Make the most of culinary herbs and spices.

All About Coriander

by Sandra Bowens

photo courtesy of the National Garden Bureau

"And the house of Israel called the name thereof Manna: and it was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey." Moses, Exodus 16:31


It has been around a long time, this round, light brown seed whose leaves we know as cilantro. Coriander was used as an ingredient in love potions by the Greeks and Romans and suggested as an aphrodisiac in The Thousand and One Nights. Hippocrates recommended it often for medicinal purposes. Coriandrum sativum, coriander's botanical name, was among the first herbs cultivated by America's colonists.


Coriander offers a slight lemony flavor to cooking around the world. This dried seed in ground form is used widely in curry powders, providing a pleasant fragrance without heat. The whole seed is one of the pickling spices.


One unusual use for the seed is as an important essential oil isolated through steam distillation. The commercial oil is used in assorted food products such as baked goods and meat products as well as alcoholic beverages like liqueurs and gin. Coriander oil contributes to the fragrance of perfumes and serves to mask odors in pharmaceutical products. This is one of the oldest known essential oils as proven by records from 1574 price lists in Berlin.


Morocco is a major source of the seed although Romania, Egypt and China are also important suppliers. The plant thrives in sunny locations with even moisture conditions. The unpleasant odor emitting from the leaves and fruit as it grows brought about the name. Koris is the Greek word for bedbug which Pliny associated with the smell.


Coriander is used with everything from meats and sauces to baked goods and coffee. Try it with melted butter as a sauce for steamed vegetables or mix some into your sugar cookies for a new twist. As with all seeds, toasting them before adding to a recipe will bring out more flavor.


Coriander symbolizes hidden worth. That's how I look at it as the secret ingredient in my chili that everyone seems to love.


My Best Chili


1 1/2 pounds hamburger

1 large onion, chopped

1 medium bell pepper, seeded and chopped

3 Tablespoons dried parsley

1 Tablespoon ground New Mexican chile (see note below)

1 Tablespoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons Mexican oregano

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 bay leaves

1 (28 ounce) can chili beans in sauce (or plain pinto beans)

1 (28 ounce) can tomato sauce


Brown hamburger in soup kettle over medium-high heat. drain. Add onion and bell pepper and cook 5 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients. Rinse cans with small amounts of water and pour into chili. Add additional water, if desired, for thinner chili. Bring to a boil, reduce heat. Simmer at least 15 minutes, the longer the better.


Serves 4 to 6.


NOTE: Be sure to use a straight ground chile, no commercial blends here.



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