild in Egypt, Zohary and Hopf interpret this find as proof that coriander was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians.
This herb seems to have been cultivated in Greece since at least the second millennium BC. One of the Linear B tablets recovered from Pylos refers to the species as being cultivated for the manufacture of perfumes, it apparently was used in two forms: as a spice for its seeds and as a herb for the flavour of its leaves.
The Romans used it to flavor bread.
Coriander is mention in the Old Testament. In Exodus, chapter 16, verse 31, it says that: “And the house of Israel called the name thereof Manna: and it was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.”
Its name comes from the Greek word koris, meaning a stink bug. This is likely a reference to the strong aroma given off by the cilantro plant leaves when they are bruised.
It was introduced to Britain by the Romans, who used it in cookery and medicine, and was widely used in English cookery until the Renaissance, when the new exotic spices appeared.
Coriander plants were flourishing in Massachusetts by the early 1600’s, one of the first herbs grown by the American colonists.
Seventeenth century Frenchmen used distilled coriander to make a type of liquor.
Today, Coriander is cultivated in tropical and subtropical countries throughout the world.
The plant produces a slender, hollow stem 30 to 60 millimeters (1 to 2.5 inches) high with bipinnate leaves and small flowers.
The leaves are variable in shape, broadly lobed at the base of the plant, and slender and feathery higher on the flowering stems
The flowers are borne in small umbels, white or very pale pink, asymmetrical, with the petals pointing away from the center of the umbel longer (5–6 mm or 0.20–0.24 in) than those pointing toward it (only 1–3 mm or 0.039–0.118 in long).
The fruits, or seeds, are two semiglobular fruits joined on the commisural, or inner, sides (a schizocarp), giving the appearance of a single, smooth, nearly globular fruit about 5 millimeters (0.2 inch) in diameter. They are yellowish brown and have a mild, fragrant aroma and aromatic taste similar to a combination of lemon peel and sage.
The seeds contain from 0.1 to 1 percent essential oil; its principal component is coriandrol.
All parts of the plant are edible, but the fresh leaves and the dried seeds are the parts most traditionally used in cooking.
Coriander is used in cuisines throughout the world.
Coriander is an excelente source of dietary fiber, manganese, iron and magnesium as well. In addition, coriander leaves are rich in Vitamin C, Vitamin K and protein. They also contain small amounts of calcium, phosphorous, potassium, thiamin, niacin and carotene.
The health benefits of coriander include its use in the treatment of skin inflammation, high cholesterol levels, diarrhea, mouth ulcers, anemia, and indigestion. Coriander is also useful for menstrual disorders, smallpox, conjunctivitis, skin disorders, and blood sugar disorders, improve memory while also benefiting eye care and even fight cancer.
Most people perceive the taste of coriander leaves as a tart, lemon/lime taste, but a smaller group, of about 4–14% of people tested, think the leaves taste like bath soap, as linked to a gene which detects aldehyde chemicals also present in soap.
While often referred to as Chinese parsley in Asian cookbooks, it has a stronger, more distinct flavor than parsley.