Samui Wining & Dining
Knowing your Onions

Or, in this case, knowing your coriander.


16Ah, coriander. A staple ingredient around the world, from the Middle East, India, China and Southeast Asia and even across to Portugal, the Mediterranean, Africa and Latin America. It’s even used in Scandinavia.

      Coriander is a herb and is often mistaken for flat-leaf parsley. And to make things worse, it is also known as Chinese parsley. It’s called cilantro in North America and dhania in India. It is a soft leafy plant and doesn’t grow taller than around 50cm before the flowers start to produce fruit, and the whole plant becomes top-heavy. The leaves are broader at the bottom but start to get slender and almost feathery near the top.

      A mature plant will bear small light pink flowers that turn into oval fruits. When these fruits are dried, they are known as coriander seeds. If you see the word ‘coriander’ in recipes, it usually refers to the seeds in spice form rather than the leaves in herb form. The seeds have an almost lemony flavour when crushed; the taste is often described as warm, nutty, spicy or orange flavoured. The seeds provide good amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, and manganese. You can easily buy either the ready-ground form or the whole seeds depending on what you are cooking. The ground version

can lose its flavour quicker than the seed form so it’s better to buy the seeds and grind as and when you need them.

      The leaves and the seeds taste completely different, and therefore are used at different stages in the cooking process. The leaves have fresh, citrus undertones and are used raw in many Indian foods, for example chutneys and salads, and are also often used in Chinese and Thai dishes. In Thailand they pound the root in a pestle and mortar and use it in curry pastes and soups. The leaves are used in salads and to garnish soups, and the stems and leaves are also eaten raw. The seeds are used in curry pastes, sauces and marinades, but their flavour is best brought out by dry roasting first. In Mexico, you may have spotted some fresh coriander leaves in your salsa or guacamole, and in India you’ll notice chopped coriander leaves used as a garnish on some dishes. Because the leaves are delicate and the flavour is easily lost through heat, coriander leaves are best used raw or added to a dish just before serving.

      Outside Asia, coriander seeds are often used in the pickling process. Pickled gherkins or onions will often use coriander seed to flavour the otherwise sharp vinegar. In Germany and South Africa, the seeds are used in the production of traditional sausages, and in some parts of Europe, coriander seed is used in rye bread. The seeds are even used during the brewing process in some wheat beers.

     As with most herbs, there is a host of medicinal uses too. Coriander leaves are high in antioxidants and can help prevent food from spoiling to quickly. The leaves are supposed to have antibacterial qualities against salmonella, and in many cultures it has been used for the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders such as nausea, stomach-aches and indigestion. Today coriander is used by herbalists to treat conditions such as loss of appetite and flatulence, and it’s even sometimes added to gin and drunk to calm the stomach. Perhaps that’s why people who drink gin and tonic are so calm …

      The seeds can be boiled with water and drunk as a treatment for colds, and in Iran they use it as a folk medicine for the relief of anxiety and insomnia. In traditional Indian medicine, it’s used as a diuretic by boiling it in equal quantities with cumin seeds and then drinking the liquid. It is used as a digestive aid in holistic and traditional medicine.

       If you think all that is amazing, it’s even been documented as a treatment for type 2 diabetes. In studies with rats, it lowered levels of cholesterol and triglycerides (bad fatty acids) and increased the good fatty acids. Even the essential oil produced from the coriander plant has been shown to exhibit antimicrobial (an agent that kills microorganisms or inhibits their growth) effects.

         So I’m sure you’ll agree, coriander is so much more than ‘just another herb’.


Colleen Setchell


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