Shadow benny is a leafy herb native to the West Indies and Central America. It is widely used in the cuisine of these regions, and it also appears in Asian foods. This herb can sometimes be difficult to obtain outside these regions; sometimes specialty stores will stock it frozen or in cans. If it is not available, cilantro can be used as a replacement.
This herb has a multitude of alternate names, which adds to the confusion for many cooks. Formally, shadow benny is known as Eryngium foetidum, but it is also known by bhandhanya, fitweed, long coriander, false cilantro, culantro, recao, shado beni, sawtooth, spiritweed, ngo gai, ketumbar java, Mexican coriander, donnia, and spiritweed, among many other names. This profusion of alternate titles is especially frustrating for cooks who try to work with ethnic recipes, as many people are unaware of alternate names for the herb.
As the name “culantro” suggests, shadow benny tastes very much like cilantro, with a somewhat stronger and more lingering flavor. This flavor is often used in marinades and sauces, and the herb is also used as a garnish and to dress various foods. The distinctive pungency is especially popular in Trinidad, where it is used in traditional salsas and dressings, along with hot sauces.
As is the case with cilantro, this herb is not to everyone's taste. The flavor tastes strange to some people, while others find it very enjoyable. As the scientific name indicates, it can taste almost fetid at times, especially when paired with poor choices of other spices. The flavor is also quite unique, and some foods simply wouldn't taste the same without shadow benny or cilantro, as people who have attempted to omit these herbs have noticed.
In the Caribbean and Southeast Asia, the herb is often readily available at produce markets, because it is a commonly used ingredient. Outside of these areas, it can be challenging to find, as it is a bit obscure. In regions with an ethnic community, it can sometimes be purchased at regional grocers or larger markets that cater to the minority community. People can also grow Eryngium foetidum at home from seeds or starts; its growth habit is much like that of cilantro, so gardeners should take care in especially warm climates, where the herb may bolt to seed.