Cilantro is a strong, distinctive-smelling herb that's often used in Mexican and Indian cooking. While cilantro looks very similar to parsley, its flavor is much stronger. Cilantro is also known as coriander, as are its dried seeds.
Cilantro leaves have a tough texture so they don't wilt readily when chopped. They need to be washed well before use because they tend to hold sand and other debris. Cilantro is a Spanish word, from the Latin coliandrum, "coriander." It's also sometimes called Chinese parsley or Mexican parsley, though it's not part of the same botanical family as the flat-leafed parsley.
Coriander leaves are used in Indian cooking as a garnish on many dishes, including chutneys and raitas (such as cucumber raita), or sprinkled directly onto hot food just before eating. In Western countries, coriander is often seen as an ingredient in Mexican salsas and guacamole , but it's also used in many other cuisines, including Thai , Vietnamese , and Moroccan . It's an essential ingredient of the pickling spice mix. When buying fresh coriander leaves, look for firm bunches with no signs of wilting or yellowing. If using dried coriander, choose crushed rather than whole seeds to avoid excess pieces of husk.
Cilantro has a distinctive flavor, but it is largely masked by cooking, which is why it's often added to cooked dishes rather than being eaten raw in salads or as a garnish. The sharp taste comes from volatile oils that are especially concentrated in the leaves. Like many other herbs, coriander leaves contain small amounts of essential oils that vary according to timing and climate conditions. Studies show that the composition of these oils differs greatly from place to place, depending on such factors as climate, rainfall, and soil type.
Cilantro is rich in vitamin C, calcium, iron, and magnesium. It also contains a number of antioxidants. Some people have an allergic reaction—usually a skin rash or burning sensation in the mouth—after eating cilantro. About 15 percent of people are sensitive to coriander pollen, which they may inhale when mowing the lawn or walking past bushes in bloom.
Cilantro is best used fresh rather than dried because much of its flavor will be lost by the latter method. Before using cilantro in a dish, cut or tear the leaves from the stems and give them a good wash (don't use soap). Discard any damaged or yellowing leaves and put the rest in a colander to drain well.