Megnut

The great cilantro coriander debate

Last night I was watching a bit of Emeril Live on the Food Network. Half-listening to the episode about grilling, I suddenly tuned in when I heard Emeril say, "When it's young it's called cilantro, and when it's old it's called coriander." That surprised me, as I always thought it was simply a localization issue: cilantro in North America and coriander everywhere else. Clearly it was time to do some research.

First stop, my trusty Larousse Gastronomique whose entry sits under the heading CORIANDER (CILANTRO). It says it's "[a]n aromatic umbeliferoius plant used both for its dried seeds, either whole or ground and its leaves." Further on it notes "[c]oriander leaves, sometimes know as Arab parsely or Chinese parsley in France and as cilantro in the United States..." There is no mention of age. I check Wikipedia's entry on coriander and it says a lot about the history of the plant, its various uses and parts, and nothing about any difference in name as it relates to the age of the plant.

Verdict? Emeril is wrong! Or rather, being a bit misleading. Both articles note the seeds are commonly called "coriander" (rather than "coriander seeds") and the leaves are referred to as "coriander leaves." Since the seeds are dried before they are used, it is a fact that they are older than the fresh green "coriander leaves" or cilantro one finds in salsa. So technically Emeril is correct. But is that really what he meant?

He would have done better to say something along the lines of: "Cilantro and coriander are the same plant, but in the US we use the term cilantro when referring to the fresh leaves, and coriander usually refers to the dried seeds of the plant." Maybe that's too much to say on TV, or maybe his audience doesn't care that much. Maybe I care too much. But it seems to me that if you're going to educate people about food, you should try to be as accurate as possible.

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