Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

Coriander or cilantro is said to be the most world’s most widely consumed fresh herb. Coriandrum sativum is a native of the Middle East. Its seed has been found in Bronze Age settlements and in the tomb of King Tut; it was taken early to China, India, and Southeast Asia, and later to Latin America, and its rounded, notched, tender leaves are popular in all these regions. In Central and South America they came to replace culantro, an indigenous relative with very similar flavor, but with large, tough leaves. Coriander herb is not very popular in the Mediterranean and Europe, where its aroma is sometimes described as “soapy.” The main component of the aroma is a fatty aldehyde, decenal, which also provides the “waxy” note in orange peel. Decenal is very reactive, so coriander leaf quickly loses its aroma when heated. It’s therefore used most often as a garnish or in uncooked preparations. In Thailand, the root of the herb is an ingredient in some pounded spice pastes; the root contains no decenal and instead contributes woody and green notes, something like parsley.