Monday, January 19, 2015

Is It Cilantro Or Is It Coriander?





Most chefs are familiar with the seasoning coriander. Coriander is actually the small, dried fruit, often referred to as the seeds of the cilantro plant. In fact, the scientific name for cilantro is coriandrum sativum, or coriander, also known as Chinese parsley. The fresh leaves and the small dried fruit are the parts most traditionally used in cooking.

The fresh leaves are often used in South Asian and Chinese cooking as well as in Mexican cooking, particularly in salsa and guacamole.  Since heat will diminish the flavor, leaves are frequently used raw or added just before serving. The leaves lose their aroma when dried or frozen.

Coriander seed is a main ingredient in garam masala, an Indian spice, and in curries. Although the ingredients in garam masala can vary, it commonly includes coriander, black pepper, cumin, cardamom and cinnamon.  In India, roasted coriander seeds, called dhana dal, are eaten as a snack.

Coriander is used for pickling vegetables and for making sausages in Germany and South Africa. In Russia and Central Europe, the seeds are used as an alternative to caraway seeds. Even in brewing certain types of beer, particularly some Belgian wheat beers, coriander is an added flavor.

The Problem of Bolting


Cilantro is a cool season plant. It flourishes during cool nights and moderate, sunny days as in the spring and fall. But it will bolt at the first sign of hot weather. Bolting is the premature flower formation initiated by hormones within the plant system in response to high temperatures, as well as drought and starvation.  This unwelcome occurrence in leafy vegetables such as cabbage, lettuce and cilantro, takes the plant out of its leaf producing mode and switches over to flower and seed production.  

On the Big Island of Hawaii, the Volcano and other similar areas would perhaps give cilantro the longest season, provided there is adequate sunshine. Cilantro, however, is a true annual and even under the best conditions, it will send up flowers and eventually die within the year. In order to minimize the bolting effect, cilantro should not be grown during the warmer, summer months. The best time for planting would be after the summer heat from September or October until perhaps March.

There are some slow-bolting varieties, Calypso is one, that can extend cilantro’s productivity perhaps a month. Snipping off the first newly emerging flower buds may also extend the leafy period, but only slightly. 
 
Like many plants, coriander may contain properties useful in the treatment of Type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol.  Research is presently investigating these claims and other medicinal attributes of coriander.