This Herb Is a Powerhouse for Foodies and Health Experts Alike
A discovery from the University of California reveals why we've been healing with it for millennia.
Cilantro, also known as Chinese parsley, is a controversial superstar in the kitchen.
I love it, but my daughter hates it. It's one of those flavors that seems to spark total devotion or complete disgust.
It's part of the same family as carrots (which might be surprising until you look at their tops) and parsley.
Easy to grow, Cilantro prefers cool weather and grows best in partial shade but can handle a bit more sun if kept moist.
It's an annual that quickly bolts to seed when the weather turns from summer to fall and contributes both tender leaves and aromatic seeds to the culinary conversation.
The leaves are usually used fresh or added at the very end of the cooking process.
The seeds can be harvested when green or brown.
If harvested green, they're a little fresher tasting and can be stored in the fridge or freezer.
If you wait until they've dried and turned brown, just cut off the entire seed head and put it in a paper bag until the seeds fall off. After that, store them in an airtight container.
For the best flavor, resist the urge to pre-process and grind as needed.
These seeds are staples of curries and many ethnic stews, frequently paired with cumin for that quintessential Latin flavor.
It's mentioned in Sanskrit as far back as 1500 BC, and you can find references to it in the Bible (Exodus, XVI, 31).
DNA evidence, dating back 48,000 years, suggests the plant was even used medicinally by Homo Neanderthalensis.
Historically it's been used as anticonvulsant medicine, and scientists have just now discovered why.
They discovered how a component in Cilantro called dodecenal, a long-chain fatty aldehyde, works.
Fatty aldehydes are fragrance and flavor compounds with an odor described as fresh, citrus, and waxy.
This component reduces cellular excitability by binding to a specific part of the cell called the potassium channel.
These potassium channels are the cell's gatekeepers, allowing potassium ions to flow across a cell's membrane.
This filter selects and allows potassium to pass but not sodium.
It's a gate that opens and closes the channel based on environmental signals.
What does this mean?
When you smell something and know what it is or touch something hot and instinctively pull your hand away, these are your potassium ions hard at work.
Nerves from your nose and hands release ions that send signals to your brain and relay the appropriate response.
Nerve cells get themselves ready for transmitting signals by concentrating potassium ions inside and selectively pumping sodium ions out.
This action creates a difference in electrical potential across the cell membrane.
When the dodecenal binds to the potassium channels, it reduces the excitability of those cells.
This is why it's anticonvulsive.
This effect noticed by our ancestors all those years ago is finally being supported by modern science.
By understanding how the chemical components achieve their effect, scientists can create therapeutic treatments.
But in case you're not a doctor or scientist, you might be more interested in these fun facts about Cilantro.
- Is a good source of dietary fiber, iron, and magnesium
- Is anti-inflammatory
- Removes heavy metals from the body
- Helps to promote healthy liver function.
- Helps with insulin secretion and regulates blood sugar.
- Is an expectorant
- Stimulates the endocrine glands
If you hate Cilantro, you might want to skip this part.
Here are a few dishes you can make with Cilantro:
- Picco De Gallo: Fresh salsa that tastes good on everything.
- Steak with Mint and Cilantro: Toss soy-marinated steak with these herbs in a pan.
- Grilled Chicken with Cilantro Dipping Sauce: Cilantro pureed with jalapenos, and more make this spicy dish fragrant and exotic.
- Mussels with Creme Fraiche, Cilantro, and jalapenos: Or add it to your white wine sauce instead of parsley.
- Chile Cilantro Pesto: If you make pesto, Cilantro is a great sub in for basil.
- Roasted Butternut Squash with Cilantro Cream: This Cilantro sour cream would also be delicious on regular roasted potatoes.
It's been around for a long time, but we're just beginning to understand its healing power for humankind.
So whether you're a fan of the taste or not, you have to admit that this culinary powerhouse of flavor is more than just a tasty treat.
It's a medical miracle that's been helping humanity for ages.