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Cilantro is an herb that is also known by the names coriander, Arabic parsley and Chinese parsley. The herb’s leaves are specifically identified as cilantro, not the seeds or flower heads. Cilantro has a unique flavor that people seem to either enjoy or despise, with no middle ground, and some people have even described it as an acquired taste. Preference doesn’t appear to depend on a sophisticated palate; famed chef Julia Child once told an interviewer that, for her, cilantro had a “dead taste,” and she’d rather toss it to the floor than eat it. People who enjoy the herb make different varieties of cilantro salad that variously include such main ingredients as tomatoes, beans, seafood, walnuts, cucumbers, avocados and roasted potatoes, among other ingredients.
Experienced cooks say the flavor of cilantro can be improved by using only the fresh herb in cilantro salad and other dishes, and also by limiting the amount used. Others state the taste can be lessened greatly by crushing it before use in cilantro salad and main dishes. Still others, though, seek out cilantro specifically for its pungent flavor and include it in their recipes because it complements other strong ingredients, such as those used frequently in Mexican food and Asian cilantro salad.
Cooking with cilantro can be a pleasure if you enjoy fresh herbs, but cooks should be aware of any allergies their guests may have. Some people are sensitive to certain herbs, including cilantro, and their allergies can manifest themselves in a number of different ways. Their tongues may feel funny and begin to tingle, they may break out in itchy hives or they could suffer from stomach cramping and other gastrointestinal distress. A severe reaction could affect breathing and would require immediate medical help.
Cooks who prefer fresh cilantro but can’t obtain it sometimes substitute such ingredients as recao or culantro, which is native to tropical climates, and rau ram, a coriander grown in Vietnam. Another herb, papalo, also can be substituted, and some varieties come from Mexico and Bolivia. Cooking at home with cilantro and these other herbs doesn’t require travel to far off lands; many of these herbs can easily be grown in the home garden.
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