A Guide to Coriander
Explore the endless personalities and purposes of coriander.
What is coriander?
Coriander is an annual herb in the family Apiaceae. It is also known as Chinese parsley, dhania or cilantro. All parts of the plant are edible, but the fresh leaves and stem, as well as the dried seeds are the parts most traditionally used in cooking.
Where does coriander come from?
Traditionally harvested from Western Asia and Southern Europe, coriander is now grown across the world. As with most herbs, the country of origin is usually decided by seasonality, with coriander now produced from Cyprus to Ethiopia, and Israel to the UK.
What does coriander taste like?
The fresh leaves and stems of the herb have a distinctive, slightly sweet aroma and a fresh, fragrant sage-citrus flavour.
Apply heat to intensify the flavour of coriander seeds for a warm and spicy orange-like, even nutty tang. When ground, the seeds’ roasted, nutty aromas come to the forefront.
Fresh vs dried coriander; What’s the difference?
Just like Oregano and basil, coriander is a herb that can be flavourful whether it’s taken from the garden or from the spice cabinet. The main difference is the intensity of the flavour: dried coriander has a mellower, milder flavour to a sprinkling of fresh, and will only add a subtle hint to dishes.
As a result, dried coriander is best used in longer cooking dishes such as stews or in marinades. Added earlier in the cooking process, the dried herb has sufficient time for its subtle flavours to infuse into the dish.
Fresh coriander loses its flavour quickly once cooked, so is best used shredded and added to salsa, and sprinkled as a garnish before serving to maintain the maximum taste.
What cuisine can coriander be used in?
You’ll find coriander used across a variety of cuisines. Fresh, citrusy coriander leaves are used widely in Asian, Oriental and Middle Eastern cooking, topping rice dishes, curries, soups and stews. The dried fruit, or seeds, take on a different character, crushed or ground directly into spicy curries, or roasted to add a hearty depth to meat rubs and marinades.
How to use coriander
The fresh coriander leaf is equally at home perched atop a soup, fish or meat dish, screaming “ta-dah” as a triumphant garnish, or mixed into Indian, Central Asian or Middle Eastern fayre before serving. It also adds something special to chutneys, salads, salsa and guacamole, and is often mixed into chicken and pork dishes or colourful stir fries.
Used ground, coriander is popular in both sweet and savoury dishes, bringing a zing to cakes and biscuits and lifting the subtle flavours of root vegetables in soups and stews.
Dried coriander seeds bring an earthy nuttiness in flavour and aroma, add a warming, yet zesty kick.
How to prepare coriander
To prepare the coriander leaf, first, it needs to be thoroughly rinsed to remove any dirt particles. Just hold from the root and swirl into cold water until it runs clear. Dry in a paper towel and remove any leaves that have wilted or yellowed. Then chop the stems to the length required or just pick and use the leaves for a more delicate flavour.
Coriander seeds are best warmed to draw out their aromatic oils. Toast or fry to release the distinctive aroma. If the recipe calls for the dry spice, this can either be purchased off the shelf, or ground up with a pestle and mortar.
Where to buy coriander
Coriander can be purchased from supermarkets, grocers, specialist food stores and health food shops. You’ll find the dried seeds or powder in the spice aisle, while the leafy herb will be alongside the fruit and vegetables in the grocery section.
How to store coriander
Fresh growing coriander thrives on a sunny windowsill with regular watering. As soon as the leaves start to wilt, simply pick, chop and freeze to keep their freshness and flavour. If you purchased your fresh coriander pre-cut and packaged, you should refrigerate it as soon as possible.
Coriander seeds and dried powder both have long shelf lives as long as they’re kept in an airtight, ideally opaque container in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Exposure to moisture, light or warmth can lead to a degradation in the quality of the spice, with a loss of flavour and aroma.
Can you freeze coriander?
Like most herbs, you can freeze coriander quickly and simply, whether you found a bumper crop in the bargain aisle that you want to preserve, your green fingers have gone into overdrive or you just want it conveniently to hand when a recipe calls for it.
In fact, freezing retains the flavour and colour better than drying the herb. Wash well, then pop it in a bag and seal it up. Or you can chop it up and freeze into ice cubes together with oil and harmonising herbs like basil, thyme, rosemary, oregano, parsley or mint.
How long does coriander last?
The shelf life of coriander very much depends on whether it’s ground, whole or fresh. Fresh coriander leaves kept in the refrigerator can be stored for two-to-three weeks without spoiling. Ground, dried coriander can be kept at room temperature for two-to-three years, while packaged whole coriander seeds are good for up to four years.
When not to use coriander
Fresh coriander can be quite a polarising ingredient, especially when using the fresh leaves in sandwiches or as a garnish. If you’re not a huge fan, it’s worth considering if your dish really calls for coriander, or whether you can substitute it or adjust quantities to taste.
Complimentary herbs and spices
Cumin and coriander work together in stews, chillies or soups, rubbed on chicken, pork chops or lamb. They boost the taste of roasted vegetables and can be used to flavour the cooking water for rice, quinoa or couscous. The warmth and nuttiness of cumin compliments the zestier, citrus tones of the coriander.
Coriander is often also paired with garlic, lemon, lime and chillies to flavour anything from salads to stir-fries. The fresh herb blends well with basil and mint to flavour breads, yoghurts, dips, butter and mayonnaise.
Substitutions for coriander
Cumin has a similar warmth of flavour that makes it a popular replacement for coriander in curries, chillies, soups and stews. Caraway is another direct swap, featuring the same aromatic oils for a similar earthy, slightly sweet flavour.
How to grow coriander at home
It is easy to grow coriander, in fact, this is how it’s become so abundant around the world.
The seeds can be sown outdoors any time between spring and autumn, or in pots or trays indoors. Simply push the seed into multi-purpose compost and position in a sunny or partly shaded spot. It even thrives when grown just in water!
What is the difference between coriander and cilantro?
In North America and Canada, coriander and cilantro are often one and the same, but elsewhere around the world, there is a subtle difference. They come from the same family of plants (together with carrots and parsley), but are distinct species.
Cilantro’s distinctively shiny form yields a more potent oil and stronger aroma than its more understated cousin, coriander.