Pronounced [sih-LAHN-troh] this member of the carrot family is also referred to as Chinese Parsley and Coriander. It is actually the leaves (and stems) of the Coriander plant.
Cilantro has a very pungent odor and is widely used in Mexican, Caribbean and Asian cooking. The Cilantro leaves look a bit like flat Italian parsley and in fact are related.
History and Lore
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.
Coriander is believed to be named after "koris", the Greek word for "bedbug" as it was said they both emitted a similar odor. 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.
In the Middle East the Cilantro leaves are used in pickles, curries, and chutneys. In Mexico and the Southwestern U.S. it is used in everything from salsas and salads to burritos or meat dishes. The coriander seeds are used in sweets, breads, cakes and to flavor liqueurs.