Three forms of coriander

Coriander family from left to right: fresh cilantro, coriander seeds, ground coriander — all three are used in different ways in Indian cooking. (Photo source: The Garden of Eaden)

What is coriander?

Coriander is an herb in the Apiaceae family, commonly known as the parsley family. Coriander seeds sprout and flower as fresh cilantro — for this reason, many people use “coriander” and “cilantro” interchangeably, which can be confusing because the taste of ground coriander seeds and fresh cilantro are different, but they are the same in origin. According to “The Spice Bible”, while coriander is native to Southern Europe and the Mediterranean, coriander has been known to India and China for thousands of years. As pictured above, whole coriander seeds, ground coriander, and fresh cilantro are used frequently in Indian cooking. All are widely available in most supermarkets and often used in a variety of cuisines — Mexican salsa, Vietnamese pho, and Pad Thai to name but a few. Ground coriander is used in everything from fish chowder to Hoegaarden wheat beer. While fresh cilantro has millions of fans around the world, it also has a lot of critics who feel strongly that the herb has a “soapy” taste. However, according to a New York Times article, “Cilantro Haters, It’s Not Your Fault” some research suggests that certain people may be genetically predisposed to dislike cilantro.

What does coriander look like?

Coriander is available in three forms: coriander seeds and ground coriander; and fresh cilantro. Coriander seeds, the dried fruit of the cilantro plant, are small and sphere-shaped. Coriander seeds are often dry roasted and ground to make ‘coriander powder’ which has a light-brown color similar to ground cumin, just a little lighter and brighter in color. Fresh cilantro has broad-shaped leaves, similar to Italian flat leaf parsley.

McCormick Ground Coriander

Leading brands like McCormick carry coriander seeds, ground coriander, roasted coriander, and dry cilantro leaves

What does coriander taste like?

Fresh cilantro has a fragrant taste which adds a refreshing finishing and colorful element to a dish when used as a garnish before serving. The roots and stems of the coriander plant have a deeper, more intense flavor than the leaves, so many chefs often recommend using the stems in blended chutneys and marinades. Ground coriander has undertones of citrus (a slight lemon taste) and sage, giving a slightly sour taste to curry. If you’re interested in how different spices flavor an Indian dish, read more on the 6 Key Elements of Taste in Indian Cuisine.

What are the nutritional benefits of coriander?

Coriander has eleven components of essential oils, acids and six types of minerals and vitamins, each having a number of beneficial properties.  There are three main health benefits of coriander:

  • Improved digestion: the essential oils found in coriander facilitate proper secretion of enzymes and digestive juices in the stomach, stimulating digestion.  These digestive benefits can be attributed to the dietary fiber found in coriander.
  • Blood sugar control: due the stimulating effect of coriander on the endocrine glands, the secretion of insulin from the pancreas is increased. This elevates insulin levels in the blood, thereby helping proper assimilation and absorption of sugar and resulting in a decrease of sugar levels in the blood.
  • Reduction of cholesterol: some of the acids present in coriander, such as linoleic acid, oleic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid and ascorbic acid (vitamin-C), are very effective in reducing cholesterol levels in the blood. They also reduce the cholesterol deposition along the inner walls of the arteries and veins.  Both benefits are critical for a healthy heart.

How can I use coriander in cooking?

Coriander and fresh cilantro are two of the key aromatics and ground spices you need for basic Indian cooking.  While fresh cilantro is often used as a garnish for many dishes, coriander seeds and ground coriander are used when cooking curry dishes, along with other ground spices like turmeric and cumin.

Adding ground coriander to chicken curry

Adding ground coriander to Daddy’s Chicken Curry

Which Big Apple Curry recipes feature coriander?

Coriander can be used in cooking the following authentic Indian dishes:

Indian-style Grilled Chicken
Okra with Onions
Lamb Korma Pilaf

The 5-10-5 Rule

To make a variety of authentic Indian dishes at home, you need a few key things in your pantry and fridge. In the course of teaching my husband Sean the basics of Indian cooking, I created The 5-10-5 Rule – a useful cheat sheet on the main aromatics, ground spices, whole spices, and herbs you need in your kitchen.

10 Ground Spices for Indian Cooking

10 key ground spices for Indian cooking — starting from top left to right: cumin, CORIANDER, sugar, curry powder, paprika, salt/pepper, garam masala, turmeric, and red chilli flakes