Down & Dirty

Cilantro: The Divisive Herb

By • August 8, 2013 • 43 Comments

Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.

Today: We're talking about everyone's favorite (or not) herb -- cilantro. Love it? We’ve got fresh ideas for working cilantro into your meals. Hate it? There might be hope for you yet.

Cilantro: The Divisive Herb, from Food52

Cilantro is one of those items that quickly breaks people into two camps -- you either love or hate it. Cilantro haters often complain of its metallic or soapy taste, and blame genetics for their aversion. We’re into tough love though, because although studies have shown a genetic component, a recent one has found that the heritability of cilantro preference is low. This means that only a small percentage of cilantro dislike can be blamed on genetics -- so give it another chance. Harold McGee suggests starting with pesto, because crushing the leaves can help reduce the offending odors.

At least in the United States, the name cilantro refers to the fresh herb, while the dried fruits (what we refer to as seeds) from the same plant are called coriander. Elsewhere, coriander can refer to both the fresh leaves and the seeds -- and the fresh leaves are also sometimes called Chinese parsley. 

Cilantro: The Divisive Herb, from Food52

More: Find a farmers market near you on Real Time Farms, so you can stock up on cilantro (and other fresh herbs)

What to Look For and How to Store
Choose bunches of cilantro that are perky and vibrantly green (2) -- pass on any that seem overly wilty, bruised, or yellowed (1). Once you get it home, store it like basil -- in a glass of water with a bag over the top. But unlike basil, cilantro can then be put in the refrigerator for a week or two. If you’d like yours to hang around longer than that, Elizabeth Schneider recommends freezing cilantro roots (the entire plant is edible!), as she finds that freezing puréed cilantro leaves renders them tasteless and bitter. And before you cook with it, make your life easier by washing it like greens (3) with just a big bowl of water and a tea towel -- no salad spinner required.

Cilantro: The Divisive Herb, from Food52

How to Use
Cilantro is a member of the parsley family (along with parsnips and fennel); and in Vegetable Literacy, Deborah Madison suggests pairing cilantro with other members of the family, too, like carrots and celery. Cilantro complements fishlamb, or chicken; and punches up would-be-basics like rice, naan, and socca. Cilantro is begging to add zip to your sauces -- gremolatachimichurri, or mojo. And what would salsaguacamole, and quesadillas be without it? Yes, cilantro even works in desserts and beverages (try a watermelon or mango margarita). Ready for more ideas? We've got you covered for the week:

Friday: Corn Salad with Cilantro & Caramelized Onions 
Saturday: Southwestern Spiced Sweet Potato Fries with Chili-Cilantro Sour Cream 
Sunday: Veggie Masala Burgers with Cilantro Chutney Aioli 
Monday: Paula Wolfert's Herb Jam with Olives and Lemon 
Tuesday: Corn and Feta Pizza with Cilantro Lime Pesto 
Wednesday: Sautéed Spring Mushrooms, Chiles + Cilantro in Caramelized Coconut Broth
Thursday: Tamarind Glazed Swordfish with Lime, Cilantro and Tamarind Sauce 

Photos by James Ransom 

Jump to Comments (43)

Tags: down and dirty, diagrams, cilanto, coriander, chinese parsley, lindsay-jean hard, special diets

Comments (43)

Default-small
Default-small
Default-small

11 months ago James

Who in their right mind keeps eating something disgusting to them in order to make themselves like it? Yeah, keep eating it and you'll like it? What mentality is that? I don't like arsenic but I will if I keep eating it. I hate cilantro and always will. If my brain is offended by it, if it makes me gag, if my response is to spit it out, well then my brain is protecting me. Won't surprise me if we learn soon that cilantro causes cancer.

Default-small

12 months ago cookinalong

I never realized how polarizing cilantro is! Who knew? I know more people who object to cumin. Luckily, I love both. But don't get me started about beets....

Dsc_0122.nef-1

12 months ago Panfusine

I sometimes dry the stems at 220 F in the oven, crumble them add add to my spice mixtures. Can't define the taste, but it adds a fabulous dimension to the blends.

Dsc_0122.nef-1

12 months ago Panfusine

200 F, Not 220 F, Sorry for that typo

Karl

12 months ago Karl Rosaen

Karl is Food52's VP of Technology.

I usually love cilantro, though sometimes it catches me off guard as soapy and gross - any evidence it varies by variety?

Dsc_0122.nef-1

12 months ago Panfusine

I planted 3 varieties this year to test any 'hypothesis ' that may be postulated. The coriander seeds from the Indian stores (which are a bit elongated , football shaped compared to the more spherical ones you find in seed packets), the other was a Delfino which has finger like leaves rather than tha Palm shaped ones that the other 2 varieties yield. The delfino was definitely more delicate & citrussy, as compared to the other two. The Indian store seeds yielded delicate plants with thin stems, the other one was the typical thick seeded ones that you see in the supermarket. I don't taste the soapiness, so cant judge on that factor.

Dsc_0122.nef-1

12 months ago Panfusine

I meant Stemmed, rather than seeded.

Default-small

12 months ago louanne

For years I despised cilantro, just couldn't tolerate the flavor. Then, magically, a coworker brought in a Thai dish, and it looked so delicious, I couldn't resist tasting - I became an instant convert! Now, I'm rocking Asian and Mexican dishes :)

Default-small

12 months ago Alison Lee

Former cilantro hater here! I published this essay on hating / loving it, and a bunch of other foods:
http://inquisitiveeater...

Default-small

12 months ago carswell

Put me in the cilantro lover category. Years ago a friend gave me an entire cookbook of cilantro recipes and I've never looked back.

Default-small

12 months ago Renee G.

so interesting really. I used to hate it because it tasted like soap. Now I love, love, love it!

Default-small

12 months ago friedathecat


All I can say is that if it's a choice between life or cilantro...adios! And BTW, soap tastes better than cilantro.

Stringio

12 months ago Ann Connor-Griffin

My understanding about Cilantro is that it is one of the herbs that can be used in heavy metals detoxification. Perhaps the revulsion some feel towards it, and their violent reactions, are the result of heavy metals toxins in the body, and not the *true* reaction of the taster. I've heard it said in the alternative medical communities that those with little or no amalgam dental work seem to be cilantro lovers, and those with a great deal of amalgam dental work, and those who have been tested and found positive for high levels of heavy metal poisoning revile it. Not saying there is a definite connection, but it made me think...

Junechamp

12 months ago ChefJune

June is a trusted source on General Cooking.

I don't have heavy metals in my body. Go through detox of many kinds on a regular basis. I have NO mercury in my mouth. And I can't stand cilantro. Try again!

Dsc_0122.nef-1

12 months ago Panfusine

That's an interesting piece of Information..I don't know if its something about Cilantro being included in the daily Diet from early child hood which would depend upon the native cuisine you grew up with.

I used to spit it out as a child (driving my mother crazy), but only because I hated the soft stems that clung to the tongue when eating it, The taste never bothered me at all.

Default-small

12 months ago Chris Oliver

I loooooove cilantro. But I wish my Vietnamese sandwich shop would leave the stems off my bánh mì. Stems are awful. Otherwise, give it to me.

Default-small

12 months ago Katie Potato

Yeah, I'm personal proof that it's not genetic but experiential. The first times I tasted it (and not just a few times, but maybe the first four years or so) it tasted utterly awful. Like an explosion of soap in my mouth. Like, gag inducing. But it's in so many foods that I love that I just kept eating it. Eventually the taste just... changed. It was really cool actually. The soap flavor just faded away and the herb flavor came to the forefront. My brain was just building new connections. Now I love it.

Junechamp

12 months ago ChefJune

June is a trusted source on General Cooking.

I wish...

Default-small

12 months ago Lisa

How we taste this is genetic but context matters. too! While I love cilantro, I always ask preferences before using it in cooking. I just used mint as an alternative as suggested by a recipe at foodinjars.com. It does the trick!

Stringio

12 months ago Robin Chesser

Ugh can't stand it tastes like baby shampoo.

Default-small

12 months ago valnsc

YES! never thought dish water. you have nailed it for me.

Default-small

12 months ago valnsc

Learned that I am actually allergic to it. Want to see me run???? I become an Olympic sprinter.

88487523.nvxo8wz3.potonfirejpeg

12 months ago Ken Woytisek

The roots and stems have an entirely different flavor profile. They can be difficult to get because many suppliers remove the roots before packaging. We grow cilantro in our garden at school just so I can harvest the roots-but you have to wait until the plant bolts in order to get a significant amount of root.

Sit2

12 months ago Sam1148

My Partner is in the "hater crowd". However he discovered while making Thai Curries that the stem and roots don't bother him, and he trims off all the leaf. I get the cilantro flavor and he doesn't complain about that "Filthy nasty soap weed". This might not work for you or yours, but worth trying.

88487523.nvxo8wz3.potonfirejpeg

12 months ago Ken Woytisek

Love cilantro! And be sure to save the roots (freeze) as they are an essential ingredient in Thai curries.

Default-small

12 months ago amytuso

I have been making a tea with it which is delicious. I've been drinking it to cleanse my kidneys as I was shown to have moderate kidney failure. 3 mo. into doing this daily, my testing came back improved!

Stringio

12 months ago Mary Pat

I've always heard that if you try something ten times, you will start to like it. It worked for me with cilantro!

Junechamp

12 months ago ChefJune

June is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Ten times? How about 10 thousand?