Cilantro 101 – The Basics

The popularity of cilantro has grown tremendously in recent times, yet it has been used by mankind for literally thousands of years. Its health benefits as an herb are second to none, so it is being included in many dishes, smoothies, and beverages not only for its flavor, but also for its healthful properties. If you’re wondering what this herb is, why it’s beneficial for your health, and what to do with it, you’re in the right place! Below is a lot of information that should help you.


Cilantro 101 – The Basics

About Cilantro
Cilantro, or Coriandrum sativum, is known by two names: cilantro and coriander. It is related to carrots, celery and parsley. Americans usually refer to the small round seeds as coriander, and the green plant as cilantro. In Europe, the entire plant (including the seed) is called cilantro. The entire plant is edible: roots, stems, leaves, flowers, and seeds. Because we use the green plant and the seeds, cilantro or coriander is considered to be both an herb and a spice.

The plant has been used for thousands of years for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Early physicians, including Hippocrates, used coriander as a medicine. The use of coriander has been traced back to 5,000 B.C. and is one of the world’s oldest known spices.

Cilantro is native to the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions, and has been used in Asian countries for thousands of years. More recently, cilantro has become a favorite component of Tex-Mex foods. It is also used in Asian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Latin American, North African, Caribbean, and Scandinavian cuisines. In China, it is known as Chinese parsley.

The cilantro plant is either loved for its gentle citrus notes in the flavor, or hated for its perceived soap-like taste. According to recent research, genetics seems to play a role in the taste perception of this long revered herb. Apparently, more people love the herb than hate it, since it is commonly found in many grocery stores. For those who enjoy the flavor, it pairs well with spicy foods and tropical fruits.

The roots of the cilantro plant impart a different flavor than the leaves or seeds. The deep earthy flavor of the roots blends well in a popular Thai seasoning mix where cilantro roots are pounded with garlic and white peppercorns.

Coriander seeds are small yellowish-brown, round seeds. They can be used whole or ground. Coriander seeds have a flavor that is sweet and citrusy with a slight hint of pepper. The seeds are often used in Indian, Middle Eastern, and Asian cuisines. The seed is also used in pickling and brining.

Nutrition and Health Properties of Cilantro
One-fourth cup of chopped cilantro has all of 1 calorie! It contains a lot of Vitamin K with small amounts of folate, potassium, manganese, choline, and an array of antioxidants. The nutrients found in cilantro coupled with its antioxidants pack a powerful punch for our health. Some of the benefits are as follows:

Removes toxins and improves digestion: Ancient Chinese and Babylonians used cilantro for its medicinal properties. It is known to help remove toxins from the digestive tract, and aid digestion, relieving pain from intestinal gas. Cilantro is also known to soothe inflammation in treating urinary tract infections.

Relieves stress, headaches and nausea: Cilantro is also known to help relieve stress, headaches, and nausea.

Blood sugar control: In Europe, cilantro is known as the “anti-diabetic” plant as it can help to control blood sugar.

Reduces formation of heterocyclic amines in meats: Research has shown that cooking meats with cilantro reduces the formation of heterocyclic amines. These compounds promote the formation of cancer. Thus, cooking meats with cilantro can help reduce your risk for certain cancers.

Antifungal Properties: Research has demonstrated that the essential oil of cilantro leaves has anti-fungal properties. Ongoing research is testing the effects of cilantro oil on Candida albicans. The results showed that cilantro oil did have effects on C. albicans and more research was suggested.

Natural Preservative: Cilantro is high in antioxidants. Because of this, the essential oil extracted from cilantro leaves has been shown to inhibit oxidation (spoilage due to interaction with oxygen) when mixed with other foods, acting as a type of preservative.

Heavy Metal Detoxification: Research has found that cilantro helps to suppress lead accumulation in rats. It appears to bind with heavy metals, acting as a natural chelating agent. With this finding, many people are adding cilantro to detoxifying smoothies and drinks.

Antibacterial Agent: A compound in the leaves of cilantro, dodecanal, has been found to have antibacterial effects against Salmonella. In laboratory tests, dodecanal was found to be twice as effective as the antibiotic commonly used against Salmonella.

Anti-Inflammatory Agent: Recent research has shown that extracts of coriander (seeds) can have pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects in mice. More research was suggested, so at some point, coriander extracts may be incorporated into pain and anti-inflammatory drugs.

How to Select Cilantro
Look for bright green, unwilted leaves, with no yellow or brown spots. It can be hard to distinguish cilantro from flat-leaf parsley. Cilantro leaves are a bit curlier than those of flat-leaf parsley and may be a bit lighter in color than parsley. Another way to distinguish cilantro from parsley is its aroma. Cilantro will have a stronger, more pungent aroma. When in doubt, give it a little taste.

When buying coriander seeds, opt for whole seeds rather than ground powder, which loses its flavor more quickly. The whole seeds can be ground in a powder at home with a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder, as needed. To revive their aroma, soak the whole seeds first in a bowl of cold water for 10 minutes. Drain well, then grind them and use as needed.

How to Store Cilantro
To store your (unwashed) bunch of fresh cilantro, place it stem side down in a glass or container big enough to hold it. Add some water so all the stems can get a drink, then place a plastic bag loosely over the top. Change the water every day or two. It can be stored like this in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Alternatively, you could store the cut cilantro stems with leaves loosely rolled in a length of several DRY paper towels, then place it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. If you purchased a bundle of cut cilantro, be sure to remove the rubber band or twist tie first so you can spread out the stems on your paper towels before rolling it.

How to Freeze Cilantro
Cilantro is best fresh, but it can be frozen. Many resources say the aroma is lost in the process.

Freeze cilantro, whole or chopped, in air-tight containers. Do not thaw it before use. Another way to freeze cilantro would be to chop it and place the pieces in an ice cube tray. Cover with water and freeze. Transfer to a freezer bag. Add the cubes to soups, stews, or smoothies as needed.

How to Prepare Cilantro
To use fresh cilantro, simply give it a quick rinse then pat it dry. Do not wash it until you are ready to use it. If it is visibly dirty or gritty, swish it around in a bowl of water. Drain the bowl and repeat as needed until the leaves are clean. Pat it dry, then use as needed. The leaves and stems may be used in any recipe calling for fresh cilantro.

Cooking/Serving Ideas
Cilantro is often used to flavor and to adorn salads, salsas, dips, guacamole, chutneys, pesto, beans, quesadillas, meats, fish, poultry, vegetables, sauces, egg dishes, soups, desserts, and more. When used in hot dishes, it is usually added toward the end of cooking time or sprinkled on top as a flavorful garnish. Overly cooking the herb may cause it to lose its flavor.

Quick tips for using cilantro:
* Combine chopped fresh cilantro with garlic, sea salt and unsalted butter for a homemade herb butter.

* If you don’t enjoy the flavor of cilantro, parsley can often be substituted in recipes.

* Make a delicious nut or soy milk by combining in a saucepan over low heat your nondairy milk, honey, coriander, and cinnamon.

* Add coriander seeds to liquid when poaching fish.

* Add ground coriander seeds to pancake or waffle batter.

* Put whole coriander seeds in a pepper mill and keep it on the table. It will be readily available for use at any meal.

* Use up extra cilantro by making a quick salsa, combining tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, and cilantro with a little salt.

* Add cilantro to quesadillas, tacos, fajitas and other Mexican dishes.

* Make a simple cilantro pesto with cilantro, lime juice and salt. Use in on pasta, sandwiches, tacos, fajitas, and quesadillas.

* Add extra cilantro to a green salad for a special flavor twist.

Other Herbs/Spices That Go Well With Cilantro
Basil, cardamom, cayenne, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, mint, parsley, pepper (black), and sorrel

Foods That Go Well With Cilantro
Proteins, Nuts, Seeds: Almonds, beans (esp. black), beef, chicken, chickpeas, clams, edamame, eggs, fish, lamb, lentils, nuts, peanuts, peas (black-eye), pork, pumpkin seeds, shrimp, tahini, tofu, walnuts

Vegetables: Beets, bell peppers, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, chiles, corn,* cucumbers, eggplant, greens (i.e. Mustard), jicama, mushrooms, okra, onions, peas, potatoes, scallions, squash (summer and winter), sweet potatoes, tomatillos, tomatoes, wakame (a type of seaweed), zucchini (*Yes, we know corn is actually a grain. But in many dishes, we often use corn as a vegetable, so it is commonly referred to as a vegetable or a grain.)

Fruits: Avocado, citrus, coconut, lemon, lime, mangos, melon, oranges, papaya, pears, tamarind

Grains: Corn, couscous, noodles, pasta, quinoa, rice, wheat berries

Dairy and Non-Dairy: Coconut milk, yogurt

Other: Miso, moles, mustard, oil, pesto, soy sauce, vinegar

Cilantro has been used in:
North African cuisines, Asian cuisines, Caribbean cuisines, chili, chimichurri sauce, Chinese cuisine, chutneys, curries, dips, enchiladas, fajitas, guacamole, Indian cuisine, Latin American cuisines, marinades, Mexican cuisine, moles, pad thai, pasta dishes, pestos, salad dressings, salads, sandwiches, sauces, soups (i.e. chickpea, gazpacho, tortilla), South American cuisines, Southeast Asian cuisines, tacos, Tex-Mex cuisine, Thai cuisine, and Vietnamese cuisine

Suggested Flavor Combos using Cilantro:
Combine cilantro with…
Avocado, chiles, garlic, red onions, tomatoes
Basil, chiles, garlic, lime, mint
Basil, garlic, Parmesan cheese
Carrots, lime, rice
Chiles, corn
Chiles, garlic, lime
Chiles, lime, onions, tomatillos or tomatoes
Corn, tomatoes
Garlic, ginger, rice vinegar, sesame (oil/seeds), soy sauce
Jicama, lime, onions, orange, papaya
Onions, pinto beans

Recipe Links
Corn Salad with Cilantro and Caramelized Onions

91 Bold and Savory Cilantro Recipes

40 Recipes for Cilantro Lovers

5 Ingredient Cilantro Vinaigrette

15 Ways to Use Up a Bunch of Cilantro

Cilantro Lime Chicken Thighs

Grilled Corn with Chipotle Cilantro Lime Butter

Shrimp Tacos with Kiwi Salsa

Green Goddess Salad Dressing

Fish Tacos with Peach Jalapeno Salsa

Fabulous Cilantro Pesto

Cilantro Pesto Recipe

About Judi
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.


Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

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