The herb that is called cilantro in the US is called coriander in many other parts of the world. Coriander has been cultivated as a spice and as a medicinal herb for thousands of years and it is mentioned in ancient scripts from India and from Egypt. In the Middle Ages in Europe it was used in love potions, and in China it was believed to give one the ability to conquer death.
Coriander seeds are a common ingredient in South Asian cuisine. In India (where it is called dhania) coriander seeds are added to many foods, not just for flavor, but also to stimulate digestion. Most herbs and spices that are used in Indian cooking have two purposes, to add to the flavor of the food and to add their health benefits. Most South Asian spices have an effect on the digestive system: they can stimulate digestion, relieve flatulence, help the digestive system to function after a heavy or fatty meal, or to relieve or prevent nausea. Coriander helps the digestive system and stimulates digestion, and it can also stimulate appetite.
For some, coriander is an aqcuired taste, but the seeds that are used whole or grounded have quite a different flavor compared with the fresh herb. Fresh cilantro leaves can be used in salads and to garnish foods. The seeds are an essential ingredient in certain Indian foods and are used in the mix of spices that is called garam masala. Every Indian household has its own mix of spices and there are also regional variations, but some of the spices that make up a garam masala include coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cloves, cardamom, black pepper and cinnamon.
Coriander is also added to certain liquers, including Benedictine and Chartreuse, and some types of gin.
- Add fresh cilantro leaves to salads and use them as a garnish.
- In South Asia, coriander leaves are used in many foods but are cooked for long periods of time to make the flavor milder and less offensive to those who find it too overpowering.
- Use the seeds (whole or powder) in Asian foods, especially Indian food, in soups, lentil stews (dhal), vegetarian foods and to spice up a tomato chutney. In Asian cooking, the seeds are often roasted before adding them to food.
- Chewing whole seeds is believed to improve appetite, to stimulate digestion and to relieve flatulence. An infusion (tea) made with coriander seeds can do the same trick.
- In India, whole coriander seeds are roasted and served as a snack.
Lesley Bremness: The Complete Book of Herbs (Studio, 1994)
Patricia Davis: Aromatherapy, an A-Z (Random House, UK, 2004)