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What is cilantro?
Cilantro is the leaves of the plant Coriandrum Sativum, which can be found growing pretty much anywhere in the world. Mostly found in South American, Asian, Spanish, and Middle Eastern cooking, cilantro gives dishes a fresh, herby taste that some people love, and some people absolutely loathe!
According to certain medical studies, some people may have a genetic predisposition that changes the way cilantro is perceived by their taste buds, making it taste metallic, or like soap. This might explain why the taste of cilantro is so polarising.
Coriander vs cilantro
Is coriander the same as cilantro? The short answer to this is yes, they are the same plant, but it goes a little bit deeper than that. Cilantro is the leaf of the young coriander plant and is only used as a leaf. However, the whole coriander plant can be used in cooking. These days, the term coriander refers to the seeds of the plant, while cilantro is more widely used for the leaf.
From its leaves to its roots and seeds, the coriander plant is a very versatile herb that can impart many different flavours to a dish. Lightly toasted coriander seeds are used in a variety of dishes but are mostly used as an aromatic for use in soups, stocks, pickling brine, and braising liquid. You can also grind them up into a powder for a concentrated, citrusy burst of flavour.
The stalks of the coriander plant, while not having as much flavour as the leaves, can be chopped up and mixed into a salad, soup, stock, or whatever dish you can imagine, adding a bit of a slightly crunchy texture with a hint of cilantro.
Why the different terms?
Cilantro is actually a Spanish term that has spread to mean the leaves of the coriander plant. Because of this, most Australians don’t know that cilantro is actually the same as coriander.
In the United Kingdom and British cuisine, coriander is used to refer to the whole plant, while coriander seeds are just called coriander seeds, with the word “cilantro” not appearing in their vocabulary. This is also true for many European countries—except for Spain, of course—who refer to cilantro in variations of the word “coriander. In Australia, coriander is also the preferred word for the plant, following the European standard.
In the United States and South and Central America, cilantro is the word used for the leaves, while coriander generally refers to the seeds. This is because cilantro is a Spanish word, and is a staple in Mexican and Latin cuisine, which is incredibly popular in the United States.
Many other countries have their own words for cilantro, like “dhaniya” in Hindi, as it is used very widely in Indian cuisine. Vietnam calls it “ngò,” and the Philippines refers to it as “wansoy,”.
Where can you find cilantro?
Cilantro may be one of the first herbs mankind has ever used in cooking, with Sanskrit records of it going as far back as 1500 BC. Today, you can find cilantro in most parts of the world, barring countries where it isn’t really used in their culture’s food, such as Japan, and countries where freezing temperatures are the norm, such as Greenland.
However, in most places cilantro is very easy to come by and can be found in the produce section of most grocery stores, though you may want to have a fresher option and seek out farmers markets that sell fresh produce.
Is there a substitute for cilantro?
Tons of people have a deep-seated dislike for cilantro, so if you’re cooking for someone who might not like it or if you don’t like it yourself, you may want to find a suitable cilantro substitute.
Cilantro tastes pretty similar to parsley. You can basically replace cilantro one-to-one with parsley, and add a spritz of lemon or lime juice to emulate the citrus flavour. Be warned though, that cilantro and parsley have different textures, so it can make a difference in the finished product.
In certain dishes, it is possible to replace cilantro with basil, but certain types of basil can add a completely different taste, while others are a great substitute for cilantro. Italian basil has a very distinct and strong flavour, so it may not be the best substitute for cilantro in a recipe. Thai basil, on the other hand, has a flavour that is a little bit spicy and light and is a perfect substitute for cilantro in dishes such as curry, soups, and stocks.
If you really want to emulate the flavour of cilantro but don’t have access to it or don’t like its taste, you can mix herbs that have similar flavour profiles to achieve the same result. Chopping parsley, dill, oregano, and a little bit of tarragon together can add notes of cilantro with a little bit more pop and pizzaz.
Cilantro is a versatile herb that can add a very distinct to your dishes and is a great addition to your kitchen arsenal. However, while cilantro is an amazing ingredient, you should be aware of its polarising effect. If you’re cooking for somebody new, it may be best to use a cilantro substitute if you don’t know whether they like it or not.
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