Take a moment and think back to the amazing curry you had at that Indian restaurant a couple of weeks ago. Or those juicy pickles that were actually even more delicious than the burger they sat on top of at your friend’s barbecue. What do these dishes have in common? The small but mighty coriander seed. Here’s what you need to know about this underrated spice.
Wait, is coriander the same as cilantro?
Kinda, sorta. Cilantro is the Spanish word for “coriander leaves,” and the two ingredients come from the same plant. But coriander leaf, or cilantro, is the green herb that’s an essential component of guacamole. Coriander seeds, on the other hand, come from the plant’s fruit that’s been dried and can be used whole or ground. (If your recipe calls for ground coriander, just toss the seeds into a spice grinder or food processor.)
What do coriander seeds taste like?
While cilantro’s citrusy flavor is pretty controversial (it can taste like soap to some people), coriander seeds are much more mellow (think: warm, aromatic and slightly sweet). There’s still a hint of citrus in there but also a slight curry flavor. Unlike its leafy counterpart that really packs a punch, coriander seeds add a certain “I don’t know what” to a dish. But don’t let their subtlety fool you—once you start incorporating them into your cooking, you may never go back.
And how should I use this spice?
Ground coriander is great for curry pastes and doughs (like in this aloo gobi recipe or this saag paneer) while whole coriander seeds are ideal for pickling, adding to meat rubs or on top of bread. We also like tossing the seeds with roasted vegetables (try sprinkling some on potatoes) or adding to soups (they go particularly well with lentils and carrots). To really unleash their earthy flavor, toast seeds over medium heat until fragrant before using.
In Ayurvedic medicine, coriander is commonly used to treat digestive issues. In The Ayurvedic Self-Care Handbook, author Sarah Kucera writes: “Coriander is popularly used as a digestive remedy in treating irritable bowel syndrome, colic, and inflammatory conditions such as Crohn’s disease, ulcers or acid reflux.” Go figure.
My recipe calls for coriander, but I don’t have any—what should I do?
Try substituting cumin for coriander or you could try a mix of fennel and caraway seeds. And the next time you’re at the grocery store, pick some up—coriander seeds can be stored in an airtight jar for almost a year (but the ground variety will lose its potency after a couple of months).