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Cilantro is one of those divisive ingredients that can either elevate your culinary experience or make you cringe. But beyond its polarizing taste, have you ever wondered if cilantro is good for you? In this article, we’ll delve into the world of cilantro, exploring its nutritional benefits, potential health risks, and the reasons behind its love-it-or-hate-it reputation.
What is Cilantro?
Cilantro is a globally renowned herb recognized not only for its culinary applications but also for its extensive health benefits. Cilantro resembles flat-leaf parsley but has a distinctive smell. Once cilantro flowers, it produces seeds with distinct flavor and health benefits. The seeds are known as coriander, which is citrusy but has a warm, nutty taste.
Cilantro vs. Coriander:
Both come from the Coriandrum sativum plant. Cilantro refers to the leaves/stalks; coriander to the dried seeds. They have distinct flavors; cilantro is refreshing and citrusy, while coriander is warm and nutty.
The Cilantro Controversy
The Love-Hate Relationship
Cilantro, also known as coriander in some parts of the world, has a distinct flavor that splits people into two camps: those who adore its fresh, citrusy notes and those who despise its soapy, pungent taste.
Genetics at Play
Surprisingly, genetics play a significant role in determining whether you fall into the “cilantro lover” or “cilantro hater” category. We’ll explore the science behind this intriguing phenomenon.
Genetics can play a significant role in whether you like cilantro or not. Research has shown that a genetic variant related to olfactory receptor genes can influence one’s perception of cilantro flavor. This genetic variation can make cilantro taste pleasant to some individuals while causing it to taste soapy or unpleasant to others.
Several studies and articles have explored this genetic connection. Researchers have identified specific genes associated with the perception of cilantro’s taste, particularly the presence of aldehyde chemicals that contribute to its flavor. Those with particular variations in these genes are likelier to find cilantro enjoyable, while those with different genetic profiles may dislike its taste.
Genetics influence how individuals perceive cilantro flavor due to variations in their olfactory receptors and their ability to detect specific compounds in the herb. Therefore, whether you love or hate cilantro may be predetermined to some extent by your genetic makeup, and it can explain the widely varying opinions people have about this herb.
Nutritional Value of Cilantro
Rich in Vitamins and Minerals
Cilantro is a nutritional powerhouse packed with essential vitamins like A, C, and K and minerals like potassium, calcium, and iron. We’ll uncover how these nutrients benefit your health.
First, break down cilantro into its nutritional values for every 100 grams on average.
You will be consuming 92 grams of water since cilantro is basically 92% water and approximately 20 Calories, 0 Fat, and 50mg of sodium (4% Daily Value), Potassium 520mg (12% Daily Value), Net Carbs 2g, Fiber 2g (8% Daily Value), Glucose 2g, Protein 2g, Vitamin A 1080μg (120% Daily Value), Vitamin C 54mg (90% Daily Value), Calcium 80mg (8% Daily Value), Iron 0.6mg (8% Daily Value), Vitamin K 620μg (Daily Value depends on age and sex and if your a woman if you are pregnant or not), also contains 0.87g sugar including NLEA, 1.47g Ash, Calcium 67mg, Iron 1.77mg, Magnesium 26mg, Phosphorus 48mg, Potassium 521mg, Zinc 0.5mg, copper, 0.225mg, Manganese 0.426mg, Selenium 0.9μg, Thiamin 0.067mg, Riboflavin 0.162mg, Niacin 1.11mg, Pantothenic Acid 0.57mg, Vitamin B-6 0.149mg, Folate Total 62μg, Folate Food 62μg, Folate DFE 0.62μg, Choline Total, 12.8mg, Bete Carotene 3930μg, Alpha Carotene 36μg, Cryptoxanthin, Beta 202μg, Lutein + Zeaxanthin 865μg, Vitamin E 2.5mg, Faty Acids 0.014g, SFA 16:0 0.012g, SFA 18:0 0.001g, Monounsaturated FatyAcids 0.275g, MUFA 16:1 0.002g, MUFA 18:1 0.273g, Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids 0.04g, PUFA 18:2 0.04g, Stigmasterol 3mg, Beta-sitosterol 2mg.
Note: These values above are your average 100 grams of cilantro. They can vary in either direction up or down and depending on soil, methods for growing, and other environmental conditions.
Discover how cilantro’s antioxidants can help combat free radicals in your body, potentially reducing the risk of chronic diseases. Beta-carotene and lutein, found in cilantro, are both carotenoids well known for their antioxidant characteristics. Antioxidants aim to minimize damage caused to cells by free radicals released during oxidation.
Cilantro Health Benefits:
- Detoxifies Heavy Metals: Cilantro is often associated with detox diets as it binds toxic metals, easing their removal from the body.
- Oxidative Stress Protection: Fights damage caused by free radicals due to its antioxidant properties.
- Reduces Anxiety: Its natural soothing properties can calm nerves and improve sleep.
- Lowers Blood Sugar: Supports healthy liver function and stabilizes blood sugar.
- Heart Health: Helps reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
- UTI Prevention: Its antibacterial properties can help keep the urinary tract healthy.
- Aiding Digestion: Cilantro has been used for centuries to aid digestion, ease stomach upsets, and promote the production of digestive enzymes.
- Food Poisoning Prevention: It can protect against foodborne diseases.
- Supports Menstrual Function: It regulates endocrine gland function and menstrual cycle hormones.
- Neurological Inflammation Prevention: Diets rich in herbs like cilantro can prevent inflammation associated with neurodegenerative diseases. Cilantro’s potential to reduce inflammation and its role in maintaining overall health.
- Colon Cancer Protection: Reduces toxic levels in the colon.
- Soothes Skin Irritation: Used for sunburns, poison ivy, hives, and allergic reactions.
Cilantro in Traditional Medicine
Here are some of the historical uses of cilantro in different cultures:
- Ancient Egypt:
- Cilantro seeds, commonly called coriander seeds, have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs, suggesting their importance in burial rituals.
- It was believed to have been used as a digestive aid and meat preservative because of its antioxidant properties.
- Ancient Greece & Rome:
- Hippocrates, the Greek physician, used cilantro for its medicinal properties.
- The Romans combined cilantro with vinegar and cumin to preserve meat and other foods.
- Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has made use of cilantro for various conditions, including digestive issues, appetite stimulation, and for its detoxifying properties.
- It was also believed to possess anti-inflammatory effects and was used in treatments for mouth ulcers.
- India (Ayurveda):
- In Ayurvedic medicine, cilantro has been used to treat digestive issues like indigestion, gas, and bowel spasms.
- Its cooling properties have been used to counteract spicy foods and to balance the body’s internal heat.
- Middle East & North Africa:
- Cilantro has been used traditionally as a calming tea for upset stomachs and indigestion.
- The seeds, in particular, have been used for their carminative effects to reduce gas and bloating.
- During medieval times, cilantro was believed to have an aphrodisiac property.
- The seeds were used to make love potions and tonics.
- It was also used as a digestive aid, mainly to relieve gas.
- Latin America:
- Cilantro has long been utilized in traditional remedies for stomach issues.
- In folk medicine, it’s been used as a tea for its diuretic properties to relieve water retention and to treat urinary tract infections.
- North America (Native American):
- Some Native American tribes have historically used cilantro for its medicinal benefits, including as a tea for stomach issues and a poultice for pain and inflammation.
Explore how cilantro is used in contemporary alternative medicine and its potential benefits, as well as a culinary staple in many plates served around the globe. This list, along with the health benefits listed above, are just some of the herbs uses.
- Cilantro is believed to help in detoxifying heavy metals from the body. Some people include cilantro in their diets or take supplements specifically for this purpose.
- Digestive Aid:
- Many cultures use cilantro to remedy digestive problems, including indigestion, gas, and nausea.
- Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, cilantro is sometimes used in natural remedies for conditions like arthritis.
- Cilantro has demonstrated antimicrobial properties, particularly against specific foodborne pathogens, making it of interest for food preservation and safety.
- Blood Sugar Regulation:
- Some studies suggest that cilantro may help lower blood sugar levels, making it interesting for people with diabetes or those at risk.
- Cilantro is rich in antioxidants, which can help combat oxidative stress in the body.
- Indian Cuisine:
- Cilantro (known as ‘dhania’ in Hindi) is used abundantly in Indian dishes. Fresh cilantro leaves are sprinkled on dishes as a garnish, while the seeds (coriander seeds) are often ground into powders or used whole in various recipes.
- Mexican & Latin American Cuisine:
- Cilantro is a staple in many dishes, from salsas and guacamole to soups and salads.
- Southeast Asian Cuisine:
- Countries like Thailand and Vietnam use cilantro in various dishes, from pho to fresh spring rolls.
- Chinese Cuisine:
- Cilantro is often used in stir-fries, salads, and as a garnish in various dishes.
- Middle Eastern Cuisine:
- Dishes like tabbouleh and falafel are often accompanied by or include fresh cilantro.
- Mediterranean Cuisine:
- In certain Mediterranean dishes, cilantro adds a fresh flavor to salads, stews, and seafood dishes.
- North American Cuisine:
- With the influence of various cultures, cilantro has found its way into mainstream dishes, salads, and fusion recipes.
- African Cuisine:
- In some North African dishes, mainly Moroccan, cilantro is used in tagines and chermoula (a grilled marinade).
Despite its widespread popularity, it’s worth noting that some individuals have a genetic predisposition that makes cilantro taste like soap. The herb may not be as enjoyable for these individuals in culinary applications.
The globalized world has allowed for the cross-cultural exchange of culinary and medicinal practices, so cilantro’s use has expanded and continues to evolve in contemporary dishes and remedies worldwide.
Cilantro Allergy and Sensitivity
Allergic reactions to cilantro are very rare but can occur. Here’s what you should know and also what you should do if you experience an allergic reaction.
People who are allergic to cilantro might experience symptoms such as:
- Skin reactions: This can include itching, redness, hives, or swelling, particularly if the skin comes into direct contact with the herb.
- Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS): This is a contact allergic reaction affecting the mouth and throat. Symptoms might include itching or tingling in the mouth, lips, tongue, or throat shortly after eating cilantro.
- Respiratory symptoms: Some people might experience nasal congestion, sneezing, wheezing, or shortness of breath.
- Gastrointestinal symptoms: This can include nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
- Anaphylaxis: In sporadic cases, a person could have a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis, which is life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms can include difficulty breathing, rapid or irregular heartbeat, dizziness, or fainting.
If you or someone you know experiences an allergic reaction to cilantro, here’s what you should do:
- Mild Reactions:
- Skin Irritation: Wash the affected area with soap and water to remove any residue. An over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion may help soothe itching or redness.
- Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS): Rinse the mouth with water. Symptoms of OAS typically resolve independently, but if they’re bothersome, an antihistamine may be taken (with guidance from a healthcare provider).
- Antihistamines: Over-the-counter antihistamines can help relieve symptoms like itching, hives, and nasal congestion. However, you should consult a healthcare provider about which antihistamine is appropriate.
- Severe Reactions (Anaphylaxis):
- Immediate Action: If someone starts showing signs of anaphylaxis, such as difficulty breathing, swelling of the throat, a rapid or irregular heartbeat, dizziness, or fainting, this is a medical emergency. Call emergency services immediately.
- Epinephrine Auto-injector: If the person has a prescribed epinephrine auto-injector (like an EpiPen), it should be administered immediately, per the directions provided. Even if symptoms improve after using the auto-injector, emergency medical care is still required, as symptoms can return.
- Stay Calm: While waiting for medical help, try to keep the person as calm as possible. If they’re feeling faint, lay them down with their legs elevated. Please do not give them anything to drink.
- Avoidance: Once you know the allergy, avoid cilantro in all forms. Be sure to read food labels, inquire about restaurant ingredients, and be cautious with unfamiliar dishes.
- Medical Identification: If you’ve had a severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis, consider wearing a medical identification bracelet or necklace that indicates your allergy.
- Consult an Allergist: If you suspect you have a cilantro allergy but haven’t been formally diagnosed, see an allergist. They can provide testing to confirm the allergy and offer management guidance.
In any case of an allergic reaction, always follow up with a healthcare professional to discuss the episode and get recommendations on future prevention and treatment.
Why Does This Happen?
- Proteins in Cilantro: People allergic to cilantro react to specific proteins in the herb. The immune system mistakenly identifies these proteins as harmful invaders and releases chemicals, such as histamine, leading to allergic symptoms.
- Cross-reactivity: Some people who are allergic to certain other plants or foods might also react to cilantro due to a phenomenon called cross-reactivity. For instance, individuals allergic to mugwort pollen or birch pollen might also react to cilantro because of similarities in protein structures.
Avoidance and Dilution:
- Avoidance: The best way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid cilantro altogether if you know you’re allergic. This includes checking food labels, asking about ingredients at restaurants, and being cautious when trying unfamiliar foods.
- Cooking: Some people with OAS can tolerate cilantro when cooked, as the heat can denature (break down) the proteins that trigger the allergic reaction. However, this isn’t guaranteed, and individuals should proceed cautiously.
- Carry Antihistamines: For mild reactions, over-the-counter antihistamines can help alleviate symptoms. Always consult with a healthcare provider about which medicine is right for you.
- Epinephrine Auto-injector: Those with a known severe allergy to cilantro or have experienced anaphylaxis should carry an Epinephrine auto-injector (like an EpiPen) and know how to use it. If used, seek emergency medical attention immediately.
- Allergy Testing: If you suspect you have an allergy but aren’t sure, an allergist can perform tests to determine specific allergies.
- Educate and Inform: If you have a cilantro allergy, inform friends, family, and anyone preparing food for you about your allergy.
Lastly, always consult with a healthcare professional regarding allergies and appropriate treatments.
Is it possible to build tolerance to cilantro’s taste if you initially disliked it?
Yes, some people can develop a tolerance or appreciation for cilantro’s taste over time, even if they initially disliked it. The aversion to cilantro is often due to specific genetic variants that make certain individuals more sensitive to aliphatic aldehydes, compounds found in cilantro that can evoke a “soapy” or “metallic” taste for these individuals. Here’s how tolerance can be developed:
- Repeated Exposure: One of the most straightforward methods to develop a liking or tolerance for a particular food is through repeated exposure. Over time, the brain can start associating the taste with positive experiences, especially if the food is consumed in enjoyable settings or paired with other favored foods.
- Pairing with Familiar Flavors: Combining cilantro with other familiar and liked flavors can mask or dilute its intensity. For instance, if someone doesn’t like cilantro but enjoys salsa, they might tolerate a salsa with minimal cilantro and gradually increase the amount over time.
- Trying Different Preparations: Sometimes, the form or preparation of cilantro can make a difference. Some people might find chopped cilantro leaves in a salad too overpowering, but enjoy a cooked dish with a more subdued flavor.
- Cognitive Reappraisal: This is a psychological approach where an individual consciously tries to reinterpret or reframe their perception of the taste. By focusing on the potential health benefits of cilantro or its cultural significance, for example, one might start viewing it in a more positive light.
- Genetic Evolution: While it’s not about building tolerance in a single lifetime, some researchers speculate that over generations, as cilantro continues to be a common ingredient in many cuisines, the frequency of the “cilantro-averse” gene might decrease in populations. This is purely speculative and would operate on a much longer timescale than personal taste adjustment.
- Gradual Introduction: Instead of diving into dishes heavily laden with cilantro, start with recipes that have just a hint of it. As you get accustomed to the flavor, you can increase the amount.
Remember, personal tastes are highly individual, and there’s no right or wrong when liking or disliking certain foods. Some people might never come to enjoy cilantro, and that’s perfectly okay. However, gradual and repeated exposure is often the key for those interested in giving it another chance.
In the world of herbs and spices, cilantro stands out for its unique flavor and potential health benefits. Whether you’re a devoted cilantro enthusiast or can’t stand its taste, it’s worth considering the science behind this divisive herb.
Cilantro is a versatile herb with a plethora of health benefits ranging from heart health support to detoxification. Though it shares its origin with coriander, their flavors, uses, and benefits differ. Cilantro is easy to incorporate into your diet. It offers numerous health advantages, and with its rich nutritional profile and potential health perks, cilantro might deserve a place in your diet.
Research has shown that cilantro has antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-diabetic properties, among others. However, it’s always essential to consult with healthcare professionals before using herbs for medicinal purposes.
Cilantro in Cooking
Cilantro as a Culinary Ingredient
Whether you’re a cilantro enthusiast or skeptic, It’s popular in many cuisines, including Mediterranean, Mexican, Asian, and Indian. If you are looking for fabulous Cilantro recipes, here are a few in no particular order. Twenty-five fresh cilantro recipes, Cilantro Detox Juice Recipe, Cilantro Lime Pasta Salad, Cilantro Jalapeño Sauce, 91 Bold and Savory Cilantro Recipes, Easy Cilantro Lime Chicken, Cilantro Pesto, Cilantro Chimichurri Sauce Recipe.
FAQs About Cilantro
1. Can cilantro help with bad breath?
Cilantro’s fresh aroma can temporarily mask bad breath but doesn’t address the root cause. Good oral hygiene is vital for long-term freshness.
2. Is there a way to reduce cilantro’s soapy taste?
Blending cilantro into sauces or using it as a garnish rather than a primary ingredient can help mellow its flavor.
3. Are there any cilantro substitutes for recipes?
Yes, if you’re not a fan of cilantro, parsley, basil, or mint can be used as alternatives in recipes.
4. Can cilantro be frozen for future use?
Yes, you can freeze cilantro in ice cube trays with water or oil for convenient future use in cooking.
5. Is it safe to consume large amounts of cilantro daily?
While cilantro is generally safe in moderation, consuming excessive amounts may lead to certain side effects like stomach discomfort. It’s best to enjoy it in reasonable quantities.
6. Is Cilantro safe for animals?
Cilantro, if taken in moderate amounts, is not only safe but also good for your pets, whether it be dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, pigs, horses, chickens, etc., and actually offers many benefits as it provides vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, if your pet has a sensitive stomach, a couple of fresh cilantro leaves can help ease an upset stomach and help with digestive issues. Cilantro is high in potent antioxidants, vitamin A, and vitamin C, which support a healthy immune system. It’s also high in vitamin K, which promotes healthy skin. It’s a good source of magnesium, calcium, manganese, and potassium, which can help your pet develop strong bones. Cilantro also has antifungal and antibacterial properties, which can aid your pet’s digestive system. It’s also helpful in freshening your pet’s breath.
7. Is Cilantro a natural repelent?
Cilantro is known to repel a variety of insects. This benefit might come from attracting predatory and parasitic insects, including hoverflies, which eat aphids. It might also come from cilantro’s strong smell, repelling pest insects directly. However it works, cilantro (or coriander, which is the same plant grown for seed) is supposed to ward off aphids, Colorado potato beetles, and spider mites.
8. What else can you tell me about the possible benefits of eating Cilantro?
Research indicates that consumption of cilantro may help alleviate symptoms of cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. One study demonstrated that an extract from cilantro minimized seizure episodes and shielded nerve cells in rats. Furthermore, when mice were fed fresh cilantro leaves, their memory retention showed a noticeable enhancement.
Animal-based research has shown that cilantro plant extracts can be nearly as beneficial as some medications in reducing anxiety-related symptoms. However, trials on humans are yet to be conducted.
Protection Against Foodborne Diseases
Cilantro is enriched with dodecenal, a potent antimicrobial agent, which can guard against infections, especially those stemming from contaminated food. This compound has proven effective against Salmonella, a bacterium responsible for severe food poisoning.
Moreover, other research has shown that certain compounds present in cilantro can combat various bacteria, including those responsible for food-related illnesses and infections acquired in hospitals.