Health Benefits of Cilantro and Coriander Seeds


North Americans are familiar with cilantro, the green leaves of the coriander plant. Cilantro is a herb used to season salsas, pico de gallo, and dips, and to garnish tacos and Mexican-inspired food.

Europeans are usually familiar with coriander seeds. Each coriander pod yields two yellowish-brown ridged seeds, which can be used whole or ground as a spice. The name coriander comes from the Greek word koris, meaning “bug.” Unripe coriander has a “buggy” smell, but ripe coriander has rich, tangerine-like scents that most (but not all) consumers find appealing.

What Are the Key Nutritional Benefits of Cilantro and Coriander Seeds?

The chemical that gives both cilantro (the leaf) and coriander (the seed) their distinctive, mildly citrusy flavour is a compound called 2-dodecenal. It also appears, oddly enough, in chicken fat, dairy products, the secretions of a millipede called Rhinocricus insulates, and in the essential oils of lemon and orange peel. Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley have discovered that 2-dodecenal is a potent antibiotic, especially against Salmonella infections. It also possesses antiviral and antifungal properties.

When you sprinkle cilantro on your taco or you eat it with your enchiladas, you give your digestive tract an added layer of protection against the bacteria that can cause food poisoning.

There is also a variety of antioxidants in raw cilantro that stimulate the release of insulin, helping keep down blood sugar levels, and, at least in laboratory studies with mice, lower cholesterol and triglycerides. The useful compounds in the leaf, that lower blood lipids and blood sugar levels, seem to be in the essential oils, so they would be destroyed by cooking, especially cooking at high temperatures.

The volatile oil of cilantro leaf and cilantro seed (again, when they are not cooked) also contain significant amounts of a variety of antioxidants, including borneol, camphor, carvone, elemol, epigenin, limonene, linalool, quercetin, and rhamnetin, as well as caffeic acid and chlorogenic acid.

Quercetin is useful in quelling allergies. It stops the release of histamine into the soft tissues of the nose and throat and the result of this means that allergic reactions simply do not occur. Caffeic and chlorogenic acids are more famous as components of green coffee extract. They both slow down the absorption of sugars after a meal and put the brakes on the release of insulin from the pancreas. Combined with calorie restriction, this increases the likelihood that fats will be burned rather than stored. Cilantro contains much less caffeic acid and chlorogenic acid than green coffee extract, but is free of caffeine which can cause stomach upset in some people.

What Health Issues Are Especially Responsive to Cilantro and Coriander?

There aren't any health conditions that can be cured by eating either cilantro or coriander, but they are a healthy addition to the diet of anyone who is not allergic to them.

Where Does Coriander Fit into the Families of Vegetables?

Coriander has been cultivated in India for nearly 5,000 years, longer than any other member of the plant family ‘Apiaceae', also known as the ‘Umble Family'. Plants that are closely related to coriander and cilantro include parsley, the South American root vegetable arracacha, celery, chervil, cumin, dill, fennel, lovage, and sea holly. Unlike other members of this plant family, cilantro tastes best when combined with veggies from other families, allowing its unique flavours to come out.

What Is the Best Way to Eat Cilantro and Coriander Raw?

Cilantro is a relatively fragile herb. You should only buy or pick cilantro that is vibrantly green, free of yellow or brown spots, and standing upright in a bundle rather than limping out toward the sides of the bunch. It is best not to wash it until just before you're ready to use the herb. Place it in the refrigerator with its roots or stem ends in a glass of water so as to keep it fresh. When it is time to use the cilantro, be sure to wash it from top to bottom and then bottom to top. This procedure makes sure all dirt, mold, and bacteria, are completely removed.

Coriander loses its scent when it is stored in ground form. Buy coriander seeds and grind them (in a food processor, a spice grinder, or mortar/metate) just before you are ready to use them. Soaking the seeds for five to ten minutes before grinding will release some of the aromatic oils that otherwise would be locked in.

What Is the Best Way to Use Cilantro and Coriander Seed in Salads?

Very few people nibble on cilantro or coriander. However, both forms of the plant make an interesting addition to many salads. You can sprinkle whole coriander seeds onto sliced tomatoes. Keeping coriander seeds in a spice mill or pepper mill is another way to add them to salads, allowing people to shake them on as desired.

What Is the Best Way to Cook with Cilantro?

Both cilantro and coriander are used to flavour soups and stews. The herb cilantro is typically used to complement lighter flavours, while coriander complements heavy, more savoury tastes.

Millions of Mexican mothers use coriander to flavour horchata, a rice milk beverage made with cinnamon, coriander, vanilla, and honey. Cilantro is used to make arroz verde, or green rice, which uses equal parts of cilantro and spinach, and twice the amount of rice seasoned with salt, garlic, and butter. Middle Eastern and South Asian cooks serve spinach sautéed in clarified butter or cooking oil with garbanzo beans, coriander seeds, garlic, ginger, and cumin.

What Are Some Ways to Make Cilantro More Interesting?

A popular dip in the American Southwest is made with cilantro and/or coriander seed, and white chocolate. Most Europeans find the taste combination strange, but people on both sides of the Atlantic find it irresistible.

How Do I Get Kids to Like Coriander or Cilantro?

Some kids really do hate cilantro. They will pick every leaf of coriander out of salsa or tacos. Some adults really hate cilantro too, claiming it tastes like soap.

Researchers have discovered that for some people cilantro does taste like soap, due the presence of a gene called OR6A2. This gene codes proteins that work in a receptor for a group of chemicals in cilantro called aldehydes. If a child or adult has this gene it's unfortunate, and there isn't any way to make cilantro taste better for them. Fortunately, you can always make similar dishes for them without using cilantro or coriander.

How Long Does Cilantro Keep?

Cilantro only lasts about three days in the refrigerator. Ground coriander only lasts about three months, and whole coriander should never be kept more than a year after purchase.

Tips for Frugal Use of Cilantro and Coriander

To freeze cilantro, wash it thoroughly as described above, and then store it in airtight containers either whole or chopped up. If you plan to use cilantro in soups and stews, freeze it in ice cubes, as this method of storing will preserve its aromatic components. Remember to add the ice cubes to the dish when the time comes to cook it.

References

Chithra V, Leelamma S. Hypolipidemic effect of coriander seeds (Coriandrum sativum): mechanism of action. Plant Foods Hum Nutr 1997; 51(2): 167-72. 1997. PMID: 12610.

Chithra V, Leelamma S. Coriandrum sativum changes the levels of lipid peroxides and activity of antioxidant enzymes in experimental animals. Indian J Biochem Biophys 1999 Feb; 36(1): 59-61. 1999. PMID: 12590.

Delaquis PJ, Stanich K, Girard B et al. Antimicrobial activity of individual and mixed fractions of dill, cilantro, coriander and eucalyptus essential oils. Int J Food Microbiol. 2002 Mar 25; 74(1-2): 101-9. 2002.

Gray AM, Flatt PR. Insulin-releasing and insulin-like activity of the traditional anti- diabetic plant Coriandrum sativum (coriander). Br J Nutr 1999 Mar; 81(3): 203-9. 1999. PMID: 12600.

Kubo I, Fujita K, Kubo A, Nihei K, Ogura T. Antibacterial Activity of Coriander Volatile Compounds against Salmonella choleraesuis. J Agric Food Chem. 2004 Jun 2; 52(11): 3329-32. 2004. PMID: 15161192.


About Andy Williams

Andy Williams has a Ph.D. in biology and a strong interest in health and nutrition. The Paleo Gut web site was created to explore the health benefits of the Paleo diet and see how it is changing lives. Also, get our free daily Paleo Gut newspaper delivered to your inbox. Please feel free to contact me and let me know about your Paleo experiences or favorite recipes.

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