An herb in the parsley family, cilantro refers to the flat green leaves and stems of the coriander plant. It has a lively, pungent aroma and a sharp parsley-citrus flavor that lends itself to the highly spiced foods of the Caribbean, Mexico and Asia. Very popular in China, the herb is also commonly called Chinese parsley.
An ancient herb, cilantro was mentioned in the Medical Papyrus of Thebes written in 1552 B.C., and it was one of the plants that grew in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Greeks and Romans hailed cilantro for its medicinal qualities and the ancient Hebrews added it to an herb mixture used in the ritual of Passover. Cilantro is thought to be one of the earliest plantings in North America, with references dating back to 1670.
Cilantro can be found year-round in most supermarkets and it's generally sold in bunches. Look for bright green leaves with even coloring and no signs of wilting. Freeze-dried cilantro leaves can also be purchased in the spice aisle, but they lack the color and flavor punch of fresh.
Wrap cilantro in damp paper towels, place in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator for up to one week. Wash and pat dry just before using.
- Both the leaves and stems can be used in fresh or cooked dishes.
- When chopping, make sure the leaves are completely dry or they'll stick to your knife or scissors.
- Add to recipes near the end of cooking time—cilantro loses flavor when dried or exposed to heat.
Cilantro makes a flavorful garnish for your favorite spicy dishes. Sprinkle whole or chopped leaves over chili, jerk chicken and stir-fry or enchiladas, satays and curries. Mix it with melted butter and brush onto grilled chicken and corn or add to store-bought guacamole and salsa for a fresh flavor pick-me-up. Cilantro also tastes great in a Mexican omelet made with cheddar cheese and peppers.
Parsley is an acceptable, but less distinctive alternative in many recipes.
Try one of our favorite cilantro recipes: