Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Cilantro: Love it or hate it, it's good for you!

Living in a country known for its widespread aversion to cilantro, it's difficult for me to comprehend why so many people detest it. Personally, I can't get enough of this fragrant herb, and I don't hesitate to include it in just about any savory dish, especially Latin American and Asian cuisine. I nearly always have a fresh bunch on hand in the fridge...Spaniards beware!  

What is it?

Cilantro (Coriandrum sativumin an herb with wide delicate lacy green leaves and a pungent aroma and flavor. The seed of the cilantro plant is known as coriander. Although cilantro and coriander come from the same plant, their flavors are very different and cannot be substituted for each other. Some countries refer to the cilantro as coriander, so any references to "fresh coriander" or "coriander leaves" refer to cilantro. Note: "Culantro" is an herb realted to cilantro that is widely used in dishes throughout the Caribbean, Latin America, and the Far East. 

All parts of the plant are edible, but the fresh leaves and the dried seeds are the most commonly used in cooking. Coriander roots have a deeper, more intense flavor than the leaves. They are used in a variety of Asian cuisines. They are commonly used in Thai dishes, including soups and curry pastesCoriander is commonly used in Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Indian, South Asian, Mexican, Latin American, Chinese, African and Southeast Asian cuisine. 

Why should we eat it?                                       

Health benefits of cilantro (coriander)
  • Cilantro contains no cholesterol; however, it is rich in antioxidants, essential oils, vitamins, and dietary fiber, which help reduce "bad cholesterol" while increasing "good cholesterol" levels.

  • The herb is a good source of minerals like potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Iron is essential for red blood cell production. 

  • It is also rich in many vital vitamins, including folic-acid, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin-A, beta carotene and vitamin-C, which are essential for optimum health. Vitamin-C is a powerful natural antioxidant. 100 g of cilantro leaves provide 30% of daily recommended levels of vitamin-C.

  • It's a rich source of Vitamin-A, an important fat soluble vitamin and anti-oxidant, is also required for maintaining healthy membranes and skin and is also essential for vision. Consumption of natural foods rich in vitamin-A and flavonoids offers protection from certain cancers.

  • Cilantro is one of the richest herbal sources of Vitamin K. Vitamin-K plays a role in bone mass building by promoting osteotrophic activity in the bones. It also has established role in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease patients by limiting neuronal damage in their brain. Eaten daily, it can also help remove harmful mercury from brain tissue. 

  • Coriander seed oil has been found application in many traditional medicines as analgesic, aphrodisiac, anti-spasmodic, deodorant, digestive, carminative, fungicide, lipolytic (for weight loss) and a stimulant.

How to choose the best bunch:

Fresh cilantro is readily available in the most markets and herb stores year-round. Always choose fresh leaves over the dried herb, since it is superior in flavor and richer in many vital vitamins and anti-oxidants. Look for vibrant green color leaves and firm stems. It should be free from any kind of spoilage or yellowing.

Try to buy fresh leaves from the local organic farms since the herb has an intense refreshing flavor in addition to that it will assure you of superior quality and free from pesticide residues.

Once at home, discard roots and any old or bruised leaves. I recommend cutting the base of the stem, placing it in a glass of water (like flowers) and covering the bunch with a loose transparent bag to maintain freshness. Use it early as possible, since it loses flavor and nutrients quickly if kept for longer periods. 

How to prepare: Wash and pat dry before using, as the leaves attract sand.

Matches well with: avocado, chicken, fish, lamb, lentils, mayonnaise, peppers, rice, salads, salsas, shellfish, tomatoes and yogurt.

If you are a fan of this versatile herb, try out some of these recipes:

Are you a cilantro hater? New studies show it could be rooted in your genes:

Few herbs have acheived such notoriety as to actually spark a "hate site": 

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