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The term "coriander" is often used to refer a spice made from the dry fruit of the Coriandrum sativum plant. This herb, which is also called a cilantro plant or Chinese parsley, is a member of the carrot and parsley family. The fruits, or seeds, are small and round, with a brown or yellowish-brown color. They are sometimes referred to as coriander or coriander seeds. The leaves of the plant are often referred to as coriander leaves or cilantro.
A Coriandrum sativum plant's seeds, leaves and even its roots are edible, although they have very distinct flavors and uses. The herb has a light and fresh flavor, tinged with lemon. It is commonly used in curries or in other Asian cuisines and is often combined with ginger. Coriander also is used to flavor sausages and is even used in the manufacture of some cigarettes. Cilantro leaves have a very pungent flavor that elicits often-extreme reactions, with most people either loving it or hating it.
The seeds can be used whole or ground. One unit of ground coriander can be substituted for one unit of coriander seeds in many recipes. Whole seeds also can be sprinkled over salads or over meat while it is roasting. The ground spice is ideal for creating spicy rubs and is often used in marinades. Cilantro leaves are often used as garnishes as well as in many recipes for salsa and guacamole.
Coriandrum sativum is easy to grow, and it develops quickly. It can be grown indoors or in most warm climates, but it is especially suited for environments where the summers are hot and dry. The fruits usually ripen in late summer and should be dried thoroughly before they are used. They are dried by cutting the stems and hanging the plant cuttings upside down. One should not use hot air to dry the seeds, because that will detract from the delicate flavor of the spice.
This plant has been grown in India, China and Egypt for thousands of years. Coriander is believed to be one of the earliest spices used by man, and there are references to the spice in early Sanskrit documents, the Bible and ancient Chinese and Middle Eastern stories. It gained an early reputation as both an aphrodisiac and an appetite stimulant. More recently, it has gained popularity in Western and Southwestern cuisine. In the early 21st century, Spain and Morocco were some of the leading producers of this spice.