It’s one of the star ingredients in dishes like our tuna, rice, and cilantro salad, our speedy beef fajitas, and our shrimp, avocado, and grapefruit salad, as well as many more tasty recipes. We always recommend using the herb fresh when cooking – fresh herbs tend to give you the best flavors – and just a little bit of fresh cilantro can take your meals to the next level.
In this post, we’ll fill you in on some need-to-know information about this popular herb. We’ll also cover the best storage methods to use when you want to keep your cilantro as fresh as possible.
Lesser-Known Facts About Cilantro
Whether you’re a longtime fan of cooking with cilantro or unfamiliar with the herb, these facts are sure to pique your curiosity!
What Is Cilantro?
Cilantro is an herb that belongs to the Apiaceae family. The herb is really the leaves of the Coriandrum sativum plant, which can either be dried and crushed into small pieces or used fresh in cooking. The seeds of Coriandrum sativum are known as coriander, and these seeds are often used in cooking as well.
The herb is a staple in Latin American cuisine, but it’s also used in other parts of the world, including Asia, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean. Cilantro grows in areas where the climate can get relatively cool, and its germination process takes between one and two weeks. Once harvested, cilantro is sold fresh or dried.
The Cilantro Controversy Explained
Cilantro’s distinct flavor is definitely the source of heated debates. Some people love it, while others hate it – and there’s usually not much room for middle ground. For the people who enjoy cilantro, the herb’s taste can be described as bright, citrusy, and refreshing. Others think that it tastes and smells like soap – or stink bugs.
There’s a scientific explanation for why the taste of cilantro is so controversial – it’s in your genes. The gene that makes some people love cilantro and others hate the herb is found in the olfactory center of your brain – the part of your brain responsible for processing smells. Cilantro contains certain organic compounds that give the herb its distinct smell and taste, and some people are more sensitive to these compounds than others.
If you grew up hating the taste and smell of cilantro but find yourself tolerating it – or loving it – now, there’s an explanation for this, too. Over time, your sensitivity to the organic compounds in cilantro can increase or decrease, which can lead to a newfound penchant for the way the herb tastes. Where you might have been hesitant to add it to your recipes before, time can change the way cilantro tastes to you entirely.
Cilantro Has Health Benefits
Herbs like cilantro are thought to be some of the healthiest foods on the planet, thanks to their high levels of vitamin and mineral content. The herb contains high levels of multiple antioxidants, which play a key role in maintaining a healthy diet.
Cooking With Cilantro
Cilantro has a wide array of uses in the kitchen, and it’s thought to be one of the most versatile herbs out there. Below are key tips for including the herb in recipes, either as a garnish or mixed with other ingredients.
Use Cilantro To Boost the Flavor of Rice
Rice is one of those foods that can either taste bland and lifeless or vibrant and flavorful. In many cases, the main difference-maker in the flavor of your rice is the herbs and spices you use. Cilantro is one of the best herbs to pair with rice, especially when making dishes inspired by Latin American cuisine.
When making rice with cilantro, we highly recommend pairing the herb with lemon or lime juice, salt, pepper, and a bit of oil. Chopped fresh cilantro tends to taste best in rice, but you can use dried pieces of the herb instead when necessary.
Add Cilantro To Homemade Salad Dressing
Dressing can be expensive when you buy it in a bottle from the grocery store, but it’s incredibly easy and affordable to make your own at home.
Cilantro can really bring your homemade salad dressing to life by adding a bit of brightness and herbaceousness (yes, that’s a real word) to the mix. The herb pairs well with citrus juice – either lemon or lime is ideal – and balsamic vinegar. These three ingredients can be blended together with olive oil to make a simple cilantro lime vinaigrette dressing.
Knowing how to make dressing at home can save you tons of money over time, and it’s also a fantastic way to add a homemade touch to your salads and other dishes. Next time you’re making dressing, throw cilantro in for added flavor!
Add the Herb To Asian Dishes
Fresh cilantro makes a fantastic garnish for a stir fry, a bowl of steaming hot pho, or homemade ramen. In Asian cuisine, cilantro is often paired with limes, fresh basil leaves, bean sprouts, and other fresh ingredients to make a plate of accoutrements that can be used as garnishes.
If you’re making a Vietnamese dish like pho at home, you definitely won’t want to leave out these ingredients – especially cilantro!
Cook Meat With Cilantro for a Latin American Flair
If you’re making tacos with carne asada anytime soon, you’ll definitely want to have fresh cilantro handy! The herb’s flavors lend themselves to Latin American cooking, so if you tend to make lots of Latin cuisine, it’s one of the most important herbs to have in your kitchen.
You can add cilantro to a pan with oil, salt, and pepper to give beef, chicken, pork, and other meats more flavor than ever.
Use Cilantro in Homemade Salsa
Cilantro is one of the best herbs to add to Latin-style dipping sauces like salsa, pico de gallo, and picante sauce. Its bright, herbaceous flavor pairs excellently with the acidity of tomato sauce, and it cuts through the spiciness of hot peppers.
If you want your cilantro to stay as fresh as possible (which you do), there are a few viable options to consider for storing the herb in your kitchen. Let’s take a look at two of the best storage methods for fresh cilantro.
Put Your Cilantro in the Fridge
When you go to the store and pick up fresh cilantro, you’re likely to find the herb in a bunch. Bunches of fresh cilantro are usually tied together using a rubber band, which you’ll definitely want to hang onto for storage purposes.
When you cook with cilantro, you’ll want to keep any unused sprigs of the herb tied up with a rubber band. To reduce waste and keep your cilantro fresh, separate the cilantro that you plan on using from the unused sprigs. Store the unused cilantro in the refrigerator tied up with the rubber band in a small plastic bag. The herb will stay fresh for longer if it’s protected from the open air, so covering the leaves with plastic is always a good idea. You can also store the sprigs in a Tupperware container if you prefer.
Try the Freezer Instead
You can keep cilantro fresh for even longer by storing the leaves in the freezer. There are several methods for freezing cilantro, including:
- Freezing the leaves in a bag filled with water, then thawing the bag for use
- Chopping the cilantro and adding the chopped pieces to an ice cube tray
Either of these methods can keep your cilantro fresh for much longer than the refrigerator. We recommend opting for the bag method, which will keep the herbs fresh without requiring you to chop them. That way, you can avoid making your ice cube trays smell like cilantro, too.
While cilantro is certainly divisive, the people who love it swear by it for cooking a wide variety of recipes. If you’re one of those people, fresh cilantro can be one of your most valuable assets in the kitchen. The herb can add the perfect burst of flavor to sauces, meat, and more, and it’s especially indispensable for cooking traditional Latin dishes.
To keep your cilantro as fresh as possible, we recommend freezing unused sprigs of the herb and thawing them out later. This method is especially helpful if you have lots of cilantro to use. However, if you’re anticipating that you’ll use all of your fresh cilantro within a few days, feel free to store the herb in the fridge.
For more tips about ingredients, recipes, and more, make sure to check out our blog!