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Coriander - Herb or Spice?

Coriandrum sativum, better known as coriander, is a bright green, shining plant with pinnate leaves and is a member of the parsley family. It has been extensively used in various cuisines from all over the world to enrich the flavor of sauces, salsas and soups sauces like curries and Mexican chile salsas, to name a few.

You may be asking yourself is coriander a spice or herb? Technically, coriander describes the entire plant from seeds, leaves and stems. But the leaves from the plant are referred to as cilantro which is Spanish for coriander. Confused yet? Even though coriander and cilantro are one in the same, the leaf (cilantro) is as common in most Asian and Latin American cooking whereas the seeds are uncommon in these regions.

The leaves of the coriander plant in comparison to its ripened seeds taste completely different. The leaf has a very pungent, lemon-like flavor, whereas the seeds, when dried, become more fragrant with a less disagreeable aroma. In fact, the use of coriander seeds dates far back to Ancient Egypt where the seeds were placed in Egyptian tombs. Some experts believe that the seeds can be traced back to at least 5,000 BC with references found in certain Sanskrit writings.

The tiny round coriander seeds provide a perfect base in flavoring dishes. And, even though the seeds have their own distinct flavor they will not overwhelm any other ingredients. That is why the seeds are used in many applications in European, North African, Middle Eastern, Asian and North American recipes. It's also a very important ingredient in making curries, sausage, and chutneys.

The flavor and fragrance of coriander has captivated many great chefs for centuries using such words as fruity, lemony, pungent, sweet and fruity to describe its unique aroma. It could be that the many distinct characteristics of the coriander are indescribable, but for now we shall stick with what works for us.

Speaking of what works well, coriander is such an accommodating spice, that you may find crushed coriander in meat rubs and in marinades. On the savory side of cooking, it blends well with chile, cumin, saffron and fennel. On the sweet side, it works wonders with cinnamon, clove, cardamom, nutmeg and ginger. Try using powdered coriander in vinaigrette dressings or add it to sweets such as apple pie.

I hope you will enjoy experimenting with the many ways in which to use coriander.Here is a simple vinaigrette recipe that is guaranteed to dress up a tossed salad like no other.

Coriander Vinaigrette - click link