Cilantro leaves have a flavor that most people either love or hate. But even if you think cilantro tastes like soap, you should still consider growing a few plants in your garden, because cilantro and the spice coriander both come from the same plant, Coriandrum sativum.
In the United States most people grow this delicious, multi-purpose herb for its leaves, but its delicious Coriander seeds are entirely worth harvesting and taste nothing like cilantro leaves. Cilantro is a cool season herb that goes to seed quickly during the long, hot days of summer.
The plant’s round, lobed leaves turn feathery as it lengthens up towards the sky. Pretty masses of small white flowers soon appear. These nectar-and-pollen rich blossoms attract tons of pollinators, especially honey bees and syrphid flies. As the blossoms begin to fade, small, round, kelly green coriander seeds appear.
PHOTO: Coriander seed develops after cilantro goes to seed. Harvest the delicious seeds when they are young and green or fully ripe and brown.
Coriander’s flavor is truly unique—citrusy and slightly nutty, and it pairs very well with beans, lentils, rice, and roasted or grilled vegetables. The seeds can be harvested when they are young and bright green, or you can wait to harvest them until they turn brown. I like to harvest them at the green stage, because their flavor is sharper and more pronounced, and because the only place you can find green coriander seed is in a garden. I’ve never once spotted them at a grocery store or in a farmers' market. The seeds keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks if stored in a lidded glass container, and they freeze well too.
PHOTO: Green coriander seeds have a truly unique citrusy flavor that tastes delicious in marinades.
If you’d like to harvest the mature brown seed, either to plant next year or to grind and use throughout the winter, wait until the majority of the seed turns brown. Then, cut off the seed heads along with a few inches of stalk and hang them upside down in a brown paper bag.
When the seeds are fully dry, they will fall out of the heads and into the bottom of the bag. Store the dry seed in a lidded glass jar in a cool, dry location. For the best flavor, grind it right before use. You won’t believe the difference in taste between freshly ground coriander seed and the pre-ground stuff usually available at the supermarket. Experiment using green coriander seed in marinades and dressings. The flavor of dry, ground coriander works especially well with cumin, so I often add an equal amount of coriander to recipes that call for cumin.
P.S. It also tastes phenomenal when infused in vodka!
PHOTO: Coriander infused vodka