This is my dad's favourite herb. When he was a student he knew about ground coriander "dhania" from eating out in Indian restaurants, but first tasted the fresh herb in a bowl of soup in a Vietnamese restaurant on his honeymoon in Paris. He's been in love with it ever since and eats it by the bunch.
Coriander plants in flower
Coriander flowers and ripening fruits
Coriander stalks and leaves
Thai coriander with roots (rak pak chee)
Ripe coriander fruits (incorrectly named "seeds")
Ground coriander fruits
Probably Eastern Mediterranean or Western Asia.
Common coriander is native to the Mediterranean region but is widely cultivated across Europe, Asia and Africa. Its spread northwards into Europe resulted from the Capitulare de Villis of Charlemagne, which ordered the growth of this and other herbs in medieval monastic gardens. The coriander species commonly grown in Central Europe and Russia, var. microcarpum, has smaller fruits and contains more essential oil than the oriental type, var. vulgare, which is cultivated for fruits and leaves.
Fruits, leaves and root (the latter only in Thailand). Fruits and leaves have totally different flavours and cannot substitute for each other. The term culantro, properly meaning long coriander, is sometimes misapplied to common coriander leaves, especially in regions where long coriander is not known.
Apiaceae (parsley family).
Most people agree that the aroma of the fruits is pleasant. It is usually described as warm, nutty and spicy and some even find an orange-like quality in it. There is, however, much disagreement about the flavour of common coriander leaves, roots and unripe fruits. Europeans are split, with some finding coriander leaves displeasing but many enjoying them. In Asia, Latin America and Africa almost everybody loves coriander leaves and they are described as fresh, green, tangy and even citrusy. This has led to a theory that the taste for coriander has a genetic component, although there is no proof of this and dislike is probably cultural rather than genetic.
The Ancient Greek name koriannon is derived from koris "bug" because of the aroma of the leaves. It was loaned to Latin coriandrum and eventually entered European languages. German wanzendill "bug's dill" and wanzenkümmel "bug's caraway" may be translations of the Greek, or may have arisen independently. The names are derogatory and reflect the critical view of common coriander among Central and Northern Europeans.
Because of their similar shape and usage, common coriander leaves are named after parsley, often with a geographic epithet, with "Indian parsley" and "Chinese parsley" the most common. The Hungarian name cigánypetrezselyem "gypsies' parsley" refers to the plant as the preferred salad leaf of the Romany minority.
In Latin America and the US, common coriander leaves are commonly known by the name cilantro, which may be derived directly from a Latin variant with light vowel, e.g. Medieval Latin celiandrum. Another explanation is that the Spanish culantro was later changed to cilantro for some reason. In any case, culantro exists in today's Latin American Spanish but usually denotes the similar herb long coriander. Confusingly, on some Caribbean islands, long coriander is known as cilantro and common coriander as cilantrillo.
The species name sativum is Latin for "sown" or "cultivated".
Common coriander fruits are a common spice in many countries of Europe, North Africa and West, Central and South Asia. In the Mediterranean region, common coriander cultivation dates back to Ancient Egypt. The plant is mentioned in the Bible, where it is compared to manna. In Europe, common coriander has been known since the Middle Ages.
Coriander fruits are an essential part of curry powder and Indian masalas (garam masala in the North and sambaar podi in the South) as well as part of Ethiopian berbere. Latin American cuisine also makes much use of them. Roasting or frying, practiced in India and Sri Lanka, enhances the flavour.
Coriander leaves, also called "coriander greens", are popular across most of Asia. Used in China and India regionally, e.g. in Maharashtra, they are indispensable in Thailand. In Thai cuisine, coriander leaves are used to add additional flavour to soups, salads and curries, with Thai green curry paste using both root and leaves.
The heartland of coriander leaf usage in South-East Asia is Vietnam. In South Vietnam, chopped coriander leaves appear as decorations on nearly every dish, sometimes combined with (or substituted by) peppermint or Vietnamese coriander. Coriander leaves are less enjoyed in Malaysia and Indonesia.
Common coriander leaves resemble European parsley leaves in that they have a similar shape and are both best used raw, as the flavour vanishes after prolonged cooking. In both plants, the root has a similar flavour than the leaves and its flavour tolerates boiling or simmering much better.
Drying destroys most of the fragrance of the leaves, yet dried coriander leaves are included in some versions of Georgian khmeli-suneli and of the Iranian ghorme herb mix. The plants develop leaves of two different shapes, base leaves being broad (similar to Italian parsley) and having the reputation of a better flavour. Leaves attached to the stems have a pinnate shape and their flavour is said to be less fresh.
Arabic cooking makes use of both common coriander leaves and fruits. Zhoug, a spicy paste typical of Yemeni cuisine, is a recipe that contains coriander leaves (sometimes also fruits) with green chillies, garlic, cardamom and black pepper and optionally cumin, lemon juice and olive oil. Zhoug may be used as a relish, bread dip or condiment. A version of zhoug prepared with chillies is known as shatta, also an Arabic name for red chillies. Arabic spice mixtures containing coriander fruits alone are berbere from Ethiopia and baharat from the Gulf states.
Use of common coriander leaves is also frequent in Latin America, especially Mexico in salsa and ceviche. Another famous Mexican food relying on coriander leaves is guacamole, a spicy coarse mash of avocado, chopped tomato, lime juice, onions, garlic, chilli and coriander leaves. For heat, Mexicans often use the green jalapeño or the slightly hotter serrano, but flavourful habanero or related chillies are also recommended.
The Mexican herb epazote is sometimes substituted by coriander leaves, especially outside Mexico, even though the plants have little in common.
Common coriander leaves are most often used raw as cooking or even short frying tends to diminish their fragrance. There are exceptions to that rule, with some Indian and Central Asian recipes using coriander leaves in large amounts cooked until they dissolve and their flavour mellows. An example is the Iranian sauce ghorme.
Tasting common coriander leaves for the first time, many people from Europe and North America find their taste repulsive, a reaction that often changes after some period of exposure to the herb. The popularity of coriander leaf in Europe and the US has increased in recent years, with coriander now more appreciated in Europe than ever before due to interest in Asian food and the success of Thai and Vietnamese restaurants.