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Ingredient Spotlight: Cilantro

August 18, 2014, 2:00 pm

Cilantro is a versatile (yet controversial) herb with roots stemming back to medieval times and popular in many Mediterranean and Asian dishes. The plant, known as Coriandum sativum, produces the herb known as cilantro as well as seeds known as coriander. Cilantro is native to regions spanning from southern Europe and North Africa to southwestern Asia, influencing cuisines such as South/Southeast Asian, Indian, Portuguese, Russian, Middle Eastern, Spanish, Latin American, Tex-Mex, Chinese, and African.

With a pungent scent and citrusy flavor, cilantro is not as widely accepted as one may assume. In fact, many people associate the flavor of cilantro with soap, hand lotion, or even bugs. There is even an "I Hate Cilantro" blog on the internet, allowing those who mutually detest the green herb to band together and share their feelings of disgust. Anthropology and genetics research has investigated this phenomenon; though there is no clear-cut reason, it is likely a genetic predisposition. Because of the native history locating cilantro to the eastern Mediterranean region and during the Middle Ages, it can be assumed that peasants (or serfs) had to tend to these plants for their lords to enjoy. When medieval dishes fell out of fashion with the end of the Middle Ages, serfs likely destroyed cilantro plants in an effort to push out the flavors of old (as well as in defiance against the lords) to pave the way for the new flavors of European cuisine (which most certainly did not contain cilantro). Disparaging cilantro in this way may have affected the genetic structure of the population at that time, influencing their decedents today. In an effort to survive, the body’s primal instinct may be to shun certain flavors or aromas due to anything from lack of availability to poisonous properties. Additionally, flavor chemists have found aroma and flavor molecules in cilantro that are similar to ones found in soaps, lotions, and residue from certain bugs. So, it makes sense why cilantrophobes detest this otherwise fresh and delicious herb so much.

Nutritionally, cilantro contains antioxidants and polyphenols, which can help reduce infection, prevent disease, and may reduce the inflammatory response. The leaves also contain essential volatile oils, fiber, and vitamins. In fact, 100g (less than 4 oz) of cilantro contains 30% the daily value of Vitamin C, 225% the daily value of vitamin A, and 258% the daily value for vitamin K. Additionally, cilantro contains good amounts (more than 10%) the daily value of folate, vitamin B6, iron, and manganese. Some believe the nutritious properties of cilantro provide digestive health benefits, relieve gas, and could even provide some relief from pain.

Cilantro is a great flavor enhancer for chicken, fish, pork, and vegetable dishes as well as in sauces, stews, soups, and pestos. Garnish with cilantro for a punch of freshness and color, or let it steep in a liquid to draw out the oils and provide an evenness of citrus-herb flavor. For more ways to use cilantro, type "cilantro" into the search feature found on www.The-Sage.org!

Happy Eating!

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