What is coriander?
The feathery, green leaves of coriander pop up in the cuisines of Thailand, Vietnam, India and Mexico and add a wondrous, complex flavour to dishes. It looks a little like parsley but that is where the similarity ends. The citrusy leaves add a pungent kick to guacamole and salsas and, along with the roots and stems, are used to add a distinctive flavour to curries.
The fragrant seed of coriander is an essential ingredient in many cuisines including exotic curries from India and aromatic Middle Eastern dishes.
A native of the Mediterranean region, coriander grows wild over a large area of Europe. The Egyptians used coriander as early as 1550 BC. The ancient Romans combined it with cumin and vinegar and used it as a preservative for meat. People in the Middle Ages added it to their love potions. The ancient Greeks also cultivated the herb and there is evidence that it was used in the manufacture of perfumes.
In Australia, there is usually only one type of coriander available. The herb looks a little like parsley, with flat leaves, long thin stems and a taste of citrus. The chopped fresh leaves of the coriander plant may be used as a garnish, or added raw to dishes. As heat lessens the flavour, leaves are added immediately before serving.
The roots and stems of the plant may also be used in cooking (especially in Thai dishes including soups and curries). The roots have a more intense citrusy taste than the leaves.
The coriander plant also produces seeds. These can be briefly heated or roasted and then ground and used as a spice. The coriander seed is a common spice used in a variety of cuisines, especially curries.
Another type of coriander that is sometimes available is Long coriander (Eryngium foetidum), also known as saw leaf coriander. It is similar to common coriander but has a more intense taste. It is native to the Caribbean and is found in Mexico, South America and Central America.
Why coriander is good to eat
- Coriander is a good source of vitamins A (important for growth and development and the maintenance of your immune system), C (needed for the growth and repair of tissues in the body) and K (important for helping your blood to clot).
- It also contains minerals such as potassium (which helps to regulate blood pressure), manganese (involved in the regulation of brain and nerve function) and magnesium (involved in the regulation of muscle, heart and nerve function and keeping bones strong).
- Coriander contains dietary fibre, which is important for a healthy bowel.
- Energy – 100 g of coriander supplies 95 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Coriander is easy to grow, but during summer the leafy plant quickly ‘bolts’ and produces flowers and seed. For this reason, if you want to harvest the leaf, it is better to grow coriander during the cooler months of the year.
Coriander requires plenty of water and should be planted in soil that drains well. It can grow up to 60 cm. Once the plants develop flowers they stop producing more leaves. To have a continuous supply of coriander leaf, re-sow every few weeks during the growing season.
Pick individual coriander leaves to use in recipes or pull up the whole plant and use the leaves, stems and roots.
Choose coriander with bright-green leaves and stems. Avoid coriander that has yellow or wilted leaves or leaves that have black spots or other visible damage. Coriander should smell sweet and fresh, not unpleasant.
How to store and keep coriander
Store coriander wrapped in a damp paper towel that is placed in a plastic bag, in the crisper section of your fridge. It will last for several days.Ground coriander seeds quickly loose their flavour when stored. They should be stored in an airtight jar. It is best to use the coriander seeds fresh and grind them when you need them.
How to use
- Try a Middle Eastern fish dish – combine chopped coriander leaves, chopped walnuts, crushed garlic, lemon juice, ground cinnamon and cayenne pepper, then add some of the mixture into the cavity of a firm-fleshed fish (try snapper or blue eye), spoon the rest of the mix on top and bake until the fish is done.
- Make some patties – combine pork mince (or try beef), a whisked egg, chopped coriander leaves, chopped mint, chopped green or red chillies and seasoning, then shape into patties, fry and serve topped with coriander leaves and thinly sliced cucumber.
- Add a Thai twist to prawns – Marinate raw prawns in a mixture of chopped coriander leaves, lime juice, oil, fish sauce, chopped garlic and sliced shallots, then grill or barbeque the prawns, top with coriander and serve with lime wedges alongside a green leaf salad.
- Whip up an easy salad dressing – blend red chilli, garlic and ginger, add lime juice, honey, balsamic vinegar and coriander leaves, then drizzle olive oil into the blender until the dressing is combined.
- Enjoy a simple soup – fry chopped carrots, onion and chilli, add vegetable stock and chopped coriander leaves, then blitz in a food processor and serve with crusty bread.
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