Coriander (Coriandrum sativum), also called cilantro, or dhania is an annual herb in the family Apiaceae. Coriander is native to southern Europe and North Africa to southwestern Asia. While in the English-speaking world (except for the U.S.) the leaves and seeds are known as coriander, in American culinary usage the leaves are generally referred to by the Spanish word cilantro.
The fresh leaves are an ingredient in many South Asian foods (such as chutneys and salads), in Chinese dishes, in Mexican cooking, particularly in salsa and guacamole and as a garnish, and in salads in Russia and other CIS countries. Chopped coriander leaves are a garnish on Indian dishes such as dal. As heat diminishes their flavor, coriander leaves are often used raw or added to the dish immediately before serving. In Indian and Central Asian recipes, coriander leaves are used in large amounts and cooked until the flavor diminishes.
Coriander grows wild in South East Europe and had been cultivated in Egypt, India and China for thousands of years. It is mentioned in Sanskrit text and the Bible Spanish conquistadors introduced it to Mexico and Peru where it now commonly paired with chilies in the local cuisine. It has since become very popular in the Southwest and Western part of the United States as well as in most metropolitan areas. An interesting note is that people of European descent frequently are reviled by the smell of cilantro. It has not gained in popularity in Europe as it has in many other parts of the world. The Bible mentions coriander in Exodus 16:31: "And the house of Israel began to call its name manna: and it was round like coriander seed, and its taste was like that of flat cakes made with honey."
Coriander seems to have been cultivated in Greece since at least the second millennium BC. One of the Linear B tablets recovered from Pylos refers to the species as being cultivated for the manufacture of perfumes, and it appears that it was used in two forms: as a spice for its seeds and as a herb for the flavor of its leaves. This appears to be confirmed by archaeological evidence from the same period: the large quantities of the species retrieved from an Early Bronze Age layer at Sitagroi in Macedonia could point to cultivation of the species at that time.
Coriander was brought to the British colonies in North America in 1670, and was one of the first spices cultivated by early settlers.
Coriander, like many spices, contains antioxidants, which can delay or prevent the spoilage of food seasoned with this spice. A study found both the leaves and seed to contain antioxidants, but the leaves were found to have a stronger effect. Chemicals derived from coriander leaves were found to have antibacterial activity against Salmonella choleraesuis, and this activity was found to be caused in part by these chemicals acting as nonionic surfactants. Coriander has been used as a folk medicine for the relief of anxiety and insomnia in Iran. The Chinese used the herb in love potions believing it provided immortality. Coriander is one of the herbs thought to have aphrodisiac qualities. The book of The Arabian nights tells a tale of a merchant who had been childless for 40 years and but was cured by a concoction that included coriander. That book is over 1000 years old so the history of coriander as an aphrodisiac dates back far into history. Cilantro was also know to be used as an "appetite" stimulant.
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