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The Weed and the Seed
By Ann Wilder


The coriander plant provides us with both a spice and an herb. Coriandum sativum is one of only two plants for which this is true. Remember an herb is always the leaf and a spice can be root, rhizome, bark, berry, fruit or nut. In other works, anything except a leaf. Don't confuse vegetables, and spices here. There are some vegetables, fennel is an example, which produce a spice, fennel seeds, and we also eat the bulb, but in this case the fennel bulb is considered a vegetable since it has nutritional value. Herbs and spices have no food value according to the Department of Agriculture. In fact, the spice associations define spices as anything which is added to food for flavor and not for nutritional value.

The orange peel-like aroma of coriander makes it memorable. It's sweet flavor makes it useful and it's ability to blend well with garlic, chili, cumin, and almost any savory, makes it versatile. There is a slight numbing quality to it and, because it is so mild, it can be used with a heavy hand. I have never found the flavor to overwhelm a dish. I find it easy to use especially when I am trying to achieve a balanced seasoning.

Three types of coriander seed are readily available in the US. The Indian and Moroccan varieties are the most often used for cooking. The Indian variety is sweeter than the Moroccan. The seeds can usually be identified by shape - the Indian version is more round, while the Moroccan one has more of a pointed appearance to it.

The third type of coriander found in the US is Romanian. Romanian coriander seeds are darker than the Indian or Moroccan seeds, and they are primarily used in commercial applications. As in all forms, dry roasting coriander before grinding intensifies the flavor.

Coriander is the backbone of curries. In most recipes that call for coriander, it is the first ingredient, meaning it's quantity exceeds that of the other recipe ingredients. It is the main ingredient in chewing gums, cigarettes, Belgian beer, and distilled liquids.


Cilantro was relatively unknown in this country until about ten years ago. With the influx of southeast Asian immigrants and the resulting flood of Thai restaurants, cilantro seems to be the new fad. I love the flavor, as apparently do many others since it is flying out of grocery stores, but it is an acquired taste, hard to describe and unlike anything else. If you hate it, rest assured you are not alone. This herb is used occasionally in Italian cooking and their name for it translates as "stinky red bug;" however, the Chinese call cilantro a "fragrant flower." I am told that if the pH in your mouth is toward one end of the scale, cilantro tastes like soap, In Mexican cooking, it actually is described as a soapy taste and they love it.

Growing it is not difficult, with one exception, it has a tendency to bolt or run to seed too quickly. I have found that planting in the fall is very successful in Maryland. The cool weather allows it to mature nicely. I remember picking a wonderful bunch in the snow one November.

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