During one of my first visits to California, my dad took 9-year-old me to an authentic Mexican restaurant in Sunnyvale. At that point in my life, I was used to the fast food version of tacos, served with “ground beef” and generic cheese. So I was surprised to see three small tacos on soft corn tortillas, chopped onions and little green leaves on top.
“What’s that green stuff?” I asked my dad with curiosity. “That’s cilantro,” my dad replied as he poured super hot salsa on his tacos. “It’s really good.”
So I took a bite, tasting the delicious herb for the first time, and the rest is history.
Now, more than 20 years later, I eat anything that has cilantro cooked into it or on top of it. It can be a plain, stale piece of toast, but if it has cilantro on it, I’m eating it. Washing and chopping it at home can be a pain because it tends to stick to everything, but it’s worth the prep.
The best way I can described the taste of cilantro — also known as coriander, Chinese parsley and dhania — is that it is a cousin of mint with a citrus note. I’ve seen it paired in several different types of cuisine, including Mexican (tacos, salsa, guacamole), Indian (mostly chutneys), and Asian dishes (pho and ramen). Cilantro adds a nice freshness and zest to these savory entrees.
Most people have a love-or-hate relationship with cilantro. The herb creates an unpleasant, soapy taste in some people’s mouths, which I didn’t understand until recently. According to a New York Times article, “Cilantro Haters, It’s Not Your Fault,” studies show that some people are genetically predisposed to hating the herb. Also, the aroma is created by many substances, and most of these are parts of fat molecules called aldehydes, which can be found in soaps and bugs.
People’s brains perceive tastes and smells based on a pattern of past experiences, according to the article. When I taste and smell cilantro, I think of those delicious tacos I ate as a kid. Cilantro haters, on the other hand, probably think of cleaning supplies and creepy crawlers. Who knew?
One cup of cilantro has four calories, so don’t worry about gorging on this herb. To my surprise, that same serving has 7 mg of sodium (I wouldn’t have thought cilantro had salt in it, even a small amount). You can meet 55 percent of your daily intake of Vitamin K with a cup of cilantro, but all the other vitamin intake amounts are pretty low. (Source: The United States Department of Agriculture)
What you think of cilantro? Are you a lover or a hater?