Cilantro is among the most divisive of herbs. Most people either love it or hate it. If you love it, odds are you’ve brought a bunch home from the grocery store and stored it in your fridge, only to forget about it and let it rot into a soggy pile of brown leaves. It happens to the best of us, but it doesn't have to be that way. Read on to learn how to pick cilantro at the store *and* from your home herb garden without it turning into a slimy mess in a few hours.
What to Look for at the Grocery Store
The fresh cilantro you see in the produce section are the leaves and stems of the coriander plant (its seeds are ground to make the coriander you find in the spice aisle). Always look for cilantro that has bright green leaves and no signs of wilting. It should be fragrant with its signature lemony, borderline-soapy scent, so give it a sniff before buying. If the herbs are wrapped in plastic or a rubber band, remove them. They can speed up decay.
Once you bring cilantro home, its shelf life really comes down to how well you store it. If you don’t have any fresh cilantro (or it goes bad before you get to use it), substitute dried cilantro by halving the amount your recipe calls for. For instance, 1 tablespoon dried cilantro in place of 2 tablespoons fresh.
What to Look for If You Grow Your Own
Cilantro is basically always thirsty and requires consistent watering. Moist soil and limited direct sunlight (preferably in the morning) will help the herb grow nice and tall. Wait until your cilantro plant is at least six inches tall before harvesting, so the leaves are at minimum bitterness.
Want to start your own herb garden? Begin with seeds or a starter plant. You’ll need a pot that’s at least a foot deep with great drainage and potting mix, preferably one with fertilizer included. If not, supplement potting mix with a slow-release fertilizer that will give a steady stream of nutrients to the cilantro. Feel free to grow it alongside other moisture-loving plants like basil, tarragon or chives.
How to Store Cilantro So It Stays Fresh
If you leave cilantro in the plastic produce bag you took it home in, it’s a recipe for soggy, stinky herbs. Instead, keep it in water. First, snip the bottoms of the stems about two inches from the base. Then, place them in a jar or glass filled with water in the fridge. Cover the glass loosely with a plastic bag (think of it as a DIY greenhouse). Change the water every two days or whenever it turns brown. As long as the leaves stay dry until you’re ready to use them, your cilantro will stay fresh for two or three weeks.
You can also keep it in a refrigerated, airtight container lined with paper towels or a paper bag. If you bought or picked a lot, freezing it will help keep it green and fresh for the long haul. Just wash and chop the cilantro, fill an ice cube tray with about 1 tablespoon per slot, top the tray with water and freeze. Transfer the cubes to plastic bags and keep them in the freezer until you need to plop a cube or two into soup, sauce and anything else that could use an herby kick.